Since I streamed the Pepperdine Bible Lectures back in May, I can't seem to get enough of listening to preachers. It's the theology nerd in me, I guess.
A couple of weeks ago, I started streaming a few series by a preacher I'd never heard but had heard good things about and to be honest with you, I barely made it through a whole sermon. I started three or four, but they were hard to finish. Why?
Because this dude was standing in front of his church lecturing the Bible. Teaching it the way you would an academic course on Jesus. He had an outline and bullet points, but nothing to pierce the heart.
It made me ache.
It got me thinking about my writing. About this space. About my books. About my own church. About what I look for in a preacher. About what I want to be in a minister. And it's no secret, at least not in this space, that I believe in practical theology. It's not God for God's sake; He already has all of Himself. It's God for our sake, because we desperately need Him. And we need to understand how He needs us. (It's not as self-centered as it sounds. I promise.)
The example I rely on in all of this is Jesus. He spent a great deal of His time talking with the people, speaking to them, giving them the Word of God. But He never, and I mean never, said anything that wasn't also relevant.
He never spouted Scripture for the sake of teaching Scripture. He did it to expound on the Promise. He did it to create the new covenant. He did it when it applied to a person's life. He never spoke a word, declaring, "You need to know this." No. He always said, "You need to hear this." And there is a big difference. A huge difference.
Because there is something profound about the God who speaks to you, as opposed to the God who simply speaks. Don't get me wrong; I believe in Scripture. I believe in the power of God's word. I believe that if you spend your time looking into it, you will find a way that every word in that Good Book speaks into your life. But it goes back to the nesting doll principle for me. God does not ask you to fit your life to His Word. And we know better than to fit His Word to our lives. It's this beautiful nesting that must take place. God gives you a word for your life, and you fit your life into it, and then you discover how His broader word fits your life. That's one measure of a developing revelation.
The people sitting in the pews of this preacher's church...I wondered what this had to do with anything they were actually living. I wondered what they felt like when they walked out the door on any given Sunday. I wondered how it truly mattered whether they knew 1 Samuel 14 in and out or Ecclesiastes 4 or Matthew 7. I wondered how many of them knew the words, knew the Word, but still felt like they were missing something. I imagined it might be too many of them.
These people walk away from those sermons knowing God's word and knowing it's true. But there is so much more to God's word than simple truth. Hebrews 4:12 tells us the Word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword. It's meant to be piercing. It's meant to cut through the mess of life and go straight to the heart. That's what I love about practical theology. It puts God right in this place! In the place He so desires to be.
I shudder to think about the people in this world who only know God's word is true. Without context, and I mean real-world, present-day, personal-heart-and-flesh context, I'm sorry but "true" doesn't mean anything. That's what's got people aching. That's what's got people hurting. That's what's got people coming to church and walking out and never going back. We need a God who is more than true; we need one who is relevant.
And our God is. The best preachers, in my opinion, know this. Sunday morning is not a seminary; it's a synagogue. It's a place for the people to come and find Jesus. The hearts that walk through our doors...they want more than what they need to know. They're longing for the words they need to hear. That was Jesus' ministry.
It is ours, too.