In July 2014, Don Carson led a seminar on “Preaching from John’s Gospel” at the Faith Mission in Edinburgh. It is well worth hearing – not least his opening comments on how to preach from any Gospel, in which he highlights a tendency among preachers which is, in my experience of reviewing several hundred sermons over the past five years, all too common.
“Many of us preach from the Gospels looking for immediate application to the lives of our congregants…The Gospels are not given to us first and foremost as discipleship manuals…as introductions to the importance of faith. They are certainly not given to us as the provision of psychological profiles in conversion. That’s the way many of us have been brought up to preach Peter walking on the water. We analyse what is going on in Peter’s mind as far as we can from the text and thus we jump to an application about how people get attracted to Christ, and then they take the first steps out there in the storm, and then they look around and see the waves, and are terrified. And so suddenly pericope after pericope in the Gospels becomes a kind of source for psychological analysis in the steps of conversion or something along those lines.
What we have to remember is that the Gospels are first and foremost accounts of Jesus. Preaching from the Gospels means telling folks a lot about Jesus and the point of each pericope, each unit, is first of all something to do with Jesus – who he is, what he says, what’s he’s done, and then where it fits into the larger storyline which brings us to the cross and the resurrection. And not only about Jesus but Jesus as he comes to us in history and fills in the gap between Old Testament belief and New Testament dawning…
If we preach the Gospels in such a way that we forget their historical locatedness, and go immediately to application to us today, what we lose is the ability of the Gospels to explain how we got from the Old Testament to the New Testament, how we got from there to here.
This may be one reason for something else I have observed – that evangelicals tend to preach far more from the Epistles than the Gospels. But in an age of increasing Biblical illiteracy we need to be regularly and systematically preaching through the Gospel accounts – of which we are blessed with four! Each of the four Gospels is written with a particular audience and purpose in mind and we need to think carefully which particular Gospel resonates most closely with our particular audience. “Why Four Gospels” by Donald Bridge (Christian Focus Publications, 1996) is a brilliant and readable introduction to this subject.
The Don Carson seminar was hosted by “2 Timothy 4” and can be accessed (in 8 x 20 minute sections) on www.2tim4.org
Director, 2 Timothy 4 Trust