Star Wars: Awakening the Force of Reverse Nostalgia in Preaching

Star_Wars_The_Force_AwakensYesterday I wrote about Star Wars and tied one thought into preaching. The critical ingredient in this movie seems to be its use of “nostalgia” – not just familiar score, scenery and action, but especially familiar characters. Almost every emotionally stirring moment in the film is stirred by some moment of recognition or a sense of relational connection (so good to see him again!) – what I loosely referred to as the “nostalgia.”

Pondering how much this features in the rhetorical design of the film led me to ponder preaching. Too often we miss the opportunity to re-introduce people to the emotional moments of biblical story where we can re-experience the thrill of identification with a well-known character. This is possible with Bible stories, and sadly, it is possible with The Character of The Story in the Bible – God Himself. Sermon by sermon we should be stirring affective engagement with God as His familiar character qualities re-emerge through the pages of Scripture.

So what is the force of reverse nostalgia?  And how can we awaken it?

Star Wars is grand in scope – it is a cosmic manichean struggle between good and evil, two sides of the impersonal force behind everything. And yet the story is that of people, not great armies. On an individual level these people are caught up in a great struggle, but their own stories reflect hints of a more biblical worldview – relationship, betrayal, parenting, etc.

One character in Star Wars has a restlessness about their character. Eventually comes, for me, the best line in the film – “Dear child, the belonging that you seek is not behind you. It is ahead.”

What Am I Calling Reverse Nostalgia?  I am referring to that stirred emotion of anticipation, the restless longing tapped by this quote. Sure, the Resistance may long for a cosmos where the dark side of the force is defeated, but such a utopian ideal is not heart-stirring. One character’s yearning to belong is.

Think of Hebrews 11:13-16. In this central section of the great “hall of faith” chapter, Abraham and his like were those who left behind their old country and headed for a better hometown. They died with their faith still intact, still anticipating their “repatriation” in a place that will be home. They did not look back, but instead they hailed home – with an anticipatory recognition of the community of love and joy to come, a belonging they were yet to experience.

Preaching That Taps Into Reverse Nostalgia.  Good preaching cannot be simply about good living now, nor about good living later.  Good preaching stirs that “hailing home” reflex in our hearts. The restlessness of this life stirred in anticipation of belonging. This is not about how nice the streets are in heaven.  This is about a relational bond that we taste by the Spirit, but one day we will experience to the max.

As we preach, let’s be sure to present God as personal so that listeners can be captured by His personality, His character, and all that He is.  As we preach let’s be sure to anticipate our destiny. Some songs capture this with lines like, “and the bride will run to her lover’s arms, giving glory to Emmanuel.” The key is not circumstance, it is interpersonal connection.

Let’s be sure to introduce listeners to the person of Jesus Christ. Let’s tap into that “nostalgia” factor of interpersonal connection as we re-introduce Him each week.  And let’s stir anticipation through “reverse nostalgia” and the anticipation, not of what is to come, but of who is to come! Star Wars touches that nerve purely on a family level. The Bible takes that to a gloriously greater dimension.

Biggest Big Ideas – 9. Hope

I started this series last week with the note that Haddon Robinson had suggested that the Bible weaves together about ten bigger big ideas.  I’m offering my list, feel encouraged to read the Scriptures and write your own.  We’ve pondered our triune God, His creation, our fall into sin, His grace, our faith, His great work of redemption, resulting in our unity, the spreading giving goodness of God’s plan and now we have two left.  The Bible is saturated with this theme:

9.  A fallen world is a place of despair, yet sin cannot win against our great God, so His people always have hope.

From the very beginning God’s book is a book of hope, because God’s people have a God worth trusting.  Even in the very moment of rebellion, in the sentencing phase of the first ever trial, God gave not punishment, but promise.  The seed of the woman is the hope of a fallen humanity.

Eve thought she had him in the joy of a son born.  The generations passed, but God is not slow in keeping His promise.  The promised one was coming in the line of Shem, of Abraham, of Isaac, of Jacob, of Judah, of Jesse, of David – of the unlikely, of the unholy, of the ordinary people in the line of an extraordinary promise.

The prophets told of the coming servant who would suffer, the coming King who would reign.  Generations ticked by, but for those with hearts aligned with God’s, hope only grew stronger.  Each father potentially in the line and gazing into his little Jewish boy’s face would wonder.  Finally it was a step-Dad’s little boy, a tiny bundle of life that he carried into the temple courts to be gazed on by two sets of faithful hope-filled aged eyes.

Now we live in light of His coming, and yet we look forward.  Almost every book of the New Testament speaks of the future return of our Christ, the groom coming to take us home to the Father’s house prepared for us.  We live in the shadows between two great spotlights, the appearing of the grace of God, and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ.  That is our blessed hope.

Some suggest such a hope is a crutch for the weak, or an anesthetic for the hurting.  The truth is we are so weak we need more than a crutch, but this hope does not dull our senses.  It enlivens us to live this life with hearts beating after His, with eyes to see His faithful loyal love, with ears to hear His word that stirs faith.  Hope transforms the darkest vale of tears, not by a temporary fix, but with the perspective of His forever plan.

The hope of the people of God is not a hope restricted to manageable circumstances or changeable situations.  It is a hope that holds in the face of hellish opposition.  It is a hope that stirs when death seems to own valley of the shadow in which we walk.  It is a hope that steps forward to pay even the greatest price, knowing that it is not we that stand on a slippery slope.

This earth has nothing we desire besides Him.  So we live on this earth gripped by the hope that only a good God would offer.

And we will not be disappointed.  We wait, we live and we die still anticipating a city whose maker and builder is God.  We hail home and do not shrink back, as those looking forward to the homecoming of those bought and washed in precious blood, a community with no trace of sin and its effects.

Yet our hope is not really the city with its perfect architecture and untarnished building materials.  They are as asphalt compared to the real glory of that city.  For our hope is not merely the place, nor even the privilege of participating in the gathering of the rescued people, our hope is the Person himself in whose presence we will know the fullness of joy – we will be forever with the Lord!

The hope God gives has always gone beyond the where, to the who.

God, who has called you into fellowship with His Son Jesus Christ our Lord, is faithful.

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Preaching Controversial Theological Issues – Part 2

Yesterday I began this post on how to preach a passage that may tread on some toes.  Sometimes there are informed members of the congregation who hold a particular position theologically.  Often there are relatively uninformed members of the congregation who hold a particular position tenaciously.  What should we do when we have to preach a passage that might stir disunity in the church?  Perhaps a passage touching on predestination, eternal security, eschatology, or a particular branch of Christian theology?  We should evaluate the choice of passage, preach the passage and preach wisely.  Furthermore:

Recognize, but don’t overqualify. It is often appropriate to recognize that there are different opinions on an issue that comes up in the text.  By recognizing it we assure people that we are not preaching unaware.  But don’t overqualify every statement and end up sounding like a politician who is saying a lot, but basically avoiding saying anything bad.

Watch your tone. It is important to choose words wisely, but don’t forget your tone.  Model a gracious spirit, never take cheap shots, demonstrate an attitude of harmony.  Make sure you are not using the opportunity and platform to win some points in a theological sparring match.  Fully pray through the situation ahead of time, not only in reference to the message, but also in reference to your relationship with key individuals in the church.

If appropriate, overtly teach theology. If you have the authority to do so, the situation requires it, you have prayed at length, etc., then it may be appropriate to ignore what I have written here and preach blatant theology (apart from watching your tone – always appropriate!)  Generally I would save this for the genuinely central issues – deity of Christ, salvation by grace/faith alone , the inspiration of the Bible, the trinitarian nature of Christianity.  The issues listed at the start of yesterday’s post are important, but not as central as these.

Preaching Controversial Theological Issues – Part 1

In different church settings there are different theological issues.  The kind of issues that may polarize a group of believers, or at least some within the group.  It may be the Calvinism/Arminian debate.  It may be some aspect of eternal security.  Or perhaps differing positions on the millennium.  Maybe there are both dispensational and covenantal proponents present.  Or conservatives and charismatics.  There are many such issues that see Christians diverge from each other.  What do you do when you are preaching a passage that could spark division among those listening?

Know your listeners. As best you can, know the people to whom you are preaching.  If you are a visiting speaker and consequently don’t know them so well, let that be a red flag before you wade into some theological controversy.

Evaluate the choice of passage. It is not automatically wrong to preach a potentially controversial passage, but it is worth thinking it through.  If you are preaching a stand-alone message, perhaps it would be better to preach another passage.  But if it is part of a series, do not avoid the tough passages.  People need to ear the whole counsel, including the parts that may make them uncomfortable . . . but it is fair to say that it is worth evaluating whether you, the passage and this particular occasion are a good combination for this to occur.  If it seems appropriate to preach the passage, then:

Preach the passage. If we preach the passage before us, we remain on relatively safe ground.  It is once we start adding theological labels and make a presentation of a position that we veer off into a mine field.  If you preach the passage and say what it says, then people can see it for themselves and are less likely to become contentious.

Preach wisely. Even sticking in the passage does not guarantee unity.  Be wise in your choice of words.  There may be a whole string of possible words to state a point in your particular passage, but some will definitely ignite a reaction, others might be just too much, others are safe.  Again, sticking with the terms of the text is usually better than importing terms from theological tomes (for various reasons).  We are not afraid of theology, but sometimes it is wiser to do theology without people realizing it.

Tomorrow I will complete this post with three more suggestions.  Feel free to comment now or after the next post.

Beware the Power of Propagated Rumors

There are always troublesome trends around, even in the church. They may be ideas or vague concepts, but they creep in and stick around for a while. Perhaps books are written to support them, but something published is not something certain. Maybe it’s time to put your finger on the pulse of your church and see if there are any ideas drifting around. In some cases we don’t need to address them, but simply be careful not to propagate them in our preaching, either by attitude, inference or reference. In other cases we need to step in and overtly correct with direct Bible teaching.

The heretical understandings. For example, how many people in our churches have the idea that the Trinity can be explained by the illustration of water, ice and steam (a modalistic explanation) or three friends in one group (a tritheistic explanation). If there is heretical thinking, look for appropriate moments to clarify the truth.

The fashionable trends. Not everything we disagree with is outright heresy. Often they are theological fashions and trends. Perhaps an idea pushed in a book that is imbalanced or narrow. Perhaps an idea emanating from a certain “camp” in Christendom. Perhaps an idea pushed on us from pressure groups outside the church. Fashionable “trends” that I’ve heard lately would include the idea that eschatology is other-worldly, always “retreatist” in orientation and therefore irrelevant. The blanket statement that foreign missionaries are no longer needed in other countries. The notion that Paul hated women. Or that any social concern among Christians means they have given up on the gospel. Or the opposite idea that Christians concerned with evangelism have no concern for people. I want to be careful not to add weight to any of these ideas, no matter how popular they might be in some circles.

We don’t have to address every issue going on in broader Christianity. But we should be aware of any way in which a passing comment, or perceived attitude, might continue to propagate ideas we don’t support. And we should have our finger on the pulse enough to recognize when an idea is becoming imbalanced, or worse, when a heresy is becoming acceptable.