Sunday, January 9, 2011

The Divine and the Human in the Text and in the Word

In the course of reviewing the book The Social Life of Scriptures, edited by James S. Bielo, Mark Noll says,

Christian believers of every sort have almost always spoken of the Bible as divine revelation in human form. The best classical teaching on Scripture has insisted that the divinity, the humanity, and the inseparable intertwining of divinity and humanity are crucial for understanding and appropriating Scripture [Books & Culture (September/October 2010), p. 12].

When we are dealing with Scripture, we are dealing with “the inseparable intertwining of divinity and humanity.” Is there a difference, though, in the “inseparable intertwining of divinity and humanity” that is present in the Bible and that which is present in Jesus Christ?

Unless we preachers keep our constant attention on the twin facts that the Bible is divinely inspired and humanly produced, we will lose the appropriate sense of its power and its pertinence. The Bible is both a divine Word and a human word, which makes it more real than any other written word.

Jesus, though, is the Word made flesh. Jesus is the ultimate merging of the human and the divine. It strikes me as idolatrous to raise the Bible to that same level in our thinking. After all, Scripture points to Jesus and Jesus completes Scripture.

I sometimes ponder the implication of the fact that God inspired (literally, “breathed”) the Scriptures; it sounds much like God breathing into the first man, which gave him life, but which did not make him God.

In Jesus, on the other hand, “the Word was God.”

God was in Christ; God breathed the Scriptures.

The difference seems to me important. After all, is not our preaching of the written word only effective if and as it points to and is enlivened by the living Word?

Monday, January 3, 2011

More Junk Doesn’t Make It More Better

Here in the middle of the 52nd year of my life I am trying hard to simplify it; I’m trying very hard to decide what things are really important to me and to do those things and to let everything else go.

As a part of that project I am also trying to simplify my sermons.

Among the third-hand critiques of my sermons (only one person ever said it to my face and that one person did it in writing—but she did sign her name) that I have heard over the years is the observation (or accusation) that they can sometimes or often be too cerebral; it has been said to me by a cacophony of voices (at least three over my almost forty year career) that “Mike is a great teacher but he’s not a great preacher.”

For my part, I never claimed or even aspired to be great at teaching or preaching.

For what it’s worth, though, I do think that good preaching has a teaching element to it; proclamation includes instruction.

Still…I agree that at times my sermons get a little too complicated; I have too much “on the one hand, on the other hand” in them and I try sometimes to cover way too much territory…say, the entire biblical witness…in one sermon.

I have concluded that the best sermons have one point that is simple enough to be understood, that is discussed in enough depth to have integrity, and that is illustrated with one story that can be remembered.

As John Fogerty said about Creedence Clearwater Revival’s 1969 album Green River, “All this overproduction is funny to me. It doesn’t make it mo’ betta when you add more junk.”

I want to leave out the junk…