The Bible inarguably is the most influential book in the history of the world. Whether reading William Faulkner, gazing at a Rembrandt painting, visiting the Holocaust museum, making sense of conflict in the Middle East, watching James Dean in Elia Kazan’s East of Eden, or attending a Shakespeare play, without knowledge of the Bible, one simply misses much of the deeper meaning carried by rich biblical allusion. The Bible endows the Western world and the Near East with a rich array of cultural themes and narratives from which we have made sense of our own story and narrative.
As important as knowing the Bible may be to culture, for the Christian, the Bible is life. We cannot know Christ apart from God’s revelation of Himself in the Bible. We could not know of God’s work in history to redeem us apart from knowing the Bible. Churches have neither right nor reason to exist apart from belief and instruction in the Word of God.
Why then, if a thorough education needs it and a Christian worldview demands it, are typical Christians so woefully ignorant of the content of the Bible? They sometimes seem to possess little more than an inaccurate knowledge of the Christmas narrative and a distorted emotional understanding of the crucifixion. They know a little about the exodus, because they’ve seen Cecil B. DeMille’s Exodus, but they know nothing about the exile, the second most significant epoch in the Old Testament.
Pastors can be overwhelmed by parishioners’ obliviousness to Scripture, but in some ways, we largely share in the blame. Our preaching alone cannot solve the problem, but the problem will not be solved alone without our preaching. To that end, I offer these suggestions.
First, stay there. Only a shepherd who walks through a significant portion of life sharing the Word with his people can feed them a balanced scriptural diet, alternating preaching between Old and New Testaments, law and grace, gospel and epistle, history and prophecy. Only a pastor who is there for the long haul can systematically change the textual lens, sometimes looking closely at the constituent parts of the text with a magnifying glass, sometimes seeing the overall book with a fish-eye lens. It takes years of teaching the same congregation for a preacher to get a sense of what the congregation knows and what it still needs to learn.
Second, stay in the text. Avoid the temptation to preach a series that is more about someone’s book about the Bible than about the Bible itself. Don’t use the pulpit as the place for your general reflections on the injustice in the world and why Christians need to pray and be involved. As true as that may be, it still comes across as little more than a preacher’s opinion if not revealed in a specific text. It is God’s Word settled forever in the heavens that will not pass away. Give your flock something eternally significant, not merely culturally relevant.
Third, stay in all the text. Don’t just preach the parts of the Bible that are most familiar or easiest to explain. Push yourself beyond your natural comfort zone and preach texts that seem strange and foreign. Use biblical stories as illustrations of other passages. The more they know the Bible, the more they will love the Bible. In light of Paul’s statement that all Scripture is profitable (2 Tim. 3:16), ask yourself why the Holy Spirit would record this particular text for all time and how it fits into the overall redemptive work of God to redeem a people for Himself. Show that when you preach.
Fourth, be engaging. Homiletical dullness betrays spiritual dryness. The more intimately knowledgeable you are with the text, the more passionately you’ll preach. If the preacher isn’t excited about the Word of God, the congregation certainly will not be. The way you handle the text in the pulpit is how your people will handle it in their own lives, so preach it as it is—God’s Book!