Gospel Dimensions 2

TapeMeasuresYesterday we pondered how small thinking about God will negatively shape our preaching.  What about our dimension estimates of humanity?  Again, this can really make a difference to our preaching.

1. When we see humanity as too elevated.  I suspect everything I will write in this post about humanity will really be leaning toward tomorrow’s post about sin.  I’m convinced that we simply don’t grasp how profound our problems actually are.  We swim in the brine of a post-Genesis 3 world and we are saturated to the core of our being, but don’t realize it.  Consequently our view of humanity can easily get too elevated, while losing sight of how special we are.  The issue is God’s image.  What does it mean to be made in God’s image?  When we corrupt the image language of Genesis 1 with notions of autonomy, authority and rule apart from relationality, then we end up with a mis-measured humanity.  The wonder of humanity is that we are made in the image of a relational God and we are made for relationship with Him.  Too much of our gospel-vision lacks a real grasp of how deep that design goes.  Instead we fall for a mis-measured human vision of autonomy, rule and authority.  Suddenly the image of God is about god-like qualities of abstract thinking and self-definition and self-determination and dominion over others and rule over creation . . . and our thinking about Genesis 1 (image) sounds and smells like Genesis 3 (hiss).

2. When we see humanity too individually.  This is another way of saying essentially the same thing.  I suspect many of us are better at spotting individuality in our reading of the New Testament than we are at spotting it in our reading of humanity.  That is to say, I suspect many of us know that the “you” of the epistles is usually “you all” rather than “you and you and you and you.”  It makes a difference.  Especially for us English speakers who don’t distinguish you singular from you plural.  We are saved into a corporate entity called the church, not given separate and distinct individual memberships for our own benefit.  So we hopefully see that on a horizontal level, but I suspect we still fall into seeing humans as stand-alone creatures.  It is the world that measures life and success by the items listed on a curriculum vitae or resume.  Our identity does not consist in our collection of capacities (education, experience, skills, references), but rather in the fabric of relationships with which we are enriched.  If we don’t grasp the difference, we will preach a gospel that tends toward personal benefits and relational disconnection.

3. When we see humanity as inherently good, but hindered.  I am out of words, but this can lead into tomorrow.  How bad is our problem?  Do we have a broken will that needs enabling?  Do we have a clouded mind that needs clearing?  Or is the problem much deeper and more devastating?

Biblical Girders 4

GirderWhere does each girder go?  The Bible has a superstructure that holds it all together.  So the thematic element of the promised seed in Genesis 3:15 will work its way through multiple books and become overt in places like Galatians 3 at the other end of the canon.  But this poses a challenge.  How much should we be preaching Galatians 3 when we are supposed to be preaching Genesis 3?

Many preachers would see no problem with springing from Genesis to Galatians since that is the fulfillment and the clarification of what is first stated in the Garden of Eden.  I am certainly not going to criticize the impulse to preach Christ and it would be strange to leave listeners wondering who that seed might be (unless such suspense were part of a bigger teaching strategy).

On the other hand, I do wonder if we can collapse themes forward too easily and lose some of the strength of the steel at that point in the biblical story?  If the Bible were a building, then Genesis would be the foundation.  Steel starting there does go through the whole structure and holds the whole together.  Themes of creation, of relationship, of fellowship lost, of divine grace and rescue, of divine promise, etc. all work their way from Genesis on through the Bible.  That  steel girder seen in Genesis 3:15 later on turns out to be the spire at the top of the whole structure, the pinnacle of it all.  It makes sense to let folks know the significance of that, but at the same time it makes sense to help people see the importance of the foundation.

That is to say, instead of immediately looking up to the spire that caps off the whole building, when we are preaching in Genesis lets be sure to help people see how the foundation fits together, how the hope offered by God’s grace in the seed of the woman is such a striking promise in the context of a spurned relationship in that first senseless human rebellion.  That passage is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training, etc.  So let’s preach Genesis 3, not just bounce off it to go straight to the spire.  At the same time let’s not get our noses in the foundations and let people miss the grandeur of the whole.

It isn’t either/or, it surely needs to be both/and.  And with that both/and, I think it needs to be honouring to the earlier text in its own right, not just a token glance.


Saturday Short Thought: Reinforcing Every Time

This week I have been pondering how to preach with a more developed set of motivational tools than just the pressure of guilt.  I’m convinced this is an important issue, and not just a homiletical detail.  It gets to the heart of our faith.

Is Christianity really and primarily about our responsibility to function in our own strength?  Is Christianity about how, thanks to Christ, I can now become a good person?  Is Christianity about creating good independent citizens, or is there the hiss of Genesis 3 in this version of the faith?

What if Christianity is much more about our response to Christ and His work in our lives?  What if Christianity is about transformation from the inside out, born of a family relationship that changes our hearts and consequently, our behaviour?  What if Christianity is not at all about independence, but dependence and inter-dependence?

The tension of duty versus delight is present in every sermon.  Do I pressure people to perform, or do I offer the vision of Him who transforms?

Responsibility preaching throttles the life out of the gospel.  Response preaching offers true life.  Our preaching subtly reinforces one view of the gospel or the other, every time.

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