A coworker and I were recently talking about our preferred study approaches when it comes to the Bible. He’s a bit eclectic, and for my part I prefer learning about the history, beliefs, and practices of the ancient cultures in question. I like my scripture with plenty of context, you might say.
He recommended a certain teacher as a good resource for me, but I shot the idea down.
“I’ve looked at him,” I said. “But it doesn’t take him long to stop dealing with the history and things in play there, and get to preaching.”
“Well, you need to understand the theology behind what the people are doing to really understand what’s going on in the history,” he countered.
“I agree, but he’s not describing their theology, he’s preaching his theology to me,” I replied.
Then I had to explain my distinction: retelling the facts is the story, but interpreting those facts in a light personal to the audience – saying “here’s what it means for you” – that’s preaching.
It’s not a bad thing, per se. I like preaching. I co-host a podcast where there’s lots of Bible preaching. I go to church weekly and hear more preaching. Beyond theology, I’d even consider things like Malcolm Gladwell’s books to be mostly preaching, in that he does tell stories (part of what makes the books so good), but beyond that, he interprets the stories and what they mean to the reader in terms of what they mean to the points he’s making.
Preaching, expositing, making those connections from the subject material to the hearer plain – it has its place.
But woe to he who starts preaching to an audience that thinks they’re only going to be getting a story. Or are only in the mood for a story.
It that situation, best to prepare the ground carefully, or tell a story that exposits itself.
And yes, I’m aware that I’m preaching off the story I started out telling. Meta, right?