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At the end of one of my sermons, someone told me that the sermon eliminated the distance between the Bible world and today’s world. When this happens, you have done your job in a very real way. To do this, the preacher must help the people to understand and experience the Bible world. And to push it a little further, the people must understand and experience the implications of the Bible world in today’s world.

The Lecture Trap

If the people are to know and experience the Bible world in today’s world, then they must first of all know the Bible world. It is our job as preachers to give people enough knowledge of the Bible world so that they can understand it. This is a more difficult job today than in the past. In the past, we could assume that people knew the great stories of the Bible. They knew who Moses was. They knew who Adam was. They knew about the great fish that ate Jonah. They knew about the Valley of Dry Bones. They knew about John the Baptist. In short, they knew a lot of these stories that provided a backdrop for our preaching.

However, we can no longer assume that people know these stories, let alone understand them. Because of this we must have a pedagogical move in many of our sermons. We must teach these stories, and we must help the people to catch a glimpse of some of the implications.

Now some have heard of this and have turned sermons into lectures on Biblical topics. The people learn about the Bible world, but they never experience it nor move it into today’s world. Some “expository” preachers fall into this trap. (By no means do all “expository” preachers make this mistake. A good book that helps the preacher keep from turning the sermon into a lecture from the evangelical side is by Bryan Chapell, Christ-Centered Preaching.)

Simply put, helping people Understand the scripture in its native Bible World is not enough. We must help people to Experience it.

Experiencing the Bible World

Have you seen the story? Do you smell the details of the story? Do you feel the texture of the story? For example, when the Prodigal Son was leaving home. Do you feel the anticipation in him? Do you see the glitter of a new world bouncing off of his eyes? Do you feel his exhilarated freedom? And then in the pig pen, do you smell the stink? Do you see and taste the slop that the son was reduced to eating? And then on the way home. Do you feel the fear that his father may not take him back? Do you see the same sights that caused him to be excited on the way now repelling him on the way back home?

If you can’t see, feel, taste and hear the Bible story, then it is time to go back into it and read more closely. In short, the people will not experience the scripture story until you have experienced it. Click Here to find more information on this kind of exegesis.

The people must be led to experiencing the text just like they need to know the text, but then that is still not enough in my opinion. Next we must move the people to experiencing the implications of the text.

Experiencing the Implications of the Bible Story

It is here that people are changed. For it is one thing to know about what happened to the prodigal son; it is another thing to know what is happening to us in our daily lives. It is this step that eliminates the distance between the Bible story and our contemporary story. It is this step that opens the door for the Spirit to do to us and for us what was done to and for the Bible characters.

Here the preacher must provide enough context in the contemporary world to show its correspondence to the Biblical world described. When these two worlds are placed together, then the Bible story world becomes the world of the people. They can rejoice with the Hebrews who go through the Red Sea, because they are going through the Red Sea.

They can identify with the trials of John, who died in a prison but will one day be called forth from the grave. This is the step that makes the Bible story our Story. It is this, I believe, that has helped African American preachers to preach in such a way that the people could keep their sanity through “many dangers, trials and snares.” And it is this kind of preaching that will “take us home.”

Henry Mitchell’s book, Celebration and Experience in Preaching, is an important book that will help you to gain this mindset in your preaching.

Sherman Haywood Cox II is the director of Soul Preaching. He holds the M.Div with an emphasis in Homiletics and a M.S. in Computer Science.

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Dennis Cocks

commented on Jul 10, 2014

Very good article! I always encourage people to try to put themselves in the sandals of those who were there in the biblical account I am preaching on. Of course I do that by putting myself there when I preach. On another note while I was reading this I was reminded of something I am trying to do differently. I have been trying to change my terminology when I talk about the Bible or the people in it. I am trying not to present what I am preaching on as a "story." This can cause people to maybe think that since it is a story, it isn't really true. And I don't call the people in the Bible characters for the same reason. I'm not saying it is wrong, I'm just trying to remove any doubt that this is real stuff, just as the author is trying to do. Not a criticism just an observation. I believe this goes along with trying to remember that people no longer know very much about the Bible anymore as the author notes. So why use the terminology "story" or "character"?

Clarence Bolton

commented on Jul 10, 2014

Great article. I'm 66 years old and grew up at a time when the Bible stories were not only taught in church but you heard about them on the streets. I fell into the trap of "assuming" that everybody knew about the basics (Noah-Jonah-Daniel-Moses). It is sad today that a lot of people don't know them. I fine that I do have to go back to the Bible world so people can understand how that applied to today. What is good about this kind of preaching is that in the research - the preacher learns so much themselves.

Nom De Plume

commented on Jul 10, 2014

Respectfully, I strongly disagree and was disappointed to read; even more disappointed to think that some preachers may find these points helpful. As a lay individual, the most gripping, vivid, captivating preaching to hear is that which is rich with an appropriate, accurate and applicable historical context: the specific political issues; the specific religious issues; the specific geographical issues; the specific cultural aspects of Greek, Roman and Jewish life; the figures of speech associated with culture, all make for crystal-clear meaning and explanation of a given passage. This task of reconstructing a particular portion of a biblical setting is no easy task; but, it is highly rewarding for both the preacher and those who receive the fruit of the preacher's diligent study.

Bill Williams

commented on Jul 11, 2014

I don't really see how what you wrote disagrees with the article. Reconstructing the biblical setting, as you described, is part of experiencing the Bible world, as the author argues for.

Nom De Plume

commented on Jul 11, 2014

Upon reading the introductory paragraph, I thought that is exactly what the author meant; however, the diction used to explain reconstruction was at the very least confusing if not entirely different than typical hermeneutical contextualization; for example, the author uses terms like "tasting", "seeing", "feeling" the context. It is possible that the author is using those words metaphorically and that by reconstructing the historical, geographical, cultural context, the hearer is able to 'see', 'touch' and 'taste' the original setting; but then, why not connect the metaphorical dots and at some point articulate the need for history, geography, manners-and-customs as essentials. Moreover, the link her provided used the same vague, ambiguous language leading me to think that there was some different or literal meaning to the definition meant by 'touch', 'taste', 'feel' etc. At the very least, I found the article somewhat confusing. If the author cares to address this that would be great. Is this a case of metaphorical language taken literally?

Bill Williams

commented on Jul 11, 2014

"It is possible that the author is using those words metaphorically and that by reconstructing the historical, geographical, cultural context, the hearer is able to 'see', 'touch' and 'taste' the original setting" That is how I understood it, yes. I don't know how one could use words like "touch," "taste," and "feel" literally in this context. "but then, why not connect the metaphorical dots" Because educated readers should be able to connect the dots and draw out implications on their own. There's no need for the author to spell everything out specifically for the reader. "At the very least, I found the article somewhat confusing." Fair enough. That is the nature of language. Some authors write more clearly than others, some readers understand more accurately than others. For what it's worth, as I understood the article, the more accurately one can reconstruct the original setting of the text, the more accurately one can "taste," "feel," etc.

Nom De Plume

commented on Jul 11, 2014

Perhaps you are correct. This may be a case of semantics. It is also true that I can be slow to understand certain things. I've just never heard anyone use that type of diction when referencing hermeneutics.

Mitchell Leonard

commented on Jul 10, 2014

Brother Sherman, Great article. In this article you say " helping people Understand the scripture in its native Bible World is not enough. We must help people to Experience it." I agree and I've always thought this was the difference between teaching and preaching. Helping people relate the Word of God to their everyday lives and putting it into action. Thank You.

Nom De Plume

commented on Jul 10, 2014

In my humble opinion, the most effective way to "experience" the Bible world, is through a careful reconstruction of the original setting.

Minister Sanders

commented on Jul 11, 2014

Excellent article and so true! We as pastors that teach and preach God's Word must teach it where people know and understand the history, context, and culture of that day and time using good hermaneutics and then be able to show how the scriptures from all of those years ago can still be applied and still be relevant to our people today even in our time and our culture.

Nom De Plume

commented on Jul 11, 2014

Perhaps some pastors would be willing to address my response/query: There is one particular pastor, here in America, that is highly skillful at reconstructing the original setting (especially when dealing with the gospels); and, this use of historical reconstruction makes for utterly clear interpretation and understanding of individual passages/books. By the pastor's own admission, he spends the majority of his time explaining (interpreting) the text followed by some exhortation. His preaching is the clearest, most practical teaching I've ever heard. After years of listening to him, I once heard him respond to the charge of neglecting application in his preaching; and, I'm curious to know what other pastors think, because I've never heard anyone else articulate this teaching philosophy. To paraphrase, the aforementioned pastor said this: "I explain the scripture and I exhort the scripture; inherent in the explanation are implications which are abundantly clear. The Holy Spirit applies spiritual/theological implications to each believer individually. My job is to explain and exhort ... not apply the scripture". As I've said, after years of listening to him preach, I've never wondered how to apply any of his teaching; and, it's the most practical I've heard. What do you pastors think? Agree or disagree, and why?

Bill Williams

commented on Jul 11, 2014

I'm not a pastor, but I do preach. I get where the pastor is coming from, and as I wrote to you in an earlier response below (in the context of writing), the author does not have to connect all the dots and spell everything out for the reader. The reader (or listener, in the case of preaching) must take the responsibility to do some of that work for oneself. Having said that, it is possible to take that to an extreme, and not connect any dots at all! Part of the Great Commission that Christ gave his disciples before ascending to heaven was "teaching them to observe [i.e., to do] all that I have commanded you." So, part of the task of the Church does include practical teaching and application. It isn't enough to "explain and exhort." At some point we must also at least begin to answer the question of our hearers: "Brothers, what shall we do?" (Acts 2:37). Look at Paul's epistles, and you will see that most of them cover, to some degree, application: how to live in the light of the Gospel. So, while the preacher should not be expected to connect all the dots, the preacher should at least connect enough dots so that the listener can see what the big picture looks like. Like the article said, the preacher should help the listener to experience the Bible story, at least enough to help the listener be able to apply those implications to their own life.

Nom De Plume

commented on Jul 11, 2014

Thanks for responding. Since the bible itself deals with application, wouldn't the need be for the bible teacher to explain that application; as opposed to giving application on a bible passage that is teaching application?

Nom De Plume

commented on Jul 11, 2014

I am speaking as a lay individual and not a trained scholar or even a trained bible teacher. I just know that when I hear the God's word clearly explained, with sound reasoning and sound methods of hermeneutics, I am able to discern the implications; I then instinctively and thoughtfully know how to apply it to my individual life. I have never felt the need for any bible teacher to apply a bible passage to my individual life; I just want to know what the passage means and a discernible hermeneutical foundation for verifying that interpretation (explanation). I understand that my argument is anecdotal and is empirically derived, but when I heard the quote (which I paraphrased in my original post) on the nature of explanation, implication, application and exhortation, my "experience" made sense and had logical support. I guess I wish more preachers focused on biblical culture rather than our current culture, for the sake of elucidating the meaning of a text. As a lay individual, I just want to know what the text means; I can do the rest!! :)

Ikegwuonu Sunday Ogochukwu

commented on Jul 12, 2014

This is more than a million wonderful article sounding highly beneficial to all genuine preachers. What a splendid!! Bro, just keep it up the Lord is always with you.

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