Three Common Mistakes Preaching Genesis

OpenScroll1GenGenesis is such a critical book!  I suspect it simply isn’t preached enough.  The rest of the Bible is built on the foundation of Genesis, and so preaching it enough and preaching it well are very important.  Here are three mistakes to avoid, although many more could be added:

1. Atomistic Reading – This is where a text is snipped from the flow of the context and becomes a stand alone.  Typically this leads to a Sunday School type of preaching that treats each narrative as complete in itself, and with its own “moral of the story.”  Cain and Abel has to flow out of Genesis 3, and into the two genealogies of chapters 4 and 5.  Abraham does not offer us a set of stand alone tales, but a sequence of growing faith, obedience and connection with God.  Joseph’s brothers show consistency between snapshots, making them more than 11 faceless foils in the story of Joseph.  Be careful to study and preach each unit in context.

2. Moralistic Reading – This is where a text is snipped from the artery of life that is God’s involvement in specific history, turning the text into a tale with a moral, a lesson for the day, a suggestion on how we can live better.  So we should try to avoid infidelity like Joseph did, or not give away our wives like Abraham/Isaac did, or not get caught up in tempting conversations like Eve did.  But actually the goal is not our independent successful functioning: that was what the serpent was pushing for.  The goal is surely more God-centred than that.  Eve didn’t trust God’s Word and God’s character, but God himself works the resolution to the sin problem and invites us to trust Him and His Word.  Abraham was on a journey of faith as we are.  Joseph lived as if God were with him, even though he had very little indication that he was!

3. Impositional Reading – This is where a text is seen, but not heard.  It is where a text acts as a trigger to recall sermons heard and points previously stated.  The preacher reads the text and looks for a sermon, instead of studying the text and looking for God.  Impositional reading will always lead to superficial preaching.  Probe, question, examine, query, ponder, mine, and wrestle with the text.  Do that with God in conversation and see if the preaching of Genesis suddenly becomes a spring of living water instead of stale old picture book fables.

9 thoughts on “Three Common Mistakes Preaching Genesis

  1. I see the point you are making, especially point 3.Preaching outside the context is a real crime. Still, there are moral lessons in many stories. The truth about the Lord shouldn’t be divorced from it, but we can learn about life. I think you make it sound like an “either/or” when in reality it is “and”. That’s the beauty and depth of Scripture. Great preachers through the centuries, including many of our favorites like Spurgeon or MacLaren, preached this way. Stories (within the larger context) can, in fact, stand alone. Think of Christ referencing one story without referencing the entire life of the character. Remember Him using David and the bread from the Tabernacle? Many of the stories from Abraham’s life make wonderful, multi-faceted messages. I can explain his growing faith and obedience, but that in no way means I can’t focus almost exclusively on the one story.
    I don’t want to sound critical as this is a great blog, but I wanted to speak of balance on this one thought.

    • Hi Jimmy, thanks for the thoughtful comment. There are moral lessons in many stories, but we must be careful to preach the point of the story rather than drawing out applicational points. This kind of moral application harvesting can easily obscure God and lose the gospel. Obviously we need to have wisdom in this, and while you may be right that it often can be a both/and, there is a definite balance issue in many preachers that needs to be redressed in the opposite direction. Stories can stand alone, but surely it is fair to say that we must study a story in context, and if we grasp its meaning in context, then that will typically be evident or implicit in our preaching of it. I think Jesus handled the David comment appropriately to the context of the original. Thanks for engaging the site, really appreciated. We all have to wrestle with these issues, and your thoughts are certainly helpful to that end.

  2. Something I have tried to convey so many times (that gets muddled, particularly in the OT, especially Genesis) is this: there is only one hero in the bible, and that’s God. No one else is a model to be imitated or followed after, only God is whom calls us to “be holy as I am holy.” It shouldn’t necessarily trouble us when Abraham acts badly, because he’s human. He messes up. We all mess up. The wonderful story of the bible is that God uses us and blesses us, and makes covenant with us in spite of ourselves.

  3. Good post. There is such an epidemic of self-centered and moralistic preaching. Don’t they teach these preaching principles at seminary? On another note, I think there are at least a few indicators (Joseph himself even recognized) that God was with Joseph during his troubles: prophetic dream(s), prophetic dream interpretation, and recognition by pagans for having the “Spirit of God”.

    • Thanks Nathan – I took your point and changed “no indication” to “very little indication.” I think when we take into account the number of years that passed and the circumstances he faced, the indications were very much against God being with him. Yes he had a couple of dreams, but then the rejection, the sale, the slavery, the unfair accusation, the imprisonment, and then after a successful dream interpretation moment, he was forgotten. The writer makes sure we know God was with Joseph, but I’m not sure Joseph had much to go on, and yet he lived as if God were very much aware and involved. Good stuff to ponder.

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