Sometimes people urge preachers to make their preaching and Bible teaching simpler. Those who ask for this simplicity mean well. They think that, because our age is visually orientated and biblically illiterate, it will not readily grasp intricate biblical ideas and themes. They rightly want the gospel to be accessible. But is their analysis correct?
While there is always a market for simple and undemanding ideas of all sorts, it is surely undeniable that most people are far more insightful about issues than they are given credit for?
The complexities of political argument; the twisted plots of crime thrillers; the tangled affairs of celebrities filling the media, remind us that everyone is quite capable of rational thought and moral judgments when they see fit.
Perhaps one reason the gospel of Jesus Christ is so despised today is not that it needs to be simpler, but it needs to be ‘difficult’? For many, the relevance of the Christian message is on a par with Father Christmas or Tinker Bell. It is occasionally comforting — at funerals, for example — but otherwise it matters very little. It doesn’t deal with real life, especially when that life is beastly and unfair.
How then should we demonstrate that the gospel is ‘difficult’? Perhaps we should begin by accepting that the 66 books of the Bible were not written for readers at a primary school level. All the Bible’s readers require, whatever their language, an intelligent grasp of that language, in order to cope with the Bible’s contents.
This was no mistake. The God who inspired the Scriptures deliberately planned it this way. He expects all human beings to be helped to that level of attainment in which they can grapple with a Book which is not simple.
Second, we should accept that the Lord litters the biblical text with difficult words — words like justification, sanctification, reconciliation, propitiation, transgression, statute, type, ordinance and covenant. Bible translators and preachers should not delete or dumb down these God-given words, but educate people up to grasping them. Theology needs to take her throne again; she is still ‘Queen of the sciences’.
Christians need to raise, not lower, their game. Humanity doesn’t have just half a brain, but it is made in the image of God. God’s gospel speaks to every person, and the church should be brave enough to believe so.
Third, preachers should draw attention not only to tranquil Bible passages like Psalm 23, but also to parts of the sacred text that are savage and raw, that deal with life in its despair and hopelessness, frustration and suffering, abuse and corruption. The gospel speaks to the real human condition.
Finally, preachers should demonstrate from Scripture just how terrifying God can be. He cannot be explained; he cannot be tamed. He is a consuming fire, whose presence and judgments are frightening and devastatingly destructive, when he chooses to make them so.
More than that, the Lord does not need to save anybody, and saves only those whom he chooses to save (Romans 9:15-16). He is a God not to be boxed and cossetted, but to be feared and worshipped. In truth, we need to let Scripture loose, so that it strikes and wounds before it soothes and heals.
The gospel is a roaring lion, and Christians should open the cage door. May our Lord Jesus Christ yet come forth, with his sharp, two-edged sword coming out of his mouth, conquering and to conquer (Revelation 19:11-16)!