GOOD PREACHER PART TWO–A RANT or WHO MOURNS FOR THE JEBUSITES

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.

PERSPECTIVES ON A “GOOD PREACHER”

I’m finally catching up on my reading and was flipping through November’s Preaching magazine.  There is a quick little article early in this edition 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.

This is a fine list.  Next Monday I will post a blog I have written that is a deeper critique of this list, but for now, what I got to thinking about is what would my list be?  I use his same “the preacher should” to describe my six.

1.  The preacher should help me laugh at myself.

2.  The preacher should respect the Bible but not be afraid to play with it.

3.  The preacher should be so familiar with his material that notes are not really needed.

4.  The preacher should manuscript the sermon so he or she knows how it ends.

5.  The preacher should have one point around which all the material flows.

6.  The preacher should use variety in delivery and presentation.

 

If I spent another 30 minutes or so on it, I think I could probably have 15 more “the preacher shoulds.”    I’ll save those for my someday book on homiletics.  But what has me really thinking is what would be the list of six things a preacher should do from the vantage point of the congregation?

1.  The preacher should get to the point.

2.  The preacher should take care not to be too repetitive.

3.  The preacher should take care not to be too repetitive.

4.  The preacher should take, on average, 40% off the sermon. 

5.  The preacher should work the nursery sometimes to think about how it feels.

6.  The preacher should get someone to help him color coordinate his clothes—he is an eyesore.

7.  The preacher should be forced, at gunpoint, to listen to his own sermons.

8.  The preacher should finish on time and be docked in pay if he/she doesn’t.

Okay, that is more than 6 but I was having way too much fun.  But wait.  I’m not quite through.  What do you perceive God’s list, if we could know such a thing, would be of what makes a preacher “Good?”  I have some ideas.  (Note, I have substituted “God” for the personal pronoun, but if it were God thinking, then, well, you get the point.)

1.  The preacher should seek to know what God thinks, not blather what he/she thinks.

2.  The preacher should love God more than preaching about God.

3.  The preacher should resist the temptation to judge success in anything other than faithfulness to the calling.

4.  The preacher should love the people more than he/she loves that the people listen to him/her.

5.  The preacher should preach fewer sermons but better ones—say less mean more.

6.  The preacher should finish on time and be docked in pay if he/she doesn’t.