Overqualified! Says, Means.

From a more specific, to a more general post.  Preachers have a tendency to overqualify some things.  For instance, going beyond the plain meaning of the text is a common, but often unhelpful strategy.

The text says this, but it actually means that.  There are many variations on this, some speculative and bizarre, others that appear thoroughly orthodox and sound.  Yet we must always think twice before going beyond the plain meaning of a text.

By all means show how the text fits in the larger flow of progressive revelation.  By all means show how God’s plans are worked out in the fullness of the canon.  But beware of making a leap from what it says to what it means so that listeners are left staring at the text in confusion, or at the preacher in awe.

Typically this doesn’t happen out of some sinister motivation to twist the text and promote heresy (some certainly do this, but I suspect they won’t be allowed to read this site).  Typically this error occurs out of good motivation.

Perhaps the preacher fears that the plain meaning is just too, well, plain.  Their job is to add some fizz to the water of God’s Word?

Perhaps the preacher wants to give a more complete biblical message, but fails to show the linkages to the “greater” content offered.  This leaves the listener without clear sense of where the meaning is supposed to be found in a text.

Perhaps the preacher feels the text at hand is just a little too basic, too obvious, too simple to count as a rich feast of biblical truth, and so unpacks the text to reveal rich truths never before discovered in that corner of the canon.  Oops.  Trust God’s intent in the Bible – maybe the people need to hear that passage clearly explained and applied, rather than the whole canon squeezed in for good measure.

I am not suggesting there is no complexity in Scripture, there certainly is.  But as we preach, let’s try to make it so that listeners looking at the text will see where we are coming from.  What benefit is there in leaving them staring at the text in confusion, or at the preacher in awe?

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3 Comments

Filed under Audience Analysis, Christianity, Delivery, Homiletics, How to . . . ?, Preaching, Religion, Stage 2 - Passage Study, Stage 5 - Message Purpose, Stage 8 - Message Detail

3 responses to “Overqualified! Says, Means.

  1. I think I’ve seen this most often with people preaching (or leading bible studies) on passages like Luke 14:26 “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.” or Matthew 5:30 “And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.”

    Queue “Well, of course, Jesus didn’t literally mean that… ” followed by lame attempt at explaining passage using watered down drivel. As if for the first time in Christian history we’ve noticed that Jesus said something that sounds extreme and please don’t be offended or think that the strength of his language is somehow deliberate or significant. (I don’t object to the clarifying, but it seems wrong to make removing the shock factor our first priority).

    Is this the kind of says/means disconnect you’re talking about? Or are you thinking of the more imaginative “the two pence are the two sacraments” style allegorical day dreaming?

    • Thanks Geoff, I think there are issues with both approaches. On the first I agree that removing the shock factor shouldn’t be the first priority. On the second my biggest concern is that listeners become either competitively fanciful, or dependently reliable.

  2. I like this! I heard a guy tell this little story: A boy was in Sunday school, and the teacher asked, “What has a bushy tail and gathers nuts?” Looking at her with round fearful eyes, he said, “Jesus?” Sometimes the answer is plain – it is a squirrel! I think the most profound insights come when you make a squirrel a squirrel. For instance, the fear of the Lord. I’ve heard it cast as reverent awe so many times! Let’s face it, it doesn’t really capture the meaning. Fear means terror, even horror. This doesn’t negate the love of God, but you have to dig much deeper if you make a squirrel a squirrel on that one. Thanks again for this.

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