Preaching and Hearing Unattractive Texts (Sept-Dec 2003)

By Matt Dabbs

By Jerry Taylor

Preaching that derives from a collection of Scriptural quotations to prove doctrinal positions is often deeply offensive, one dimensional, and ineffective in making the biblical narrative relevant to the human condition. The Spirit-filled and Spirit-led worship experience is an opportunity for the hearers to be enriched by preaching that tells the Bible story in such a way that it connects to the exact point of the hearers’ pain and suffering. For this reason it is extremely important that when we tell the Bible story we go beyond its compelling side to give equal coverage to its unattractive side.

The Bible story is not always attractive. There is nothing attractive about a Teacher being betrayed and disowned by his students. There is nothing attractive about a couple being so poor that the only place available to them to give birth to their child was a stable among animals. There is nothing attractive about a woman having to behold the unlawful murder of her innocent son while watching him being degraded and humiliated because religious leaders feared and envied him. The gospel narrative does not always paint a pretty picture. For this reason we must resist the special interest groups within the church that have it as their agenda the intention to sterilize the telling of the Bible story.

I have discovered in my experiences of preaching that it takes courage to make a balanced presentation of the biblical narrative. Often people living in opposition to the way of the Kingdom feel insulted by the “direct moral” of the story. Some will insist that we stop telling the story or at least smooth out the rough edges. They want us to make the message less specific and more indirect.

God is the divine author of the story. He has written the script and we are expected to play our parts according to the lines He has created. The plot is the same as it was during the earthly life and ministry of Jesus Christ. The conflict continues to exist between forces of good and evil. If it is told with accuracy, there is simply no way that the tension within the biblical narrative can be toned down. The characters and the lines are basically the same as always, only the names and the historical settings have changed.

Therefore lobbying efforts in the church to tone down the telling of the story should be understood as serious attempts to escape the direct challenge of the Bible story. Furthermore, the story should not be manipulated or distorted in any way that leaves the hearer comfortably unchallenged. It is indeed God’s drama that He unfolds within the life of each who hears it.

As preachers and teachers we are privileged to handle this sacred story, therefore we must handle it with integrity. The privilege of telling this sacred story demands that we tell it in such a way that it will not be confused with being mere politics or comedy. The telling of the story is not about winning votes or making people laugh. The condition of our nation and world is no laughing matter. We are living in difficult times with problems that cannot be merely laughed or joked away. Using humor to tell the Bible story in some cases is appropriate. However the hearer should never leave the telling of the story with the conclusion that it was cute entertainment and that he/she does not have to take it seriously.

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Profile photo of Matt DabbsThis author published 1581 posts in this site.
Matt is the preaching minister at the Auburn Church of Christ in Auburn, Alabama. He and Missy have been married 12 years and are raising two wonderful boys, Jonah and Elijah. Matt is passionate about reaching and discipling young adults, small groups, and teaching. Matt is currently the editor and co-owner of Wineskins.org.

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