Preaching Story: The Challenges of the Old Testament

Are there specific challenges with preaching Old Testament narratives?  I think there are a few points worth pondering here:

1. Typically we have less familiarity with the broader flow of the Old Testament and may be tempted to only preach the familiar handful of Noah, Joseph, Joshua, Goliath, Jonah, Daniel narratives.  Take a look at some of the lesser known stories.  I am willing to guarantee that if you study an obscure story you’ll want to preach it.  More than that, if you really wrestle with it in its context, then you’ll probably preach it well!

2. Not only do we have less familiarity with the Old Testament world, but so do our listeners.  This means being sure to take some time to orient them to cultural features of the world in which the story is set.  For example, we have to help listeners understand what it was like to live in the world of the ancient near east, where the plurality of the gods of the nations made every battle into a playground tiff among the gods (and what it meant therefore to be defeated by a foreign power, and worse, exiled by them).

Typically I think a lot of the challenges here are in respect to two issues:

3. Recognizing the elements of continuity.  Even in a radically different world, we can resonate with ancient biblical narratives because human nature doesn’t change, and neither does God’s character.  The latter offers another set of issues since many are convinced by the Marcionite confusion that leads to Christians pulling away from the God of the Old Testament.  We have to help people see the fullness of who our God is, which isn’t always easy.

4. Recognizing the elements of discontinuity.  A lot has changed since back then.  For instance, their hoped for deliverer has now been and gone, more than that, he went to the cross, rose again, sent his Spirit, is building his church, etc.  So we have to figure out how to preach the text so that we see it in its fullness back then, as well as in its fullness for us today.

Old Testament narratives aren’t always easy, but they are so worth it.  Let’s not reduce them to illustrations or children’s talks, but preach them as well as we can!

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11 Comments

Filed under Christianity, Genre, Homiletics, How to . . . ?, Old Testament, Preaching, Religion, Stage 1 - Passage Selection, Stage 2 - Passage Study, Stage 5 - Message Purpose, Stage 6 - Message Idea, Stage 7 - Message Outline, Stage 8 - Message Detail

11 responses to “Preaching Story: The Challenges of the Old Testament

  1. I wonder how one begins to even consider the nature of the God of the Hebrew Bible, never mind preach it. We have a God who demands human sacrifice, the annihilation of humanity, genocide. He turns a blind eye to rape and prostitution. He’s not such a nice God. I’ll leave off on preaching it so. Best of luck.

  2. Fred

    Why O why, is there this movement over the last 5 – 10 years to put the Old Testament into the unpreachable items, and that the God of the Old Testament is so horriffic and cruel that we must not scare the people with Him, can I point out that 1 day we are going to have to face Him, that Christ preached Him, Paul preached Him, you cannot have the New Testament without the Old Testament – the New is foretold in the Old and is fulfilled in the Atonement, or are we now to say original sin, because it is in the O.T is now redundant,

    • I fear, Fred, that this ‘movement’ is a little older than 10 years. There was similar talk before the first Oecumenical Council (325 CE). There is no problem with ‘preaching’ the despot of the Hebrew Bible; certainly not so far as I am concerned. What I would like to see, however, are fewer attempts to whitewash the barbarism of this ‘God.’

      • Fred

        Thinking about it, you are right when you say it is an older ‘movement’, it is just that everywhere I seem to turn these days, there are comments such as the God of the O.T was barbaric, I prefer to go with Paul and say ‘we see now in a mirror darkly – but then face to face’ so I am perfectly willing to believe, trust, and accept that God who is ever the same, did things which at the present time I do not understand, do I whitewash this ‘God’ as you say? I hope with the Lord’s help that I preach the whole word as it has been revealed, and to the best of sanctified God given ability, so no I do not whitewash Him, He doesn’t need it, or do we need a new ‘P.C’ translation, that leaves out all the so called barbaric parts and things that society in our day and age find unacceptable, and end up with a watered down version that does not need faith and trust to accept, and end up with fairy tales that mere;ly tickle the ears, I know which I would want
        Yours in Him,

  3. This blog isn’t really focused on this kind of discussion, although you are welcome to have it. However, I did suggest a book that I think might be helpful. Please be willing to engage with comments rather than responding with another accusation and ignoring or dismissing the comment.

    • On the contrary Peter, I was not merely casting an accusation. I am a devout Christian and an academic biblical researcher. I would not like to imagine for a second that I have made any of these comments out of some mindless attempt to annoy you or ‘get a rise’ from any of your readers. My interest is in the Gen 6-9 flood narrative, with specific interest in Gen 6:14b and its possible allusion to the ‘reed-hut Urheiligtum’ of Gilgamesh XI and Atrahasis III. What I would like to get across is the text in the text’s own terms. This is a highly valuable theological enquiry. We cannot simply ignore the nature of the God of Torah.

      • Absolutely, we need to hear the God of Torah as He reveals himself there, and then continues to do so throughout the Bible. While not being about this specific text, I reiterate the value of Reeves’ new book, The Good God.

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