[The Bible] is not a religious book of advice about the “answers” we need about a happy marriage, sex, work, or losing weight. Although the Scriptures reflect on many of those issues, they are above all about who God is and what God thinks and wills. I understand reality only if I have an appreciation for who he is and what he desires for his creation and from his creation. (Haddon Robinson, The Art and Craft of Biblical Preaching)
I remember hearing someone preach on Genesis a few years back. One of his main points is that we should get more sleep. While this is great advice, it’s also anthropocentric and really had nothing to do with why the text was written. I don’t want to be too hard on this guy, because I’ve made the same mistake many times.
This is probably the biggest mistake that people make when preaching and reading the Bible. They see it as a book with all kinds of lessons for us to somehow lift out and apply to ourselves today. Some passages are a little more challenging, so you have to be a bit more imaginative about how you lift out lessons and bring them into today’s context. Some funny things can happen when you treat the Bible like this. Anyone want to think about all the goofy sermons that could be preached if you take Genesis 24 as a text on how to find a wife? It’s been done.
Also, we ignore huge parts of Scripture because they aren’t as “relevant” to today. Entire sections of Scripture are ignored because they’re not as applicable. For instance, one book says, “All Scripture is equally inspired. All Scripture is not equally important. All Scripture is not equally applicable.” So, effectively, you abandon parts that are not as applicable and focus on the rest.
What’s the alternative? Instead of relating the passage directly to application, relate the passage instead to the story line of the Bible. This is my second premise: that the Bible has a story line, and that theocentric sermons will somehow relate each text to the entire story.
The Bible has a story line – This isn’t to smooth out all the genres or the uniqueness of each part of Scripture. But the Bible has one overarching story, from creation to consummation. N.T. Wright calls it a five-act play. Others have modified this a little and changed it to six acts, in which we have a part. There are some great resources on this subject, and I’ll list some at the end. The story is about covenant and kingdom, about God’s reign and his work to reconcile all things to himself.
Each part of Scripture is part of that story line – Here’s where it becomes easier to appreciate the tougher parts of Scripture. I don’t have a clue how to preach Leviticus and apply it directly to my life today if I don’t first relate it to the story line. “Leviticus is all about protocol for maintaining a right relationship with the King, whose royal residence is within the Israelite’s camp” (The Drama of Scripture). Leviticus points us toward thinking about how life changes when God is living with his people. When you focus on the story line, even the genealogies play a role.
The story line is relevant to our lives – The big fear with theocentric preaching is that it will be less relevant. That would only be true if the story line of the Bible didn’t include us. I’ll come back to this with a later premise, but I would argue that theocentric preaching is more relevant than pop-psychology preaching. One pastor says, “We focus our efforts on trying to figure out if our lives could be relevant to the story of God, not if the Bible can be relevant to our lives.”
More to come.
Resources on the Story Line of the Bible
- Why theocentric preaching isn’t as boring as it sounds
- Theocentric premise one: The Bible is not a book about you