Holiday Post 3: Carefully Communicate Compelling Characters

Another January 2008 post for you, another day of holiday for me with my family (this is pre-loaded, in case you are wondering). . .

As preachers we always run the risk of preaching in black and white. We read a biblical text, compile the facts and preach them. Biblical writers wrote in a time where detail concerning characters in the narrative was sparse to say the least. We don’t read physical descriptions very often, other details are usually lacking and a character’s character is often only hinted at. Yet today we preach in a world where character detail and description are much more prominent (in advertising images, commercials, dramas, movies, etc.)

Warning! – The danger here is that we preach from the biblical lack of detail in a manner that resembles an abstract or colorless lecture. We can easily preach messages that people don’t relate to, can’t connect with and probably won’t be touched by.

Possibility! – The text often does give us more than we may at first notice. So with a little extra work and care, perhaps we can preach narrative texts in a more compelling and gripping way.

Definitely! – First we must be sure to make the most of whatever the text does give us. Don’t skim over a physical description, or the meaning of a name, or dialogue from their lips, or any other statement regarding the person.

Carefully! – Typically the text will not give enough information to build a full profile of a character. But carefully proceed to build more of a profile if you can. Consider all pertinent biblical, historical and cultural information. In areas where there is no possible certainty, perhaps suggest possibility without being definite. “Perhaps he felt . . . or was . . . or wanted . . .”

Remember that your goal is to preach the idea of the text with relevance to your listeners. Don’t get sidetracked into endless character profiling like an obsessive detective in a crime drama. Of course, facts are critically important. However, remember that lectures can be boring, but characters in dramas are compelling.

2 thoughts on “Holiday Post 3: Carefully Communicate Compelling Characters

  1. I would like to know your thoughts on gospel-centered hermeneutics. By this I mean the approach that looks for Christ in any and every Old Testament account, as the primary and correct interpretation of that passage, whether it is generally acknowledged as a Messianic passage or not. This is an issue that affects my work for a Christian publisher. It seems contrary to what I was taught in seminary, and to the approach you advocate in this blog.

    • Hi Dan – I think there is need for care here. There are more legitimate ways to preach Christ in Old Testament passages: there are Christophanies, explicit predicitions, themes that find their fulfillment in the incarnation, legitimate types and the fact that the whole goal is Christ. But I think we must be careful to honour the inspired Scripture. The end doesn’t justify the means when we re-interpret it to mean something completely new and, at times, fanciful. So when characters are twisted to be all about Jesus, or he is “found” in references that have a plain and clear meaning in their context which isn’t Christ, we don’t honour Him or the Scriptures. I think God did a masterful job in weaving together the Old Testament and telling the story of His plan to love the world through His Son. I don’t think He needs our creative help. I understand the motivation of those who try to make everything purely about Christ. I do think that although it is well-intentioned, it can have negative consequences. We must be careful to see what is there, however. We wouldn’t want to be open to the same charge as those Jesus confronts in John 5. I wrote a couple of posts on this, which you may have seen:

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