What is the best way to teach the Bible?
I was formerly a lecturer in Biblical Theology, and my job was to train people to preach the Bible faithfully and well. I loved it.
I love preaching and teaching the Bible. I am a fan of the expositional 45 minute pseudo-lecture sermon, the well-illustrated sermon, the three pointer with alliterating and memorable titles – all of it. As long as God’s word is served up to me in a way that is meaty and not distorted, I’m happy. I think the Bible should be taught many different ways, and I don’t think that preaching needs to be labelled as outdated. The popularity of TED talks teaches us that much.
But – and here is my confession: sometimes, despite all my love of the Bible, I do not want to hear a sermon. Sometimes, despite my love of the Bible, I simultaneously do not love the Bible.
Sometimes I am weary, and my soul is weary, and I just want to cry and say ‘enough!’, and I don’t have the emotional strength to endure a slick presentation or dramatic and bold posturing, or humorous story from the news that links to a point in the passage, because I don’t feel slick or bold or humorous. I feel raw and vulnerable and small. There’s a part of me that thinks I should maybe just suck it up and receive from it anyway, and there’s truth in that, but I also think that sometimes the church’s pilgrims are so thirsty and sad and bone-weary, that we need something else.
There are times when I have not been able to read the Bible or listen to a sermon, much as I know that I need God’s word. For me, music does it best – I listen to Gungor or a Taize chant or old hymn, and like Saul, my soul is soothed. Or I read memoir or hear a testimony of God’s work in someone’s life. Through someone else’s story I see my own more clearly.
We all need to hear truth, but sometimes we need it told differently. Sometimes we need to have a friend confront us head-on with an uncomfortable challenge, and sometimes we need a friend to sidle up to us and put their arms around us. We need both.
I see lots of excellent examples of ‘head-on’ truth in the Church, but I am also seeking the truth-tellers who tell it so it comes in sideways. I am seeking the ones who put their arm around you and tell you a story or sing you a song, and before you know it, the truth has sneaked into your soul, gently, softly, without you even realising it was there.
This is what I aspire to when I write, because when you are a hungry, weary soul, that is the kind of truth you need, the truth that comes in sideways.
This is why I love hearing people tell their stories about the work of God in their life, and why there will be a new series of God and Suffering- Our Story starting in September. (I am so excited about the line-up!)
And this is also why I am trying something else that feels a little crazy.
Let me explain. I want to do a series on the theme of suffering in 1 Peter, digging deep and letting it write me. But I wanted to integrate story somehow into a letter that is all doctrine and commands. I believe there is story in the New Testament letters, and when we find it, our understanding is deeper and our hermeneutics and application are more faithful to God’s word as a result.
So I am going to write a series about it like this:
I have a time-travelling Bible, and every time I open 1 Peter, I travel back in time to the home of one of the original recipients. I am not going to write a sermon, but I am going to write the story of our imaginary conversation.
I’m not going to lie: this feels a little bit crazy. I have no idea whether what I have suggested is cutting-edge post-modern cool, or just beyond-cheesy. I also know that there are people like John Blase and Ed Cyzewski who are inspirational masters at reimagining the context of the Bible in fiction – and well, the last time I wrote fiction I was fourteen, and it was not exactly Pulitzer-prize-winning, as my school friends would verify.
It doesn’t even feel very ‘bloggy’. It may not work! But the thought of trying to explore the Bible in this way excites me, and so I’m going to override my fears of imperfection (for that, read ’embarrassingly terrible writing and borderline heresy’) – and I’m going to do it anyway.
The church needs the preachers who exposit and expose and stir us to action; we need the prophets who prod and poke the church into being awake. We need the truth head-on, boldly proclaimed.
But that is not all that the Church needs. I want to teach and prophesy to those who are aching and weary, who need the truth in a whisper or melody. We need the poets, the artists, the storytellers, the singers of songs. I want to write truth that comes in sideways.
Over to you:
- What do you most need to hear at the moment – ‘head-on’ truth or the truth that comes in sideways?
- Which writers, artists, Bible teachers, musicians do you know who excel in proclaiming Biblical truth ‘sideways’?
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