The Bible often distinguishes humanity in stark alternatives. There are those being saved and those perishing. There are those who trust God and those who don’t. There is love and hate. Heaven and hell. Faith and fear. The righteous and the wicked. The wise and the foolish. Often the stark alternatives provide for very strong opportunities to preach the Word boldly and with great clarity.
Nevertheless, there are also many times where what we intend and what is heard can be close, but still be across the divide. How easily we preach for relationship and are heard to be preaching for religion. Thinking in the terms Tim Keller uses for Luke 15 – we can easily slip into trying to turn the irreligious younger son into the religious older son, but God reaches out to both the rebel and religious in order to draw them into relationship. Sons, not servants. If we are not very careful, we can preach for relationship and be heard as preaching religion. This is heavily influenced by the religious tendency of humanity in the flesh, but that is no excuse since we have to preach to those who are listening and can’t just blame them if they miss our point.
I was thinking about a vision for the local church for a presentation this week. I was struck by how easily we settle for a line drawing, a sketched representation of the reality, rather than the full multi-coloured vivid 3-D reality of God’s wisdom demonstrated in the church. There may be some extremely dead churches, but for many the difference between vibrantly alive and slightly hollow is marginal, little shaded differences, in some areas and not others, in some people and less so in others.
We like to think in black and white terms, in one extreme or the other. Since we’re not completely dead, we must therefore be completely alive. It’s easier that way. But as preachers we need to help people not settle for a mere representation of life to the full, of the delight of being fully alive in Christ, sharing in the communion of the Godhead, participating fully in all that God has for us.
Let’s preach the texts that offer strong polarities and not hold back. Let’s also recognize that often the difference between reality and mere representation is marginal – so our preaching needs to sensitively engage and encourage in the midst of the shaded differences.