Recently, I finished working my way through Zack Eswine’s Preaching To A Post-Everything World: Crafting Biblical Sermons That Connect With Our Culture. Though I don’t preach regularly, I found this book useful for my teaching and it will definitely impact how I prepare future messages when I do preach. Also, because I work with Docent Research Group, much of what I read here was useful for my labors there. The categories Eswine offers for thinking through how a text might connect would be helpful for just about anyone, but especially those of us communicating the Bible on a regular basis.
As I did with a previous Friday entry, here are (several but not all) of my highlights:
At other times we are blind to the Contexts of Reality that we habitually leave unaddressed by our ministry of the Word. Others are required to ban certain aspects of reality from their preaching due to congregational sensibilities. One thing is certain about all of this: Identify those areas of reality that a preacher does not talk about and you will discover those spheres of reality that people are daily trying to navigate without the light of God’s word.
Expository bans generally come in five forms: censoring, muting, equivocating, evicting, and cynicism. Familiarity with each form can strengthen our capacity to preach what is real from the text,
The Fallen Condition Focus (FCF) is the mutual human condition that contemporary believers or nonbelievers share with those to or about whom the text was written that requires the grace of the passage for God’s people to glorify and enjoy him or for those who resist God to properly regard him and to be reconciled to him.
Preachers regularly and rightly call people to bear fruit. But preachers must realize that no one can do what is required without the present provision of Jesus.
In contrast to the gospel, both moralism and simplism conspire to reduce dependence upon God. Simplism fosters self-dependence by reducing complexity. Reality is made manageable. Consequently, simplism overestimates our ability to offer answers to reality. Moralism fosters self-dependence by reducing morality. Morality is made manageable by human effort
An eclipse places one object in front of another so that the first object is hidden. An expository eclipse comes in at least four forms: (1) eclipsing Christ, (2) eclipsing fallen biblical characters, (3) eclipsing the judgment, wrath, or discipline of God, (4) eclipsing the wisdom context. We eclipse Christ when we give priority to Christ as our example over Christ as our provision.
After exploring Christ as our provision, then we move toward our far application—Christ as our example. In light of what Christ provides for us, what do we now learn regarding our response to others? Without this approach, human behavior becomes the primary application from the text, when the primary point in the text was not our behavior but Christ’s.
A second method for locating the big idea of a passage is to search for the divine comment of the passage. The divine comment is a statement in the narrative, either by the narrator or one of the characters, that highlights the governing theme of the passage. This statement often resides just after the climax or resolution of the narrative scene.
Once we’ve located the big idea for the narrative, then we try to identify the Fallen Condition Focus (FCF) by locating a person’s circumstances, words, or actions in the story that display the finite, fallen, faltering, or fragile conditions of human beings.
A question arises: How do you determine which FCF to emphasize for the sermon? The answer is this: Determine the proportion that each FCF is given in the text and let the sermon reflect this. If an FCF is given time and repetition, it is likely more dominate and will serve as the lead FCF for the sermon. Other FCFs that are given less attention in the text will play more minor roles in the sermon.
Since the characters in the story are “future blind” we join them and preach the narrative as if we too do not know how it ends. The listener is allowed to join us in the journey and discover what comes next. An inductive approach enables the sermon to allow its listeners the felt tension of the narrative.
Now we develop the sermon material that moves the listener on a journey of discovery from the big question to the big idea. The biblical text is the road this journey takes. Instead of using traditional sermon points, the preacher will want to think of the sermon as a series of scenes that are identified from the biblical narrative itself.
Now that we have identified where each scene begins and ends, our next step is to write a headline for each scene, which will act as our main points or moves in the sermon. Writing headlines is a journey in itself because as you continue to study and meditate on the text, your headlines will morph and sometimes change altogether.
Use transitions between scenes to ask a question of cross-examination. Raise tension by exposing a realistic challenge to the point made from the previous scene. This question of cross-examination allows the following scene’s headline to serve as an answer.
It is hard for parents to remember that children in the crowds saw Jesus with prostitutes, tax collectors, and sinners. Parents want to go into Jesus’s presence at church in order to keep their kids safe from the world. But Jesus keeps drawing unsafe people from the world to himself. We are confounded. We complain, “How am I supposed to explain this to my kids?” With that complaint we lose sight of something vital: To explain how Jesus reaches people no matter where they’ve been or what they’ve done is to explain to our kids the gospel. It is to explain our own testimony. It is to teach the next generation how Jesus relates to people and the world.
It was God who taught Daniel the literature and language of Babylon (Dan. 1:4). Likewise, it was God who taught Jonah about Nineveh and not the other way around. God is omnilingual and omnipresent. God is an expert in the writings of Plato and Confucius. He is thoroughly acquainted with postmodern thought and Eastern mysticism. He understands the political theory and economic indicators of each nation.
According to Paul, the first essential for preaching is Christ. Regardless of the time and place in history that one preaches, biblical preaching is meant to be Christ-centered. Christ forms the content of our preaching (him we proclaim). Christ forms the purpose of our preaching (that we may present everyone mature in Christ). Christ is the power for our preaching (with all his energy that he powerfully works within me).
Paul’s second essential for preaching is the prophetic (warning everyone). Loosely speaking, the prophetic aspect of preaching is at its core concerned with the ruin and remedy of the conscience before God. Guilt, punishment, and forgiveness form the reason for warning.
Paul’s third essential for preaching is the catechetical (teaching everyone). The catechetical, or what I will later call the priestly element of preaching, is concerned with doctrine and doxology.
Paul’s fourth essential for preaching is wisdom (with all wisdom). Wisdom focuses the attention upon reality and how our perceptions of reality form behavior.
In all of this, God preaches humbly. John Calvin reminds us that the Bible is God’s baby-talk to us. “For who even of slight intelligence does not understand that, as nurses commonly do with infants, God is wont in a measure to ‘lisp’ in speaking to us? Thus such forms of speaking do not so much express clearly what God is like as accommodate the knowledge of him to our slight capacity. To do this he must descend far beneath his loftiness.”39 It is helpful for preachers to recall that once we’ve mastered the Scriptures we have only mastered the baby-talk of God.
So it is with preachers and the labor of preaching. Preaching requires a lifetime to get right. It resembles a marathon, not a sprint. Faithful preachers, therefore, require a connection to generations and geographies. God has been preaching long before we were born. Homiletics is more than a moment of past or present movements. The kind of preaching the future church will have handed to it makes this burden a shared and global concern. Ours is a concern that rises above our local movements to the institution of preaching itself. Preaching is something of a baton that we have received from those prior to us and that we will pass on to those who follow.
In contrast, the soft-hearted unbeliever is saying, “I did not know that I could love my enemies. I do not know how to do this. Tell me more.” The issue with the soft-hearted unbeliever is one of ignorance of the teaching. Augustine, the North African preacher, once observed that if someone is uninstructed in the matter, what they need is teaching rather than compulsion to obey. “Many people are transformed,” he said, “in the sense of knowing what they did not know before or believing what had once seemed incredible to them, and not in the sense of doing something which they had known to be necessary but refused to do.” In other words, sometimes when the light is turned on the heat is not required. Jesus’s dealing with the woman at the well models this point.
Using the resources the text provides varies our nuance of sermon posture from week to week because we try to resemble the posture we see God taking in the passage. The more we recognize the divine posture of the biblical text, the more our sermons week upon week will begin to reflect the full range of God’s speaking. In imitation of him, sometimes we will exhort with our sermons, sometimes instruct, sometimes use word pictures, and sometimes ask questions. The net result of a year’s worth of sermons will offer a full range of prophetic, catechetical, and sagacious interactions with God’s Word and our world. In other words, our preaching postures will begin to sound like those found in the Bible.
I do not mean that prophets are not to address unchurched contexts. Jonah immediately dispels this sentiment. Rather, those to whom the prophets preached were primarily and normatively comprised of the covenant people of God. This is why the work of missionary translation is minimal. Abraham, Moses, Ephraim, and Israel are already understood. The message of sin and judgment therefore addresses the insider. A return to the covenant and the law is called for. The tone of the prophet therefore is often strong and even harsh in its descriptions and implications because the prophets mostly preach to those who know better. Often, and this is important, it is not the soft-hearted who form the audience of the prophet.
It seems that we preachers must remember, however, that when a shared knowledge of God’s being and Word is eroded, hearers have little or no awareness of salvation history or of the God who saves. The biblically uninformed do not know what to repent from or whom to repent to, or why such repentance should matter. I suggest that God has provided the prophetic paradigm in such a way that we find help for post-everything churched contexts. I do not mean that prophetic pastoring is not appropriate for unchurched or in-between contexts. But in these contexts, prophetics must resist caricature and join the company of their priestly and wisdom partners for effectiveness.
The mind-only preacher caricatures wisdom by judging what is wise solely by the ideas one has. He forgets that one can be creedally correct while morally corrupt. Conversely, someone may be fuzzy or mistaken in their articulation of some point of doctrine but at the same time morally demonstrate the wisdom of that doctrine in action. There are those who correctly and precisely define repentance or justification by faith who live with hard hearts and boast in their religious performance. There are others who cannot clearly articulate repentance or justification by faith who are yet quick to admit their faults, ask forgiveness, and rejoice that Christ is enough for their restoration.
- Author: Zack Eswine
- Title: Preaching To A Post-Everything World: Crafting Biblical Sermons That Connect With Our Culture
- Publisher: Baker Books (April, 2008)
- Paperback: 288pgs
- Reading Level: General Reader