catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 5, Num 12 :: 2006.06.16 — 2006.06.30


Bridging the gap

I am a preacher.  Each Sunday, I step onto a stage that we call a pulpit, I stand behind a podium, and I deliver a message from a book that was written thousands of years ago to people living in the 21st century.  I imagine that pulpit as a bridge, standing between very ancient words and people with contemporary concerns.  One of my jobs on Sunday morning is to bridge the gap that exists between old words and modern people.

Occasionally, I have been guilty of being overly-focused on the ancient words of the Bible.  I have filled my sermons with sentences about the nuances of verb forms in the ancient languages or the exegetical implications of the cultural context of the Bible.  While these sermons may have been true to God’s Word, they have fallen short of touching the lives of people in our world today.

Before you condemn me for this transgression, let me offer a partial excuse.  This offense has been generated from a deep love and reverence for the ancient words of scripture.  I have seen the words of the Bible change lives in a way that no other book can.  Those words point us to a saving relationship with Jesus Christ, and offer guidance as we learn to walk in step with His Holy Spirit.  Those words should be treasured as a gift from God Himself, because even though they were written long ago, God has continued to speak to His people through them for centuries.  As I spend time in my study considering those words, I sometimes forget that others are not fascinated with the intricacies of the old words.  The insulated world of my study allows me the time and space to dig into God’s self-revelation, but it also can keep me from understanding the interests and concerns of the people who will hear me speak.

I am becoming convinced that I need to be a student of contemporary culture.  If I am going to effectively communicate the truth of Scripture, I must show people how God continues to speak through those old words in our current cultural setting.

One of the ways I have started to learn the nuances of our contemporary culture is to intentionally watch popular entertainment media.  When I say popular, I mean media that has a wide-spread impact.  I look for movies, television shows, and books that gain a large audience.  The recent movie, Brokeback Mountain, had a message for our culture today, but despite its critical acclaim, it did not seem to have a large audience.  This tells me that many people were not interested in the message, interests, or concerns of such a movie.  Entertainment media that receives a large audience tells us something about our culture.  It reveals, to some degree, the interests and concerns of a large number of the people living in our world. 

A few years ago, I heard a lot of people referring to a reality television show, American Idol.  To be honest, I have very little interest in popular music, and because of this, I often wondered, “What’s the big deal about American Idol?”  By watching the show a few times, I learned about the interests of many people in our culture.  Not only are people interested in music, but they like to identify with someone.  That television show gives people an opportunity to see the musical talent of up-and-coming stars.  But even more significantly, it allows people to get to gain insights into the lives of other people.  As I watched the show, I was fascinated by the way viewers started to feel like the contestants were their friends, I couldn’t help but wonder if part of the appeal was the fact that people who watch it have a desire to know others.  If that is true, it can help my preaching, not merely by including the name of American Idol contestants in some sermon illustrations, but by helping me see that many in our world may feel that they would like to know others more intimately.  If I know that is a need, I can help my listeners on Sunday see how God answers that need in the old words of the Bible.

Popular media tells us something about the people who are watching or reading.  Occasionally, I will read a New York Times bestseller and ask myself, “Why is this so popular?  What is the appeal?  Why does this book seem to strike a cord in our culture today?”  The answers to those questions help me gain a better understanding of our contemporary culture.  In theory, this should make me better able to bridge the gap between the world of scripture and the world of today.

Culture does not change the message of the Bible.  God’s word will last.  However, if I can be a student of culture, I may be better able to communicate the lasting truth of the Bible to people living in the culture of the 21st century.

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