Last week, before I was up to my neck in Seminary courses, I asked an honest question…
Does every message we preach have to be a gospel message at its core?
One of the responses I got was so well communicated, I thought it deserved to be dragged out from “comment #27” status and given it’s own place of prominence as a new post. What you see below is that response from my good friend and pastor Wade Mobley. He is a great student of the Word, a powerful communicator, and a close friend. If after reading the post below you want to hear more from Wade, you can find his blog here. As you can see, we’re both reposting this for our readers. I think it’s deeply important. Thanks Wade for your thoughts here and your steady encouragement to me!
From Pastor Wade…
This is absolutely essential. It is “hermeneutics,” or the right understanding of God’s Word.
Short answer: The Bible is basically about Jesus and what He has done.
Longer answer: You have tension because there is more to the story- the Bible is basically about the Living God (including Who He is and what He has done in the Messiah) and how He interacts with the pinnacle of His creation, man (He didn’t reveal Himself to rocks/trees/animals, but precious, eternal human souls).
Sufficient (I think) answer: Theology (by definition) is a word about God, not a word about man. But theology for the sake of theology is theology misused. God revealed this word about Himself to mankind. In it we see His character, and by contrast our character. We read what God demands (His perfect law obeyed and fulfilled, His character affirmed by our thoughts words and deeds) and what God has done in the Messiah (the substitutionary atonement of Christ).
There are two sides to the truth of the Gospel: Objective and subjective. Objective asks “What happened and did it happen?” Subjective asks “Do I trust in what happened?” Jesus, to Martha, asked similarly in John 11: “I am the resurrection and the life…” (Objective). “Do you believe this?” (Subjective).
The job of a sermon (or your job in your own Bible reading) is to look at the God’s Word objectively and apply it (which is subjective). Note how I am using these terms: Subjective does not mean that truth is defined by the one to whom it is being applied.
Handling God’s Word Objectively: The pastor/expositor/theologian must first of all be faithful in “handling accurately the Word of truth” (2 Tim 2:15). To do so you must observe the content and interpret it rightly:
Content: What does God say in His Word? Read it. If you know languages you can dig into terms by definition. But primarily your job is to read it. Use a version of the Bible that is farther to the translation end of the translation/paraphrase spectrum. Read it. Savor it. Enjoy it. Accept it as your authority- the voice of what you will preach. You know you have crossed the line when you are looking for a text to say what you already know you want to teach your congregation. Or praying, “God, please give me a good text to go with that illustration.”
Interpretation: What does God mean when He says this? Note: If this doesn’t match what you learned as you looked at the content, you are erring. But now is the time to look at historical settings, and term definitions, etc. Are there promises made? To whom? Why? Have I believed novel interpretations that turn place names into prophetic statements, when all the author really meant was to give a place name? Am I interpreting allegorically when all the author wrote was history? Remember to allow the text to speak- to you and your congregation- louder than the commentators.
Souls are stumbled when we do interpretation in the place of content, much like the serpent in the Garden: “Has God really said?” In our desire to apply the text to the precious eternal human souls in our care, we often rush to application. We want to “be relevant” after all. But you will do well to establish what the text says and means before you apply it. Otherwise you are the clothier who only sells one size of suit; or the carpenter who only has a hammer- so all he sees is nails.
Then you can get subjective:
Application- How does this word of God apply to my life? It is true: God’s Holy Spirit will do the applying. I am constantly surprised by what people say they got out of my messages. Sure, the text wasn’t about adultery, but the adulterer will be convicted of adultery when confronted with the character of God.
And while I affirm that the Holy Spirit of God is the primary applier of God’s Word, as my history prof Charles Aling said, “God spoke to man, not poached eggs.” It is entirely appropriate, in speaking or in private devotion to ask a respectful “So what?” of the Living God. So much of Scripture is God applying His Word to mankind, the pinnacle of His creation. You aren’t really preaching the Gospel if it is only unapplied fact- or, as my seminary prof Phil Haugen used to say, “Men, in a sense, if you preach the Gospel as potential, you aren’t really preaching the Gospel, are you?”
The Gospel: The Gospel, the “good news” of God, is a broad term. I think some of your tension comes from an imprecise use.
In the sense that God’s character and work (you cannot separate these) is good news, every message is a Gospel message.
In the sense that the Gospel- what God has done for us in Christ- is where the Law of God drives us, giving us a way to be saved from God’s righteous wrath, every message must be a Gospel message.
But I am guessing you mean a Gospel message, as in, does every message include a call to personal repentance and faith? I say “no.” I especially think this is the case if you think some particular external call/response is necessary to truly facilitate such a response. I choose to present the way of salvation in short form (hopefully not perfunctory) in most every message- what if they get hit by a train on the way home? But if Scripture truly is Christocentric every message really does point to the cross in some way, shape or form. It is our job to show people God’s character in His Word, help them see their need in contrast, then to grab them by the hand and run to the cross. We preach the law with no way out and the Gospel with no strings attached. We show them Jesus. He is not an emotion or a caricature of “niceness,” but a person of the Godhead by whom God accomplished our redemption at the cross.
In Conclusion: Souls are stumbled when we do not allow God’s Word to speak. We must start with content, even if our message is topical or textual instead of expository. Regardless of your creed, people will know if you trust the Word of God by whether or not you allow it to be your authority. Pulpits are filled with men who say they believe the Bible is the inspired/infallible/inerrant authority, but use it only like a national anthem to introduce their message or a canvas on which they paint their own insights. Every lie is a form of “Has God really said?” Never listen to talking snakes- especially when they disagree with God.
Souls are stumbled when we allow application to poison interpretation, much like the relativist who says, “This is what God’s word means to me” instead of allowing it to stand, then apply to his/her life. We do this for our listeners when we fail to let God work on us before presenting what He says in His Word. My pastor from youth- Brian Pearson- used to say, “A message prepared in the head reaches the head; a message prepared in the heart reaches the heart.”
Souls are stumbled when we get content and interpretation right… and fail to apply the text to our listeners. If God is who He says He is, and we are who He says we are, and Christ did what God said He did, we have no boring mantra to recite, but an urgent message to save the souls of men. Paraphrasing Haddon Robinson, it is a sin to bore your listeners with so grand a subject as the Living God.
Press on, friends, and let them see Jesus.
“does every message we teach need to be a gospel message? (part deux)” by Joshua Skogerboe and Wade Mobley is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.