Lessons on God from Biblical Genre: Narrative, Apocalyptic, More…

Springing off D A Carson’s recent lecture on this subject, let’s look at a couple more genres, and add a few more for good measure (he was limited to just over an hour).

Narrative – Carson suggested that narrative is a very nuanced genre, allowing for significant fine tuning for the complexities of life.  As a preaching implication I would suggest that every narrative should be entered into fully, rather than touched on en route to a more generic sermon proposition.  Allow the full colour and vivid richness of human identification to work its way with power into the thoughts and hearts of the listeners.  Their lives are also full colour and vividly rich (often in complexity, challenge, doubts and struggles).

Apocalyptic – Carson suggested that apocalyptic literature reminds us that it is already known who wins in the end.  To be fair his time was running out and he gave no indication that he was avoiding this part of the potential content.  Many do, though.  Thus it is either neglected, or any reference to it quickly becomes an excessive lesson in apocalyptic genre explanations that can leave the listener wondering if there is anything that can be understood from this genre.  I suggest we need to think more carefully about how to honour God’s self-revelation through this genre.

Prophecy – Carson made no mention to this, but his time was gone.  It is important to understand both the overlap and the distinctions between apocalyptic and prophetic writing.  Prophecy speaks of God’s intimate involvement in the present (His concern, His responsiveness, His interest in the present) and His ultimate sovereignty in the future (His plans, His purposes, His right to rule in this world, in time and eternity).  Again, as preachers, we should not fear or avoid prophecy.  We should preach it.  Surely it is one of the richest biblical genres in so many ways.

Poetry – Carson spoke of wisdom literature.  I would want to ponder the particular features of poetry too, both within the wisdom corpus, and beyond it in places like Miriam’s song, or Hannah’s song, etc.  Doesn’t the volume of poetry in the Bible tell us something of God’s love for artistic forms of communication, and his awareness of the needs of the human heart (not proposition-free, but more than “merely propositional”).

Final comment from Carson: “The problem is that we live in a culture that loves moral ambiguity for it’s own sake.  At the end of Job, God wins, and don’t ever forget it.  If we only had the narrative of David’s life we might have excuse for immorality.  If you only had Psalm 1 you’d be encouraged or crushed, no subtlety, no recognition of the complex nature of each of us.  But in God’s perfect wisdom He has given us apocalyptic and wisdom to tell us he doesn’t bend or grade on a curve.  But he also gives narratives to show us how complex we are.”

As humans we need all the genre.  As preachers we must give what is needed.

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Yahoo BuzzAdd to Newsvine

Lessons on God from Biblical Genre: History

Yesterday we pondered what the epistolary genre might teach us about God, and the implications for our preaching.  Continuing with some springboarding off D A Carson’s recent Laing Lecture at LST, let’s think about biblical history.

Carson suggested the following: God discloses himself not only in words, but also in space-time history.  We have access to that through witnesses, the standard mode of communicating historical veracity.  Thus there is so much emphasis placed on the importance of witnesses.

In fact, Christianity is unique among religions in that if we were to take Jesus out of history, there would be no Christianity (not true of other religions).  If Jesus didn’t actually rise from the dead, then witnesses are liars and we are still in our sins, our faith is futile.  For the Christian, one of the tests of our faith is the truthfulness of the faith’s object.  So no matter how strong and precious your faith may be, if that faith is not in something that is true, then you have nothing.

Biblically, a personal and precious faith without truth does not make a person spiritual, it makes them a joke.  So Biblical faith is not the same as the contemporary view – that it is either a synonym for religion, or a personal subjective religious choice.  This final definition makes it a faux pas to introduce the truth question (since we are talking about something both personal and subjective).  But the truth question is absolutely paramount.  While there are many elements of Christianity where we are to take God at His word, there are also critical elements, foundations, that require a test in history – notably the resurrection of Christ.

Implications for our preaching?  I would suggest:

1.    We must overtly overcome the “Bible story as fairy tale” perception.  It is not enough to assume people understand the historicity of the biblical record, we need to be overt on this matter.

2.    We should seek to overcome the notion that the Bible is a religious book, but good history books are published by other printing presses.  The Bible is not only history, but it is phenomenally trustworthy historical source material.

3.    We must train believers to know that their faith is resting on reality and fact, rather than the “leap in the dark” nonsense coming from both critics and ill-advised testimonies of people feeling public-presentation fright.

4.    We should recognize how unaware Christians tend to be in respect to the differences between biblical Christianity and other religions.  This leaves people very vulnerable when other religions are so proactively on the march.

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Yahoo BuzzAdd to Newsvine

Lessons on God from Biblical Genre: Epistle

In the past two days I have shared D A Carson’s five points on the diversity of biblical genre.  Now to some specific genre and what their design might suggest about God.

Carson suggested the following: There are lessons to be learned about God from the occasional nature of the epistles.  Paul never gave his summary of doctrine.  He is always found to be, in some way, responding to a felt need of some kind.

Carson suggested that differences in Paul’s letters reflect differences in occasion, rather than maturation of Paul.  (His support for this suggestion is the timing of the letters.  Paul had about 16 years post-conversion before he wrote any of the epistles, then in the latter part of his “career” he wrote his letters.  We would expect significant maturation if he began as a naïve new believer, but he didn’t.)

So God address particular churches with particular needs, carefully applying the message of the gospel to each.  He gave the example of Paul’s different approaches to circumcision in respect to Timothy in Acts 16 and Titus in Galatians 2.  The difference here was a different occasion/circumstance.  In one the exclusive sufficiency of Jesus was at stake.  In the other it was about avoiding an unnecessary obstacle to ministry.  Occasionality is important and it is in the multiplicity of books that we find the full picture.

Implications for our preaching?  I would suggest four for now:

1.    We should seek to preach specific gospel presentation to specific audiences, rather than generic gospel presentations to undefined audiences.

2.    We should seek to help listeners grasp the occasional/situational context for an epistolary passage, rather than treating the epistle as some other form of writing (the systematic treatise comes to mind).

3.    Since there is no “gospel in a vacuum” presentations in the New Testament, we should try to avoid this all too common phenomena in our preaching.  Be sure to concretely apply the gospel to the lives of those listening.

4.    We should be very careful to preach a single passage with the full force of its own message, but always being sensitive to the fuller picture of the teaching of the other epistles and books.

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Yahoo BuzzAdd to Newsvine

Lessons on God from Biblical Genre – Carson … part 2

So yesterday we considered how the diversity of genres precludes the notion of containing God in a neat systematic definition.  We also considered the variety of modes of inspiration.  D A Carson offered three other lessons from the diversity of genre in Scripture:

3. The Biblical treatment of interaction between God and human beings are preserved not only in affirmations and commands and propositions, but in stunning depictions.

How true and how easy it is for preachers to take the stunning depictions and turn them into something less stunning.  Now a well-crafted propositional statement should capture the essence of a passage, but the goal is not word-craft, rather it is life transformation in response to the Word of God.  When that Word offers stunning depiction via narrative, or poetry, or prophetic oracle, or whatever, then our task is to re-present that!

4. The diversity of materials placed along an historical axis, generate some of the most important trajectories of the Bible. Carson gave the example of Melchizedek, and how the progress of revelation through the three key passages makes such a powerful statement about the purposes of God.

As preachers we need to help people see the beauty of Scripture, and the unity coming from the Author who inspired the whole.

5. Sometimes there are interesting lessons to be learned from the diversity within the literary genres. Carson spoke of the diversity within wisdom literature, or in the gospels.  Actually, he highlighted that there is one Gospel and it isn’t a book.  Just as you cannot say to a newsreader, “announce the news, and if necessary use words,” he pointed out the nonsense of the quote attributed to St Francis of Assisi along similar lines. The gospel has to be proclaimed, by definition it is news.

Let’s be encouraged that our ministry of proclaiming and announcing the message of the Bible is a vital and necessary ministry!

So that is five thoughts in respect to the diversity of genre in the Bible.  Tomorrow I will start to look at the specific lessons from specific genre, along with comment in respect to the preaching task.

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Yahoo BuzzAdd to Newsvine

Lessons on God from Biblical Genres – Carson

I recently attended a lecture by D A Carson on the biblical genres and what they teach us about God. I’d like to share some of his points and reflect on them a bit in terms of the preacher’s task.

Carson began by asking why didn’t God give us a systematic theology?  Or why didn’t God give us a holy book like the Qu’ran?  I’m tempted to pause there and ask whether our preaching reflects the diverse nature of Scripture, or whether we tend to preach systematic theology or uniform religious instruction . . . but I won’t.

The first part of the lecture considered what the diversity of genres tell us about God, then the second part looked at some specific examples from specific genres.  So, five things the diversity of genres tell us about God.

1. Although many true things can be said about God, he cannot be domesticated, boxed and neatly defined. He spoke of how the formalized categories of systematic theology always get stretched by narratives, giving examples in reference to sovereignty, aseity, impassibility.

Seems to me there is always a danger of superimposing supposedly orthodox theology on the Bible.  Sometimes the Bible does not quite seem to fit with a system forged in fires not fuelled by inspired revelation alone.  Nevertheless, let us certainly heed the warning, as preachers, to not think clear explanation and structure can somehow exhaustively present God.

2.  The diversity of literary genres attest different modes of inspiration. Unlike the Qu’ran or book of Mormon, Scripture is God-breathed in different ways.

What does this mean for our preaching?  I suppose we shouldn’t flatten inspiration into some kind of dictation concept, or other restricted view.  From my perspective I feel there should be wonder at the diversity of inspiration modes God used, and therefore response at what a great revealer God we have (i.e. He wasn’t restricted to getting people into a trance and then giving magic messages).

Tomorrow I will continue this list of five lessons from the diversity of genre in the Bible.

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Yahoo BuzzAdd to Newsvine