One way is to make the Bible a resource for advising listeners on how to be more successful in their attempts to live their lives. This statement is loaded with theological concerns, but the approach is popular and for many, the end justifies the means. So since people will respond positively to tips for life, and that will multiply attendees at church, then all is well. But what if we find ourselves uncomfortable with offering this kind of preaching? Are we forced to give up on relevance and instead switch to a heady theological and doctrinal type of preaching?
I don’t think so.
Another approach to relevance is to recognize the implicit relevance in inspired Scripture. It is God-breathed and it is useful. Our task as preachers is not to add relevance, but to make the relevance clear and felt. When the Scriptures are not treated as a flat data bank from which to pluck truth statements or instructions or whatever, but instead as fully dimensioned interpersonal communication, then we are on the right track. What I mean is that we need to make the Scripture clear, engaging with it in its historical and literary context so that its uniqueness is not only evident and clear, but also vivid and felt. Not only should we invite listeners into the world of the text so that the narrative or poem or discourse is felt and experienced, but also we should be inviting listeners to engage with the God who is revealing Himself in the text.
The combination of vivid text and personal revelation of God makes for powerful and felt relevance. Of course, some may not appreciate this approach. For one thing, God’s self-disclosure can be offensive to those who hunger more for instructions for independent living. But this should not put us off.
When we preach the Bible, let’s not settle for a tips-for-life kind of relevance. Let’s instead be Bible preachers who give our very best to help listeners experience the full meaning of the text and encounter the self-revelation of God.
True biblical preaching is relevant, because the Bible is relevant. True biblical preaching does not just use the Bible, or start with the Bible, instead it brings together two worlds, so that the God who is over all history can work glorious transformation in the world of the contemporary listener.