Making Truth Understood

So we’ve thought about making biblical truth memorable, and making it known, but what about making it understood.  Is that what preaching is?  Yes.  And no.

1. Contemporary listeners need help understanding the Bible.

There is a significant distance between today’s world and the world of the Bible.  As the preacher, you have a key role in helping to bridge that divide.  This means overcoming differences in culture, in language, in politics, in religion, in worldview, in geography, in customs, in perspectives, etc.  When you preach the Bible you need to help make sense of a very different world for the sake of those in yours.

This means we can’t just read the text and then apply it.  We have to make sense of what is going on.  This means plumbing not only the historical setting and context, but also the literary setting and context.  We have to help people make sense of not only a strangely different world, but also an unusual collection of texts.  People need to understand the canonical structure, the development of thought, the informing theology feeding into a passage, the shape of the story beyond the passage, the nature of the genre of the passage, the forms of literary design within the passage, etc.

And all this means that as preachers we have to make value judgments.  We can’t just dump all the information we know and learn into a message.  This would make it overwhelming and too long.  So we must decide what needs to be said, this time, to make sense of this passage.

2. Your listeners need more than just understanding, but not less.

Just to make matters worse, understanding is not the only goal.  It is the foundational step.  That is, without understanding, then we cannot build effective application, and we cannot expect genuine transformation.  It is no shortcut to bypass understanding and go straight to application, pressing for compliance or hoping for transformation.  Application and transformation must be built squarely on clear understanding of the text.  God is not into radically new revelation.  He has given us His Word to transform lives. He invites us to engage Him there, and as we do so, He also encounters us to change us now.  God hasn’t appointed us to simply explain the truth of His Word, nor to simply seek transformed lives by means of pointed application.  He has appointed us to put it all together – explain, apply, pursue transformation.

Bible Clarity and Preaching Clarity

The doctrine of the clarity of Scripture does not mean that the Bible is instantly clear, or equally clear to all, or fully clear to anyone.  What it does mean is that the Bible can be understood.

I’ve often made the passing remark in teaching settings that the authors of the Bible were neither drunk nor wasteful.  That is, they were coherent in their thoughts, and efficient in their writing.  They didn’t waste words or papyrus, they wrote in order to be understood by their intended audience.

But their is a greater Author involved too.  He is the master communicator and He made sure the Bible communicates exactly what He wants communicated, down to the very last word.  Praise God that He is a communicating God to the core of His triunity!  He is not a glory-hungry despot who communicates with impenetrable complexity in order to make us feel small!

This truth does not negate the necessary work involved in making sense of the Bible.  We do have to cross a significant historical, geographical, political, religious, cultural and linguistic divide.  It does take effort, and prayer, and time, to make sense of the Bible.  But no matter how tough some parts may be, it can be understood!

So what are some implications of the doctrine of biblical clarity for preachers?

1. Preachers have to work at understanding the Bible, there is no excuse for making up our own message (ab)using a passage.  When we preach our own message from a passage, we subtly give the impression that the text is not there to be understood, but abused.  Don’t be surprised when listeners copy our textual abuse patterns and come up with ideas we don’t like.

2. Preachers don’t have to make every detail instantly understandable to listeners, but we should be breeding confidence that study leads to understanding.  The doctrine of the clarity of Scripture does not imply that God is patronizing.  We don’t need to be, either.  Some parts are very tough, acknowledge this, don’t fudge.  There is much more that can be understood than is seemingly impregnable – help people see this.

3. Preachers are representing a God who made His book understandable, we should model a passion for clarity in our communication.  We don’t represent Him well when we make our message dense, impregnable or overly complex.

Tomorrow I will add one more aspect that is perhaps the most crucial of all.

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