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Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Keith on Biblical Truth versus Popular Myth

One of the problems I come across when I write sermons myself is that the sermon writer is is often so much more theologically literate than the hearer. This is a generalisation of course, but like all generalisations I think it's true most of the time. The problem is that there has been a massive amount of historical work done on the Bible in the last 50 years and the question is how much of that do you include. There are two problems: Some of it requires a bit of education, which not all the listeners have, and it can also be discomforting for people to see their sacred cows shot down.

An example of the first problem: I wanted to preach a sermon on how the USA's policy on Israel is predicated on a false view of Revelation. My rector vetoed it on the grounds that it was too hard.

Another example: The proof texting against women in leadership is easy to understand but it falls to bits when confronted with a careful analysis of Scripture and a careful examination of the historical circumstances surrounding the texts. But are listeners able/willing to hear?

A simple example of the second problem is the birthplace of Jesus. The common wisdom that everyone knows is that Jesus was born in a stable because there was no room in the inn. That is almost certainly not the case. Joseph would have stayed with his family (the hospitality customs would have ensured that) in a house with a mezzanine. You ate/lived/slept on the mezzanine and the animals lived on the groung floor. This is where Mary would have had the baby: In the little privacy afforded in the house, down with the animals because the mezzanine was full.

That seems to be the best take on it according to the historical evidence. So all this stuff about Jesus being unwanted now as he was unwanted during his birth is false. He was embedded in his family. The carol No room only a manger of hay is historically inaccurate. But if you preach that, you will probably be howled down. So what? you may say. Perhaps a fair point in that instance, does it really matter? Well, yes, if you're interested in Biblical truth.

Dave's recent Sermon on Jesus, Justice and Jubilee is another example of the second problem. Dave tells me that Moore College at that time was not interested. I preached on the same text at my ex-church, reaching similar conclusions to Dave but also concluding that it meant Jesus was more Left Wing thean Right Wing. It was the last Sermon I was asked to preach. Biblically, the point is obvious, but no-one wanted to hear it.

How far do you push people, both in terms of how much you expect them to take in, and in terms of how much change you expect? How true are you willing to be to Scripture when it may offend people? Hard questions. I really admire the balance that Dave achieves.


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