Archive for month: March, 2012

The Culture Shock of Salvation

26 Mar Andy
March 26, 2012

[This post continues the line of thought from my previous post, "When Salvation Hurts."]

Israel’s 40 years of wilderness wandering was a form of acculturation.  They had left all the familiar scenery, the familiar sights and sounds, tastes and smells.  And now they were ambling about in dust-choked hinterlands.  What they were familiar with in Egypt may have been oppressive and brutal… but at least it was familiar.

We are creatures of habit.  We adapt and adjust, usually to patterned, consistent routines.  Defamiliarization disorients and confuses.  We miss home even if we’ve prayed to escape it.  Those of us who have bid farewell for the horizon know that once the landing gear skids the tarmac, we have to start re-adjusting.  New time zone.  New language, maybe.  New unspoken cultural codes.  New currency.  New people.  Before long, the disorientation takes its toll.  Dislodged from home, our bodies, minds and even our souls need time and care to re-adjust and re-adapt.

Culture shock.

The Israelites had spent four centuries in Egypt.  Four centuries of acculturating to Egyptian life, Egyptian talk, Egyptian agricultural practices, Egyptian climate, Egyptian religious over- and under-tones.

“Tell them “I AM” sent you.”

After all those decades extending roots into Egyptian sand, a bush burns and a voice speaks: no more.   An itinerary is issued.  The tickets are one-way.  Time to pack.  And in haste.  Forget the yeast. Just through some dough in the kiln and bake it.  Quickly.  Let’s grab the kids and go.  Now.

Israel’s culture shock had less to do with the desert than it did with the tour guide.  The desert had little culture with which to shock.  The culture into which Israel was being baptized was the culture of “I AM,” of YHWH.  On Sinai he gave his laws, laws that would shape and define a new society.  These laws would establish a new culture, the culture of YHWH in which Israel was to live.  Saturated with the new media of God, Israel had to re-adjust, re-adapt.

Salvation can come like a massive dose of culture shock.  Life before God is not like life anywhere else.  Egyptian values, Egyptian talk, Egyptian religious ideology—none of it would do before the One who had wrested their roots out of the sand to plant them elsewhere.  For Israel, the realm of Pharaoh was replaced by the realm of YHWH.  This new God-King demanded a specific way of life.  It had to be learned.  For most of the adults, it was a culture un-learnable.  That generation was so resistant to acculturation, so invested in the oppressive culture of Egypt, that they beleaguered forty years until their expiration in the sands between Egypt and Canaan.

Salvation is culture shock.  The culture is God’s.  The shock is from holiness and living by faith.  A life of trusting, of believing in daily manna, of gathering quail that appeared out of nowhere, of following new laws—the realm of YHWH requires drastic disorientation.  New speech has to be learned.  Former religious imagery has to be un-learned.  The iconography of Egypt must be dismantled and replaced with the aniconography of “I AM.”

Familiarity does not come.  Never.  The furious, portentous rumbling and trembling of Sinai established that fact for Israel.  A ghastly cross and an empty tomb establishes it for us.  Who is this God, the God who speaks from fire, whose weight crushes mountain summits, who permits his own death… then parts waters thicker than the sea and comes out through his own tomb?  No cozy sentimentality can be developed with this God.

But no refuge is sweeter.  No rescue is stronger.  Give me that one-way ticket.  Time to pack.  In haste.  Grab the kids.  Let’s go.  Now.

Collin Hansen on Place and Mobility

24 Mar Andy
March 24, 2012

Readers familiar with Hopeful Realism will know that I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about the motivations behind our travel-oriented mission jaunts (the most recent reflection is here).  To be absolutely clear, in no way do I wish to provide justification for someone to just deny a call to embark for an exciting and difficult ministry.  The heart behind the “We Need Boring Christians” articles with Relevant is to offer a corrective to motivations sourced more in popular culture than in divine calling.  To do something epic and awesome is in the air.

"The Stay-Home Generation" by C. Hansen

Then again, mobility among young adults is decreasing.  In my circles as a former college pastor, overseas adventure was often the rave.  But Collin Hansen has been studying reports that mobility among young adults has actually decreased.  In a piece at The Gospel Coalition, he provides theological reflection on this sociological phenomenon.  In an economy that makes leaving home more bracing, he observes some redemptive treasures available to the “stay-home generation,” like the commitment to place and the daily experience of the (sometimes unexciting) relational ties at home that contribute so powerfully to our growth as Christians.

Check it out.  Worth the read….

Sneaking a Sacrament

21 Mar Andy
March 21, 2012

I have seen so much beauty and wonder accompany the Eucharist.  Maybe not as much as I saw this past Sunday.

With a toddler in my arms, I rose as soon as the invitation was extended and went to receive the bread and wine.  My desperation for Jesus was too intense to wait and piously reflect  in the seat.  I just needed Him.  Not in two minutes, not in one.  I needed Him then and there by whatever means.

(photo by 123RF)

When I returned, I found my 7-yr old son distraught and on the verge of tears.  My wife had joined the communion line.  Our older daughter, who I baptized just last year, went with her.  My wife and I have decided that our kids will wait on taking the Eucharist until baptism (not a conviction we would hold others to, but one I feel fairly confident in).

My 7-yr old loves Jesus, but he has not yet been baptized.

He wanted the bread (not the wine, so much).  Oh, for that bread.  He was hungry.  I sort of wanted to correct his attitude: we do not take communion because we want a snack.  I thought better of it.  Hunger is real.  The bread is real.  The tangibility of it all is intentional.  I explained to him again the meaning of the elements.  In childlike, innocent fashion, the little guy’s desire for a snack, his preferential love for our church’s style of communion bread, and his yearning for Jesus were all bound together quite beautifully.  Beautifully and tragically… since his Dad has this policy of no pre-baptism Eucharist.

By denying him the bread (he still had no interest in the wine), he seemed to think I was denying him of something more.  And I was.  I shared the Gospel with him again, affirmed to him Christ’s love.  That bread is for you, little guy.  It is yours.  Jesus wants you to feast on it, to never get tired of it, to munch it and taste it over and over again.  It is for you… forever.  But I want to honor baptism as an initiating sacrament that binds one into the family of faith nurtured on the sacramental bread and cup.  He was nearly in tears.  The boy wanted the body of our Lord, broken for him.  He was desperate.  He did not want to wait two minutes.  Not one minute.  He needed something at that very moment.

His mother and sister returned.  That 9-yr old girl stuck out her hand as she walked past to get to her seat.  In one motion, her little  fingers swiftly opened his and secretively placed something inside.

A tiny piece of bread.

When Salvation Hurts

19 Mar Andy
March 19, 2012

[For the IVP Authors' Lenten Blog Tour]

God’s rescue operations can feel like assault operations. At times, it is hard to distinguish between salvation and affliction.

Mark Chagall: "Exodus"

A sea was parted for my family about a year and half ago. After ten years of collecting airline mileage points in hopes of me doing a PhD program in England, my wife was finally on the phone with a ticketing agent. While accumulating mileage points, though, we were also accumulating children. Four of them. We only had half the necessary mileage points, and no real funds to make up the difference. The ticketing agent then mentioned that for the first time in its history, the airline was accepting points for one-way tickets, not just round-trip. “Would one-way work?”

We had 165,768 points. The amount required was 165,000. “Oh, yes, one-way will work.”

The evidence of providence was surely in the close figures. We stepped forward for the exciting trek ahead.

Then came the most distressing season of our adult lives—months of juggling insane schedules while plodding on toward wider, stormier seas left unparted. We were not sure we would board that flight until three weeks before departure. But we did. Another sea was crossed—literally. Thank You, Lord….

….And then an even more difficult season ensued.

All these partings seemed to be leading not to deliverance but to disaster. I complain a lot. I pelt desperate prayers skyward. I just want to follow God’s lead. Why must he complicate and obscure the path at every turn?

I find myself echoing a rather unheroic voice in Scripture: the voice of Israel in the wilderness.

The Exodus out of Egypt is the Old Testament prototype of God’s salvation. It must have seemed an odd way “to save” for the Israelites. In many respects, it was a botched rescue op from the beginning that felt more like oppression. Moses to Pharaoh: Let them go. Pharaoh to Israel: Make more bricks… and get your own straw. Israel to Moses: “You have put a sword in [Egypt's] hand to kill us” (Ex 5:21).

This was a deliverance marked by a river swollen with blood, by heaps of rotting frog-flesh, by eerie nighttime wails in the homes of unbloodied lintels—

What kind of rescue plan is this? You call this “salvation”?

To be sure, when the sea parted, there was singing and dancing. Worship. Finally, amidst nightmarish plagues, there was the taste of freedom.

But not the taste of food. Or water.

Would that we had died by the hand of the LORD in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the meat pots and ate bread to the full… (Ex 16:3).

Egypt’s oppression seemed better than God’s deliverance. Divine rescue felt like divine attack. This “salvation” seemed too painful, too risky, too costly. What kind of salvation is this?

And what kind of Savior is this?

The hope of Canaan seemed pathetic consolation. God advertised the place as flowing with milk and honey… and also with Canaanites, Hittites, Perizzites, Hivites, Jebusites and Amorites. This is a salvation that lands you in a desert, that thrusts you before the spears of unknown enemies.

And yet the Exodus is the paradigmatic portrayal in Israel’s Scriptures of the salvation of God and of God as Savior.

How does that affect our soteriology?

God’s salvation requires intense acculturation. To be extracted from Egypt and acclimated to life before YHWH, intense seasons of painful re-orientation must follow the dramatic ripping of seas. We must be wary of rosy depictions of salvation as the Christianized “good life.” Salvation sometimes hurts.

Lent, however, reminds us that salvation ultimately hurts the Savior more than the saved.

When Jesus talked on the Transfiguration Mount with Moses and Elijah about his upcoming “departure” in Jerusalem, the Greek word used is “exodus” (Lk 9:31).

What kind of salvation is this? One that requires a lot of ripping. The ripping of a sea, of the sky, of a curtain veil. One that requires the death of a lamb… and of a King’s Son. Not Pharaoh’s son this time. The Son of the Saving God. What kind of Savior is this? One who gives blood and water better than milk and honey. It’s not the Nile that turns to blood this time. It’s the wine. This is a Savior who may lead us into barren wastelands… but one who has endured himself the full brunt of salvation’s pain. The wider sea left unparted now has an inaugural gash. The open hole of Jesus’ tomb is a puncture-wound in the sea of Death.

I am not sure what sort of salvation this is. But it is the only kind strongest enough for me. And for you.

[Past installments in this series are written by Rachel Stone, Margot Starbuck, J. Brent Bill, and Logan Mehl-Laituri. The next posts will be from Valerie Hess, Beth Booram, and Chad Young.]

So what is “American” Ecclesiology?

17 Mar Andy
March 17, 2012

Earlier this week I wrote about “the Americanization of British ecclesiology.”  I was reflecting on an article from The Economist suggesting that some British evangelicals are eager to do church American-style.   Also in the news is the announcement from Rowan Williams that he will be resigning as the Archbishop of Canterbury.  The changes in the making referenced by The Economist have just intensified.  Making questions like these all the more important:

What is “an American model of religious expansion,” and how fitting is that model for England?  What is “the American way” when it comes to ecclesiology?

And is “religious expansion” specifically American?  Could The Economist article be referring to a biblical model of religious expansion which the writer just associates with America?

When it comes to business practices, “Americanization” evokes the mass-production of cheap products vigorously marketed for optimal profit.  When you survey the commercial landscape of England, Americanization is recognizable in the iconography of glowing golden arches and green mermaids printed on paper takeaway cups frothing with steamed milk.  I must admit to cringing at times when the scenery of stone pubs, bricked inns, and chapel spires amidst sheep-grazed fields is crassly interrupted by a fast food joint from my country of origin.  Then again, even the Brits I know value a quick meal for a few pounds—the steak and ale pie in the stone pub are delicious, but you might have to wait half an hour and pay three times more than the meal deal at the American establishment next door (which comes with a soft drink).   No one can argue with the economic pragmatism of the American option.

In spite of the universal appreciation of fast food, though, American models of business expansion are easily held suspect over here.  And some of them just do not work.  Take the recent campaign by Starbucks to know the names of their customers.  This might suit a suburban context in the Southern United States, but here in England it struck many of the British clientele as odd, invasive… and “very American” (BBC News).

But what does “very American” look like when applied not so much to lattes or burgers but to liturgy and baptism?  If there are “very American” models of commercial expansion, then what is American “religious expansion” (or “church growth,” to use a phrase more recognizable in Christian subculture)?

Are we talking about new churches that are mass-produced, craftily marketed… and pandering wares cheap and unhealthy?

There is actually a vast diversity of ecclesial structures and strategies in the States.  Many of them even have English forbears (i.e., the Wesleyan movement, as a recent commenter wisely observed).  Most churches in America are small and entirely unknown to anyone outside their immediate locale.  Some churches baptize infants, some do not.  Some are charismatic and fiercely evangelistic, others are somber and darn near stoic.  Some churches are growing through small groups, others through the attendance of a Sunday morning “main event.”  I suppose some of appears to be “American” are those practices and modes of thinking in the church that have been intentionally brought into alignment with American commercialism appealing to American consumerism.  Not all American churches have embraced those “American” models.

And sometimes church growth happens because God grows the church, with or without the book-selling strategies.   In such cases, “American” has little to do with it.

But what if, for the sake of economic pragmatism, we exchange the movement of God and the slow, tedious work of living biblically in our communities for a robust franchise scheme superb at selling lattes and burgers but quite insufficient for promoting the mystery of the Gospel?

More anon….  But for now, what are your thoughts?


IVP Lenten Blog Tour (next edition at Feral Theology)

15 Mar Andy
March 15, 2012

This week’s post is here, at a blog with an intriguing title.  For his installment of the series, Logan Mehl-Laituri is writing on nonviolence, non-silence, and meat.  An interesting perspective worth listening to….


The Americanization of British Ecclesiology…?

12 Mar Andy
March 12, 2012

I just read a story from Mark’s Gospel to my kids.  It was the same story they heard earlier this morning at school.  Yes, at school… at the little primary school they attend here in England.  Yes, in England… in the post-Christian society architecturally haunted by the chapels and cathedrals of bygone eras more religiously inclined.

My children would never get a Bible lesson back home in the States, even though we used to live in the heart of the “Bible Belt.”  New York City church communities are having to relocate their worship services from public education facilities.  Yet here in England, a country for which Christianity has become a matter of heritage more than contemporary reality, my kids just worked through the six days of Creation from Genesis.

Christianity in England has been getting attention of late.  Mark Driscoll lamented the country’s absence of young, famous, Gospel-preaching ministers.  D.A. Carson offered more positive comments on British pastoral leaders at The Gospel Coalition.  Relevant Magazine‘s Mar/Apr print edition has a piece on Christianity in Europe (with England receiving some attention).  Scot McKnight posted an article documenting some of England’s frightening religious stats.

"The Church of England: Hot and Bothered" (photo from The Economist)

But my two of my kids were in school-sponsored Nativity plays this past Christmas and they get Bible-readings on a regular basis.

What does all this mean?  What is God up to in England?  What is happening with the Protestant church in the land of Bede, Cranmer, Wilberforce, Newton, Bunyon, the Wesleys, the Inklings, Stott, Muggeridge?

The last thing Christianity in England needs is another American evangelical trying to diagnose the problems and sort things out for them.  I am not presuming to have any profound insights or solutions.

My interest in this post is with an odd phenomenon: the Americanization of British ecclesiology.

That phrase is enough to make any Brit cringe, Christian or not.  Skin-crawling and eye-rolling will likely occasion the claim of anything being Americanized over here… mostly for good reasons.

But the Americanization of how the English do church?  Could that be happening?  Should it be happening?

That churches in England are getting an American spin, at least to some degree, is suggested by the article in The Economist linked above.  Secular reportage on religion often falls into the category of adventures in missing the truth.  But the magazine is based here in the UK and they have quite a bit of experience in doing stories on the church.  Their assessment is that large swaths of the institutionalized Church of England is atrophying and irrelevant (a reality Anglicans accept with sobriety).  Not all the news is bad—the Church has a few good trends to point out.  One that would appear promising to evangelical Anglophiles is the modest surge in evangelical ordinands now rising up the ranks.  But how encouraging should we find this sentence:

“Many of the rising generation of keen young clerics already make it clear they wish to work in large evangelical churches, ripe for American-style mission, rather than in slums or charming villages where social views are relaxed and doctrinal purity is not prized.”

The article also reports that many of the larger, non-Anglican churches are “using an American model of religious expansion.”

“American-style mission;” an “American model of religious expansion”… maybe the magazine is appealing to the general annoyance its readers probably have toward Americans to stir up their readership.  Maybe what they are calling “American” is something else.

But what if what they are calling American is actually American?  And should “American-style” be canonized as a viable option for the life and mission of the Church for whom Christ humbly died?  Should the article’s observations about what I am calling the Americanization of British ecclesiology be received with relief… or with cringing, skin-crawling and eye-rolling?

Some mixture of all of the above, perhaps… but probably more of the latter.  What if the imported models of Americanized church are more competent in expanding an organization than in faithfully following Jesus?

I saw a tweet this morning from the new Bishop of Durham.  He had a large list of exciting ministry posts here in the more spiritually barren north of England.  There are few takers.  America has a lot of church styles and models, but the Americanization referred to in The Economist‘s piece is probably not one that sends young, famous, Gospel-preaching ministers to dying coal-mining villages where villagers can no longer mine for coal.

American and British church leaders have been learning a great deal from each other for a couple of centuries.  That should continue.  But an ecclesiology that does not encompass slums and fading villages is a bad export… and a bad import.


Conan O’Brien: “I hate cynicism”

10 Mar Andy
March 10, 2012

To all the folks who read (and made comments, to which I will soon reply) on my former post, I say thank you.  My sober reflections on Faith Without Illusions (my book on cynicism within and toward the church) has been quite difficult for me… but also motivating.  The more I consider the book’s content the more convinced I am of its pertinence.  I am trying to think of better way of getting the message out on the book’s one year anniversary.

(Photo from Wikipedia

So my latest idea is that I should ask Conan O’Brien to endorse it.  He would be keen, don’t you think?

I am not a late night TV watcher, but a good friend pointed me to the video clip below.  It’s where Conan bid farewell to “The Tonight Show” a couple of years back.  At the end he says this about cynicism:

To all the people watching, I can never thank you enough for your kindness to me and I’ll think about it for the rest of my life. All I ask of you is one thing: please don’t be cynical. I hate cynicism — it’s my least favorite quality and it doesn’t lead anywhere (Source: The Huffington Post)

So if anyone knows Conan, send me his address so I can mail him a copy!

Here’s the clip…

O’Brien’s Farewell to The Tonight Show

1-Year Anniversary of Faith Without Illusions (part 1)

08 Mar Andy
March 8, 2012

A year ago I ripped open a cardboard box stamped with “InterVarsity Press.”  There is just nothing like it, seeing your first book.  From Word doc on a screen to a thing in your hand.  Text once pixelated now reified (I really like the word “reify”).  Ripping open the box to find freshly minted copies of longsuffering labor is accompanied by all sorts of hopes (and fears).  How will God use this material?  What fruit with the book bear in the life of the church?  Who will be personally changed from flipping the pages?  And how will the book be used beyond my control?   When your book is actually in your hands as a thing, it is also out of your hands as a piece of public art.

The 1-year anniversary of the book’s release date has come.  Faith Without Illusions is a year old.  Reflections on the occasion begin with this post.  More will follow.

(Soberly) Assessing the Reception

I am going to do my best to assess the book’s reception with a good sense of humor.  I begin pointing out that FWI has maintained a 5-star review even after a year (okay, there are only four people who reviewed, one being a colleague who may still not have read it).  And I should also add that book sales tripled this past week on Amazon (I went from 1 copies to 3 in seven days).  I could see that two folks from Portland bought the book.  That’s Don Miller territory, so thanks, folks, whoever you are!

On a more positive note, FWI has been rather highly reviewed on a number of blogs.  I am just so grateful to these folks for spending the time reading and posting their reflections:

Scot McKnight (Jesus Creed)

Joel Willits (Eaungelion)

Joel Watts (Unsettled Christianity)

David Flowers (The Centrality & Supremacy of Christ)

The Making of Men

Also, the book was reviewed very nicely at the Englewood Review of Books.  Two Sunday School classes at my church in Birmingham were kind enough to let me speak on the book’s topics.   I know a handful of friends and a few family members have read the book (most of whom liked it).  Thanks to Kyle B., Ralph B., Sarah H., Linda W., Mark Y., Katherine J. and Bob W.: their encouragement means all the more now on the 1-year anniversary.

I have to say, though, that it is really hard not to feel the dull ache of disillusionment when your book addressing disillusionment seems to be suffering a year later from a failure to launch.  Don’t worry—I have all the more reason to resist being cynical since FWI is written to counter cynicism (still, it is really hard).  Yeah, I know that this sort of self-assessment would be inadvisable according to the marketing handbooks.  But to honor the cynic-saints out there, a rosy spin on things exacerbates cynicism.

Some of my humbling moments as an “author” have been rather comical.   Like my first (and only) public “book-signing.”  It was at a local Christian bookshop in Pelham, Alabama.  The owner had received a pre-release copy and found the book helpful.  Graciously, he decided to offer free copies as an Easter gift.  One lady stood by my desk all aglow, as if I were beaming on her from my hallowed position as an accomplished author.  She spoke with me knowingly, as if she had established some deep connection with me through my writing.  It was nice, you know?  Nice to feel as though you were finally an author and accomplished to boot.  Then as I was signing her book she said something and I realized what was happening.

She thought I was David Platt.

I hated to disappoint her, but at least the book was free.

Another comical moment was realizing my book came out in the midst of all the hype over Rob Bell’s bestseller Love Wins.  (Okay, maybe this coincidence is less funny).

A Lesson: There is More to Being an Author than being a Writer

I think a writer is not the same as an author these days.  What I mean is, I have been learning that writing stuff, even if somehow you manage to write really good stuff, may actually be a secondary or even tertiary skillset for an author.  Writers write stuff.  But an author writes and then nurtures her product, needles it into a readership, makes media contacts, posts with savvy strategies for increasing their blog traffic, and she tenaciously seeks speaking engagements.

I have learned that I am a better writer than an author.  I get squeamish about all the other stuff.  It even feels weird to hyperlink the image of FWI above to Amazon (but note that I did it anyway).

I have given out a lot of free and heavily discounted copies of the book (yeah, I am a poor businessman).  Many of them went to some rather influential folks out there.  I am quite sure most of those copies have gone unread.  (Probably didn’t help that in the note within the front cover I told them not to feel any pressure to read the thing, knowing how busy they were).

An IVP marketing manager tried to help me see these behind the scenes realities to being an author.  She was very gracious.  I think IVP operates with more commercial scruples than most Christian publishing houses.  And I guess they sort of knew what they were getting into with me, daringly signing on an un-platformed writer (as opposed to a platformed author).  Of course, maybe it would have helped I had not boarded a flight for Europe 5 months after the release date, but it is not like the Inbox was hopping with speaking requests.

I love to speak and teach.  I love it.  Preaching has become fundamental to who I am.  Woe is me if I do not preach.  But for years I received emails and letters from authors who wanted to speak to my own congregation or student groups.  In my view, their request disqualified them as a potential speaker.

But what if you have a message you believe to be urgent for the church?  How do you get it across without compromising the call to humility?  I know Godly authors.  They can make the media contacts and offer their services as guest speakers without conflicts of conscience.  How do they do that?  The prophets lifted their voices in the public square… how did they wrestle with the temptations to make their message more “marketable”?

Asking for Help

I think I need to ask for help.  If Faith Without Illusions is just another example of the mediocre fare, then I have no interest in getting the word out.  But I have never been more convinced of the urgency of the book’s message.  So… any ideas?  Anyone want to help me think of a (scrupulous) plan for how to celebrate (not bemoan!) the book’s 1-year anniversary?  Any other “writers” out there struggling with the vocation of “author”?  I would love the feedback….

Herman Melville, Ship Surgeons, Appendectomies, and Preaching

06 Mar Joel Busby
March 6, 2012

Q recently hosted a 2-day, 8-session event in NYC called Q Sessions | Practices with Eugene Peterson. Two of the conversations, “Practicing Sabbath” and “Immersed in Scripture” are available here.

I highly recommend checking these out. (I admit having a penchant for Eugene Peterson’s thinking).

In the “Immersed in Scripture” session, Peterson encourages us not to treat the Bible as a thing to be dissected. Instead, we are to treat it like a living text.

In a style that is vintage Peterson, he recounts a quick paraphrase of a scene from Melville’s White Jacket. A ship surgeon, bored with the voyage because he has little work to do, has a chance to do an appendectomy on one of the sailors. He gathers some other sailors around to assist as he operates on a table in the galley. The surgeon is excited because there is finally important work to do and he is equipped to do it. While operating, he proceeds into a long and drawn out lecture on the wonders of the human body, pointing out anatomy, etc. – he goes on and on and on. Finally, the sailors get quiet. The man has died as the surgeon operated and lectured.

Peterson likens this to what we do as preachers. We get in our pulpits, slice and dice and lecture. As we treat the text as “a thing to be dissected”, our hearers are dying. In an effort to be faithful to Scripture, we kill the Bible’s life (and the hearers).

It’s a powerful illustration.

Many might say, “But, we have to be serious about exegesis! We must be serious about the Bible! People these days just want their ears tickled.”

True enough.

But, I don’t think Peterson is calling us to do poor exegesis or neglect the intricacies of a text of Scripture.

However, could it be that we do exegesis in a way that kills the pulsating, passionate, Spirit-breathed, Christ-centered, wrought-with-redemptive-tension, exciting, sharper-than-two-edged-sword, powerful, living-and-active heart of the text?

What do you think? How do we avoid doing this in our preaching? What dangers do you see in Peterson’s line of reasoning? How can Scripture come alive through us? How do we do careful exegesis vs. “treating Scripture as a thing to be dissected”? Is there a mode of preaching that does careful exegesis without this harmful slicing and dicing that misses the living, Christ exalting, redemptive center of the Bible? How can you cultivate these proper preaching instincts?

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