In this series of posts I am offering ten ways that I see preachers half-using a preaching text. The goal isn’t to critique, but to nudge us all to a higher view of the inspired text, a higher level of diligence in studying the text, and therefore a higher level of impact in our preaching of the text. So we’ve already considered using the text as an intro to another message, or failing to see how the details cohere, or preaching a message only nominally tied to the text itself.
4. Use the content, but ignore the context.
I use the term use deliberately. Sometimes the content of a passage could feel used because it isn’t understood in light of its context. This could be a certain term or phrase that is plucked out of its setting in a sentence and used to make a point. It could be the whole paragraph or section that is presented without awareness of how it fits in the flow of thought in the book.
I remember a conversation I had with a street preacher years ago. There are some street preachers that do a tremendous work of communicating the gospel to a busy and distracted world. This was not one of them. We got into a discussion about the Bible and I asked him what his view of the Bible was. “Oh, the Bible is like a treasure chest filled with jewels and treasures that we pick up and show to the world!” Problem was, he was plucking phrases without context and shouting random references to washing in blood and becoming white as snow, etc. It didn’t communicate. It regularly offended (in the wrong way).
That street shouter was an extreme example, but let’s not be lesser examples of the same error. Let’s be careful to always present a whole text in its context, rather than plucking the “useful” preaching bits and using, or abusing, them.
5. Use the context, but ignore the content.
I suppose this is a less common error, in my experience. But it is possible. I guess this happens more in the gospels. The preacher preaches about the ministry of Jesus in general, but doesn’t present the unique details conveyed by the gospel writer in this particular instance. (Or the preacher may preach the event accurately through harmonizing the gospels, but fail to preach the inspired text of the gospel in question.) Contextually it is possible to say Jesus was doing such and such, but if you’re preaching a particular healing narrative, preach it with good awareness of the detail the writer chose to include.
The list will build tomorrow, but feel free to comment on these or other things that come to mind at any point.