As a minister, have you ever heard this from a church member: “Justification? Sanctification? Incarnation? I’m sorry pastor; I just don’t understand these biblical concepts.” As a result of this frequent complaint, many pastors simply change the way they preach.
But Pastor James M. Hamilton Jr. doesn’t.
In the 8th chapter of Text-Driven Preaching, Dr. Hamilton invests a few paragraphs into the argument of whether or not pastors should “dumb down” their preaching so “regular people” sitting in the pews can understand the Bible’s message. Here’s what he says:
Can God’s people operate complicated remote controls that come with everything from their new flat-screen TVs to their new cars? Can God’s people use computers; navigate grocery stores; hold down jobs; and acquire homes, cars, toys, and all the stuff they jam into the garage?
Let me be frank: I have no patience for suggestions that preachers need to dumb it down. Preachers need to be clear, and they need to be able to explain things in understandable ways. But human beings do not need the Bible to be dumbed down. If you think that, what you really think is that God the Holy Spirit did not know what He was doing when He inspired the Bible to be the way it is.
He’s got a point. 10 years ago, most of us couldn’t imagine controlling our TVs from our office computer. 10 years ago, the idea of connecting to the web from our phone – in traffic – was unthinkable. But we learned how…quickly.
That’s Dr. Hamilton’s point. We learn what’s important to us. And he thinks biblical theology should be very important to us!
It’s important to note what Dr. Hamilton is saying…and not saying. He’s not saying, “Use lots of Christian jargon that only seminarians understand.” Nor is he saying, “Try to impress people with your extensive knowledge of biblical, theological, and philosophical materials.” But it’s also clear that he’s not advocating “Christianity-light” in the pulpit, either!
No. He just wants biblical theology to be taught in “clear” and “understandable” ways. Here are a few ways to make sure we teach the Bible’s doctrine in clear and understandable ways:
1. Ask for the Holy Spirit’s guidance and leadership. Let’s face it; He’s the one who gave us the Word of God thousands of years ago. He’s the one who’s protected its purity and its teaching since then. Yeah, He’s more than able to help us communicate it today. So start by asking for His help.
2. Carefully explain any spiritual term found in the passage. Words like “grace,” “mercy,” “justification,” and “atonement” should always be defined. But don’t look over the smaller words like “sin” and “faith.” They usually need explanation as well.
3. If an analogy (to the term) presents itself, use it. Just make sure that analogy accurately conveys the whole truth intended by the Bible’s writer(s).
4. Use the Bible to illustrate theological/doctrinal points. For instance, if the concept of “faith” is being discussed, turn to Abraham’s obedience in Genesis 22, or Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego’s test in Daniel 3. If “sin” is the topic, flip over to David’s tragedy in 2 Samuel 11, or Ananias and Sapphira’s story in Acts 5. Nothing sheds light on the Bible better than the Bible.
Bottom line: we put people on the moon. We can put people’s minds on God’s Word.
Text-Driven Preaching by Daniel L. Akin. B&H Academic, 2010, Page 216.
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(Resource cataloged by David R Smith)