I first got interested in theocentric preaching when I realized how much anthropocentric preaching I've done, and how awful it really is.
We were set up. Two years ago I attended our first D.Min. residency with Haddon Robinson. He and Duane Litfin assigned us a whole bunch of texts and asked us to express the big ideas, or central themes, of these texts. They included stories like David and Goliath and Jesus calming the storm. They knew what was going to happen.
Everyone went running toward anthropocentric themes:
- God will help to slay the giants in our lives.
- Jesus will calm the storms of your life.
Think about that for a second. We were in a room of pretty smart people, all of them seminary trained and with years of ministry experience. And pretty much all of us ran to directly to application and missed the main point of these texts.
The story of David and Goliath isn't about how to handle the giants in our lives. It's the story of a man who did the job God asked Israel to do hundreds of years earlier, which they'd neglected: to drive giants out of the land God had given them. It's about doing what God asked, even when what he asks seems impossible. Still relevant, and much closer to the purpose of the text.
Jesus obviously doesn't calm all the storms in our lives. The story is ultimately about Jesus' identity, and we're not meant to allegorize the storms. It takes a bit of work to get there, but I believe Mark's account of the story is there to communicate that the Kingdom is secure, even when everything looks lost, because Jesus is in charge. My circumstances aren't as important as the fact that Jesus is okay, and the Kingdom is okay because of that.
Not only are these themes more faithful than the anthropocentric ones, but they are more satisfying and they ring more true. I don't know how I could look some of my people in the face and tell them that God will slay all the giants in their lives and calm every storm. He simply hasn't, and they know that. If I tell them this they look at me like I'm out of touch or a liar.
I can look in their eyes and tell them that if God asks them to do something, He will back them up no matter how impossible it seems. I can tell them that even when everything looks lost, it's okay because Jesus is still okay, and the Kingdom depends on that and not how well you and I are doing.These themes are more true, to Scripture and to life, and they are more satisfying than how-to sermons.