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Safari Guide, Treasure Hunter, Biblical Theologian

locked-treasure-chest smallAs a good Evangelical… just a second, I have to adjust my halo… Okay, it’s got that 20s-gangster-hat tilt I like so much… So, as a good Evangelical who has studied at no less than seven Christian institutions, I was trained to preach according to an exegetical model. I was obedient and diligent—intro, transition, thesis statement, each alliterated point laid out with 3-5 sub-points, each set including at least one solid application and a moving illustration, often personal. You would have been impressed… I know I was. Then disaster struck.

Biblical theology, as I practice it, is an approach to Scripture that has as its ultimate goal the discovery and presentation of the intended theological message of biblical literature, unit by unit, in each author’s own terms and categories… [1] an intention best discovered by reading a passage within its historical, grammatical, document and genre context,[2] best sifted out through an inductive process of Observing, Interrogating, Investigating, and Synthesizing.

Now, I haven’t read all the manuals, haven’t taken all the homiletics classes, so I can’t speak for everyone’s sense of sermon, but I discovered that the greater my love of biblical theology grew, the more my sermon outlines began to disintegrate into something I barely recognized from my days in homiletics class. My passion for hearing the text in context began to warp my entire mission in the pulpit.

I began to perceive most of the preaching that I heard, even exegetical preaching that took the text seriously, as primarily focused on the point of the preacher, usually some specific, practical agenda for the congregation. Now, I always applaud good “biblical” preaching in any form, but I grew hungry for something a little different in my own preaching.

Two metaphors began to guide my sermon prep.

I am a treasure hunter, and my audience my traveling companions. Every text of Scripture, be it a verse, a paragraph, a psalm, lines of a poem, a story, a group of stories meant to be interpreted together is to me like a locked treasure chest filled with transforming things. Being ancient literature, however, the richness of each message is often concealed in strange cultures, unknown histories and languages, and lost literary styles.

The more I digested not only individual pieces of the Bible, but their interconnection and the worldview of inspired authors, the more often I asked myself, “What would my specific audience need to discover in order to hear this text the way the inspired author meant his intended audience to hear it?

I am a safari guide, and the congregation my tour group. I load them into the bus, warn them to keep their hands and arms inside the vehicle at all times, and take them into the wild of the world of the Bible. I don’t adapt the text to them, I seek to adapt them to the text. I want them to experience each passage, in whatever form best encompasses the author’s intentions, in all its natural contours, sights, sounds, and smells. I want them to experience not just the ideas of a text, but its native feel. I bring them to it, guiding the journey with helpful information, humorous comparisons and contrasts with their own lives, noting points of interest which I explain in the fullest context possible. The author meant for his hearers to do something, to think something, to feel something, and I have taken on the task of helping my listeners to re-experience the “in the moment-ness” of it all.

My “points” are KEYS to the treasure box’s many locks. They are the IMPORTANT FEATURES of the strange new biblical landscape. These may be terms the congregation may not understand, points of grammar they need to grasp, structure they need to observe, facts about the culture, history or worldview of the people they need to know, important elements of literary style that may change the way they perceive the text. I draw in known elements from their own experiences to explain the dynamics between passage and intended audience, so they can, at least for a time, lose themselves in the passage before us.

In the end, my primary point in preaching IS hearing the text in context… letting it convict, correct, teach, and motivate. I seek to become a conduit for the author’s intention, for in it, and in the Spirit who inspired it, is all the transforming power of God. Conduit, however, is another metaphor, so perhaps I should drop that one to keep from muddying up the waters.

[1] http://drandrewsargent.com/2013/09/a-biblical-theologian-in-a-systematic-theology-world/

[2] http://drandrewsargent.com/2013/09/what-i-mean-by-biblical-theology/

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