When Gospel Enters Darkness

Next month, July 29, I will have opportunity to be in conversation with preachers about preaching. If this conversation goes as planned, we will be leaving with at least four sermons in some stage of development and ideas for a sermon series connected to each of those sermons.

Our texts will be the four gospels. While Matthew, Mark, Luke and John tell the same story, they are each interested in different aspects of discipleship. Here is an introduction to one of the emphases we will talk about that day.

The Gospel is not content with safe territory. In fact, Gospel seems to be drawn toward darkness. On account of that, we acknowledge risk when we carry the Gospel with us. To bring Gospel into darkness is to enter a battleground. While it might be paranoia to expect an evil spirit behind every tree, it is naïve to ignore the reality that there is more going on than the eye can see. The Gospel of Mark takes us into that territory. To be in the Gospel of Mark is to be saturated with powers and darkness and the question “who rules the realm?” The Gospel may be the story of the Son of God but humans and powers of darkness are woven into the story.

We might wish for something like “Ten Ways to Slay a Demon.” Instead, we find a story. And this story reminds us that every step of kingdom work is a step into heavily defended territory.

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Big Picture Preaching

It is important to become saturated with the biblical storyline.  One way to encourage this may be to preach a sermon series on the entire bible.  This would provide an opportunity to see the biblical storyline unfold in a way that may be otherwise missed.  Preaching through the bible in a short series is obviously not an easy endeavor or else it would be attempted more often.  Out of necessity it must take broad swipes at the text.  It becomes important to digest big chunks.  To look at the big picture.

There are some traps with such an effort.  It is possible that one would be tempted to simply share information, as if the preacher is giving a history lesson.  As important as the history of Israel is, we do not gather on Sundays to learn it.  It may be just as tempting to share doctrine instead of allowing the text to speak on its own.  As helpful as doctrine becomes, our presuppositions are not always the same as the biblical message.  It is also, especially in this age, a temptation to funnel the text toward certain points of application.  As practical as application can be, the text cannot be watered down to steps to take home with us.

The dangers of each of the above traps are equal.  The intent of scripture will be missed if any of these things become the purpose of preaching.  No matter how well-meaning we are in these efforts, no matter how spiritual, no matter how informative; the biblical text refuses to be watered down by modern preachers trying to make sense of it.  The biblical story should be turned loose.  Any attempts to manage or contain it will fall short.  We would do ourselves a favor to allow the text to determine what we talk about and the direction we are headed.

There are other struggles with such an undertaking.  It is possible that some parts may be overlooked as lesser parts of the larger story.  While a short series on the bible cannot spend significant time with every voice, looking over some details may leave us with something that is not the collective voice.  This becomes important because it is the collective works of the bible that gives us the whole counsel of God.

Perhaps it will be good to take special care not to neglect the “lesser” parts of the storyline while giving the “major” parts their due.  This, of course, is easier said than done.  Yet, if we look over any part of the storyline we likely miss the entire point of a series on the bible.

Despite the difficulties that a preaching series on the entire bible presents, this is a worthwhile endeavor because the individual witnesses within the story may be heard more clearly when one hears the whole story. Without a story that includes creation, fall, covenant, desert, promise, exile, Messiah, cross, and resurrection; it becomes more difficult to live as a Christian in the present.  If we are to be a people of the book, then being in conversation with the book becomes a priority.

This is a worthwhile exercise because we do not want to miss the beauty of the entire scene because of our interest in a particular detail.  This exercise will help us to see that each of the particular voices, and props, and details play an important part in the larger story – the bigger picture.  At its best, such a series may help preacher and congregation gain a perspective of the biblical storyline that might change our current, limited perspectives.  And move us toward a biblical theology that impacts the way the word is heard and spoken in the future.