Do we need to make Scripture relevant?

Over the weekend we saw a crisis start to take shape. It was in effect self-inflicted. Warnings that there might some pressure on fuel supplies led to panic buying and over the weekend  the pumps ran dry. 

In this article on Sunday, I commented that it would be peculiar if the crisis we were facing was not addressed from the pulpits.  I also ran this little snap poll.

Although the sample size is very small, I did not get a single person saying that the crisis had bene mentioned in the sermon at church. I have had a few replies from people who have since said that it was but frustratingly they didn’t use the poll to say this!

I’ve also had a little pushback from my friend Steve Kneale here.

Whilst there are different perspectives between the article, I’m not sure Steve and I would disagree as significantly as first impressions might suggest. Why?  Well for two reasons. First of all, because we agree that God’s Word drives the agenda for Sundays, not the preacher’s hobby horses, not the news cycle.  Like Steve, my practice is to preach sequentially through a book of the Bible, something planned well in advance.

Steve writes:

“But I also think that trying to shoehorn that stuff in to what I am due to preach rarely works very well. So, this Sunday, I was preaching on Revelation 19 and the vindication of God’s people when Jesus returns in the face of the world and all it stands for. At best, trying to build in references to the petrol/HGV driver crisis and panic buying would have been forced, if at all relevant. Even if I decided there was some link I could make to it, I doubt it would be the primary application, which is where I would rather focus my attention.”

I agree with Steve that we should not attempt to shoehorn things in.  As I wrote:

“We don’t need to work at making scripture relevant. It cannot help but speak to the situations we find ourselves in this morning.  So often I’ve found myself having to explain that I did not deliberately choose a passage and topic for the day, it’s simply where we’d arrived at in the series.”

This is crucial and I suspect that Steve finds himself in the same boat. It’s not that I have to work hard to shoehorn what’s immediately in front of me into the talk.  I repeat, we don’t need to work at making scripture relevant. In fact, it is ridiculous, blasphemous even to talk about needing to make it relevant. That’s why it gets my hackles up when people describe this or that church, conference or preacher of bringing scripture alive. It is alive, it is relevant, it is fresh because it is God’s Word and because he knows exactly what we need.

So, for so many preachers yesterday no shoe-horning would have been needed to reference the specific crisis and make a direct link. I heard from one preacher who was bringing a harvest festival message and pointed to the way Scripture addresses the condition of workers, another was faced with an open goal when talking about fields that are white for harvest but labourers that are few in number and this morning in The Daily Dose I was speaking about Christ the living bread from John 6. If you had been preaching on the woman at the well or the oil that didn’t run out for the OT prohet then again it would have been nicely set up for you.

But notice that I wasn’t saying “it could be a neat illustration” my point is that Scripture’s application is relevant to our situations.  The specific examples I raised in terms of application included looking to God for truth, for protection and provision.  Again, I don’t think that those applications need shoe-horning in. Rather, it is simply about looking at how God’s Word applies in our context. You see to some extent preaching is about a conversation between us the congregation and God’s Word. Preaching is context specific and that includes time as well as place.  It shouldn’t be the same to read and or listen to the sermon I preach on Sunday in another country in ten years’ time. I’m preparing to bring the message to a specific group of people at a specific time and that requires me to exegete the congregation as well as God’s Word.

Coming back to Steve’s own situation last Sunday, he observes that his sermon on Sunday was “preaching on Revelation 19 and the vindication of God’s people when Jesus returns in the face of the world and all it stands for.” Well, I’m not convinced that it would have taken any shoehorning to say that we see something of what this world stands for in the behaviour of the media, governments, businesses, unions and each and everyone of us caught up in the panic at the pumps.  What a contrast with this world and the recent things we have faced is found in the marriage supper of The Lamb! And isn’t it fascinating that we find ourselves reading about food and fuel again. Scripture does a lot of that!

However, although I’m arguing that Steve could have brought application to the fuel crisis situation and although I even think he could have used it illustratively should he choose, I’m not saying that he should have.  You see, the point in my article was that God’s Word IS relevant to our context.  Now Steve’s response was that in his context:

“Dave goes on to say that we cannot ignore issues that stare us in the face. But, take the fuel crisis as an example, in our church you can count the number of cars in our church on the fingers of one hand! It isn’t a major issue for most of our people on a personal level. We also have a tram system that doesn’t run on petrol. These things aren’t necessarily as prominent for us as they might be for others.”

I get that.  You see, in typical preacher style, I made a generalised point on Sunday in my article without the caveats. The caveat in application is always that the application may not be the same for everyone.  As it happens, the fuel crisis didn’t seem particularly of concern at our church on Sunday.  We are currently with a church that meets right next door to the University and on the last Sunday in September we were welcoming lots and lots of new and returning students. There are other pressing matters on their minds. So the preacher whose passage was Galatians 5 talked about how we use and live in the freedom we have. More pertinent to much of the congregation was the “freedom” they might be feeling as they moved away from home. 

Finally I’d like to pick up on one last comment that Steve makes.  He says:

“But if we happen to be looking at the criteria for eldership that week as part of an ongoing series in 1 Timothy or we are looking at the formation of the early church in Acts 2, I’m just not sure shoehorning in stuff about the Suez Canal being blocked or a lack of HGV drivers is directly relevant. And I take that to mean, in his sovereignty, the Lord has something else important he wants us to be thinking about that week because what we are reading doesn’t address those cultural concerns or current affairs.”

There is a place for being silent on whatever is there in the news cycle. Twenty-Four years ago we woke up on Sunday morning to the news that Princess Diana had died.  In the morning, I was at a weekend conference and the speaker in the gathering launched into an emotional diatribe about Prince Charles. It wasn’t relevant or helpful.  Further, although it was big news and although many were affected some way emotionally, it didn’t really have much bearing on our lives did it? We didn’t know her personally, things weren’t about to change for us.  I suspect that the best thing the speaker could have done would have been to get on as planned and helped us to fix our eyes on Jesus.

You see, sometimes the message we need is that in the middle of whatever might be worrying us in this world, there are things of greater concern.  In John 6 when the people come to him after he fed the 5,000 we are told.

26 Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, you want to be with me because I fed you, not because you understood the miraculous signs. 27 But don’t be so concerned about perishable things like food. Spend your energy seeking the eternal life that the Son of Man[f] can give you. For God the Father has given me the seal of his approval.”[1]

Sometimes we need to direct people onto what is really more pressing. However, it is worth remembering that in some situations, even the decision not to mention something is in effect saying something about the issue.

We don’t need to work hard at making Scripture relevant, so please don’t try to work hard at making it not relevant!

[1] John 6:26-27

%d bloggers like this: