A major failure of modern orthodox Christianity has been an unwillingness to preach and teach the whole of the Bible. I am as guilty as anyone. We play the hits over and over but we don’t play the whole album. As a result, most of the content of the Bible goes unaddressed and unexplored in the life of the church.
Sometimes this happens because the material seems too distant and too dry. Let’s face it, Leviticus is a tough read but just as often it happens because the material is too difficult (Hebrews) or too controversial (Romans). It is hard leading these days and many pastors don’t want to invite additional “drama” into the life of their church by wading into “sure to be controversial” material. They are overwhelmed already.
As a result, many preachers over the past few decades have simply skipped the tough stuff. Series preaching makes this very easy to do and many congregations actually appreciate it because they don’t have to work very hard. As a result, some preaching has digressed into the “hermeneutical fast food” genre. It tastes good, has a great packaging, can be served quickly but won’t make you strong. There is just not enough nutritional variety there.
This failure to address the whole of the Bible has produced Christians who believe themselves to have a solid faith but have no idea of what is in the Bible beyond the Old Testament Bible stories and popular New Testament material like the Sermon on the Mount. This has left good church folks theologically “un-anchored” to the Word and wide open to false teaching. What is served in many churches is a “soft” Gospel that fails to offend the people in the pews but lacks breadth, depth, clarity and transforming power. Right for attendance and the budget. Wrong for making disciples.
Perhaps we have convinced ourselves there has never been a more difficult time to be ministry. Perhaps we over-think everything. Perhaps we tell church “ghost stories” and wonder why we can’t sleep at night. We read Romans and cringe to think how controversial the material is but fail to realize it was just as controversial in Paul’s day! They ran Paul out of cities, beat him and jailed him time after time. Truth has always comes at a price…it always will.
Preaching the “greatest hits” of a book like Romans and skipping over the tough stuff is easy to do. You probably won’t get any congregation complaints but selective preaching may be coming at the expense of making well-grounded disciples.
The challenge with Biblical truth is that it takes effort, hurts our ears, flies in the face of our sensibilities and puts us on a collision course with culture (and possibly each other). Rough air makes us nervous that the plane is going to crash so we simply take the plane to a different altitude to avoid turbulence.
Preaching then becomes an exercise in a cycle of “ever improving our grasp of the obvious.” We teach what people already know. So we work on better metaphors and illustrations and design slick sermon packages that keep us on trendy but safe cultural ground. I get it.
I am convinced that it is the collision of the way we think with what the Bible clearly says that produces true spiritual movement in us. Without the irritant, we don’t get the pearl. We have to get our folks reading the Bible, hearing the Bible, studying the Bible and living the Bible.
I don’t mean this in a caustic way but the Bible doesn’t really care what we think of it. When the sensibilities of our modern age are long forgotten, Biblical truth will still be shining like a new dime. It is not the task of the church to make the Bible more palatable to our culture; it our task to speak Biblical truth in love.
And to do that, we have to preach the Bible…
All of it.
-Rev. Shane L. Bishop has been the Sr. Pastor of Christ Church in Fairview Heights, Illinois since 1997.