June 7, 2013

Preaching from the Gospels

The challenge of preaching from the Gospels is, in part the challenge of preaching from narrative.  The best of Western seminaries and theological colleges reinforce the cultural bent toward the abstract, and fill students' heads with the importance of grammatical, lexicographical exegesis. Such exegesis is, of course, of enormous importance. But in students who do not have a feel for literature, it can have the unwitting effect of so focusing on the tree, indeed on the third knot of the fourth branch from the bottom of the sixth tree from the left, that the entire forest remains unseen, except perhaps as a vague and ominous challenge.
I am so glad that I have been reading this commentary by Carson.  I absolutely know that I could easily miss the forest for the trees, so to speak. My tendency is to drill deep on each verse and attempt to figure out what that verse is about.  I love the wealth of information that can be found in each individual sentence.  I don't want to miss any small bit of divine inspiration, and I don't want anyone else to miss it either.  But I think that he makes a very good point in his recommendation for John.

I want the people at Edgewood to see the forest.  I know that they might miss a tree or two along the way, but if they would but see the big picture.  Carson adds to this by saying,
Rightly done, preaching from the Gospels enables a congregation to put its Bible together, and then to find the Bible's deepest and most transforming application emerging from this vision.  To put the matter another way, John's stated purpose in composing the Fourth Gospel is not that his readers might believe, but that his readers might believe that the Christ, the Son of God, is Jesus, and that in believing they might have life in his name.
Adding more to his advice on preaching through John, he adds this final bit of opinion, that I am seriously taking to heart:
...those who set out to expound John's Gospel, as opposed to one of the Synoptics, often find themselves enmeshed in 'vain repetition'. John's vision is more narrowly focused than that of the Synoptists. For all the wealth of his presentation of Jesus, his own application, made again and again with driving force, is that his readers should believe. Many a preacher has begun a series on this book only to find that his application is becoming boring even to his own ears, and abandoned the series at ch. 7 or ch. 9 or the like.
He goes on to say that the series should go on to " ... focus on Jesus himself, on the fathomless Christological wealth bound up  in this Gospel."

I would be the preacher enmeshed in vain repetition.  I know I would. I hope to avoid that by heeding this godly advice and focusing on the forest even though my brain loves gazing at the trees.

The Gospel According to John (Pillar New Testament Commentary)