I am finally finding myself again after the flurry of activity around the holidays. Literally. This week I just found my November (yeah, you read that right, November) copy of Preaching magazine. It is one of my favorites—along with Christianity Today, Biblical Archaeology Review, and National Geographic. I hope to find my January BAR soon. Preaching is one of those publications every preacher has to read in order to know what we’re doing wrong and how the cool preachers are doing.
As I wrote about last week, there is a quick little article early in the November Preaching Magazine titled “What Makes a Preacher ‘Good’” by Ben Mandrell. Mandrell lists six things that make a preacher good.
1. The preacher should give people a bigger picture of God.
2. The preacher should train people to turn to their Bible when problems arise.
3. The preacher should show people how to read, study, and handle the Bible for themselves.
4. The preacher should teach all parts of the Bible and show how unique and wonderful each section truly is.
5. The preacher should challenge people to own the truth by responding to the message.
6. The preacher should prove that the Bible is ancient yet speaks to us today.
I pondered his article for long while. I like his points, and I like that four of them specifically refer to the Bible. I am “all in” as it regards the primacy of the Bible in preaching. Even if a sermon doesn’t address a specific text, it must be biblical! (NOTE—it doesn’t have to cover a specific text in any specific way in order to be biblical.) I also appreciated his first “should” about a bigger perspective of God. I believe too often our preaching makes God seem small and little. We focus on immanence to such a degree we’ve lost a lot of transcendence.
The one that bothered me though, is #6. It bothered me for three reasons. First, I reject the notion that I have to “prove” anything about the Bible. It is the Holy Spirit of God who speaks. I prefer to let him do his own proving. Second, although he doesn’t use the term ‘relevant’ it is his underlying assumption that the preacher must make the Bible relevant. I reject that. I don’t make the Bible relevant. The Bible is relevant. The third reason I was troubled by #6 is that it seemed to cancel out his #1. The way he words #6 seems to indicate the author believes the Bible speaks today in spite of itself and that would not be very big of God.
To support his last point, Mandrell pulled out the old Harry Fosdick quote, “Only the preacher proceeds still upon the idea that folks come to church desperately anxious to discover what happened to the Jebusites.” Okay, I admit no one is anxious about the Jebusites. But what I also believe is that people are actually very interested in the backgrounds, details, and history of the biblical material. If they are not, well, they should be. Good preaching stirs people’s desire to know more of the antiquity of the biblical text. Good preaching should not give excuse for ignoring or minimizing the ancient world.
What I mean, using Fosdick’s example, is the Jebusites were people. They were people who lived in Jerusalem before King David conquered it. The most important part of that sentence is that they were people; people with feelings, emotions, hopes and dreams, a shared history, and a common culture just like anyone else. It is wrong to sweep them onto the dust bin of history as if they never mattered. The kind of preaching we need for today is not the kind that ignores the Jebusites in favor of some kind of relevant application but instead we need preaching that openly and honestly explores the Jebusites and how their plight is often like our own, or how their situation can connect to us, or what we can learn from them. But for the love of all that is decent, do not ignore them.
It is a western cultural bias or arrogance that leads us to minimize things or people we do not understand or are too lazy to work through. But here’s one for you. The Jebusites were conquered by David—what happened to them? Well, there are two options. One, they were victims of genocide and David killed them all. Before you reject that, as I read the Old Testament, David was certainly capable of this brutality. The second possibility is that after they lost Jerusalem the Jebusites began a painful cultural assimilation into the majority culture.
So, when I read Jebusite it is not hard for me to it as Cherokee, Comanche, or Apache. Keep pushing the text and perhaps the Jebusites begin to look like the Etruscans from the Italian Peninsula so long ago. Keep pushing and maybe they are a small, quiet, rural community that suddenly finds itself the victim of urban sprawl and their property taxes increase, strip malls are put in, old business board up as big box stores move in as the Jebusites find their entire way of life slowly eroding out from underneath them.
We should be anxious about the Jebusites.