This week I’ve been pondering ways to preach epistles effectively. I suppose there is one contrast that has stood out to me as I’ve pondered this. Do we see the epistles as living letters, or as artefacts of theological interest?
The epistles are such rich ground, where every sentence might yield weeks of theological material were we to plumb the theological depths. But that brings a danger. Too easily we can treat the epistles as static ancient repositories of favourite verses and theological propositions. Then we can mine them for theological lecturing that might satisfy our craving for offering such choice gleanings, and will, I’m sure, generate polite and affirmative feedback, but will also fall short of what could be and should be.
The letters were written to real people in real situations with real applications of a life changing gospel from an engaged God. Somehow if our preaching of the letters drains the liveliness from them, there is a danger that we are offering less than God’s best to our listeners.
Our Lord cares about His church today. He wants the church today to be engaged with the kind of applied gospel theology that we see in the epistles. And with that content that is offered in the epistles. That is to say, the epistles don’t show any hint that God is into offering seven easy take home suggestions for anything. The epistles show a model of engaging real life with the real gospel. Theology well applied. Our preaching should do the same.
And since our content shouldn’t be clever thoughts from my limited experience (the epistles don’t demonstrate that approach), our content needs to be biblically solid and absolutely relevant. Preaching the epistles well will offer just that. Preaching the epistles and preaching them well has to be a key part of a church’s diet.
There are other genres that also have to be included, but I hope that when we come back to the epistles, we do so well. They aren’t just repositories of truth statements. They are real-life engaging theology applied to God’s people. Let’s preach the epistles so our listeners are gripped by them in living colour, and so lives today are profoundly shaped by them: God’s living letters.