It's no secret that at St Helen's, the Bible being read and taught is at the forefront of our meetings. This comes from our firm conviction that the power of God is in his word. You may well have also noticed that the talks are done in series, almost always going through books of the Bible. Some churches take different approaches. So why do we choose to predominantly do talks in this ‘book by book' way? Here are are a couple of good reasons:
- The Bible is given to us in books. God has given us his word in books, 66 of them! Going through an entire book sets a passage in its context. The Bible was not written as a collection of verses to be thrown into the air and allowed to fall back wherever they might. Rather, each book has an inspired flow of thought, each designed by God to communicate something powerfully across the book as a whole, as well as contributing nuggets within! If I read a novel, or a letter from a friend, I wouldn't read a sentence or two in the middle, skip some, go back to an earlier sentence and so on. If I really want to understand the message I should read it all! If that's true of normal human correspondence, it seems odd that we might choose to handle God's word, which has whole stories and whole letters, in a haphazard way!
Preaching passage by passage through books is the best way to teach the whole counsel of God. When Paul, in Acts, went around proclaiming the gospel, his conviction was that he taught the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:27). By taking books of the Bible and preaching through them the intention is to teach the whole counsel of God. This stops teachers picking and choosing favourite things they want to teach while avoiding difficult or offensive issues. By going through whole books, issues must be faced as the Bible author, the original theologian, tackles them. That's why our leaders work hard to see exactly what each author wanted to say to the original readers before seeking to teach it to us. Preaching God's word is not easy; the message proclaimed can be offensive to its hearers. After all, Jesus himself is a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense (Romans 9:33). A preacher's job is never to hide the message or tailor it to people's preferences, rather they are to show what God is saying, knowing that "All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness" (2 Timothy 3:16).
This is by no means a comprehensive list, but hopefully a good start to get us thinking. If you have any thoughts, come and find me on a Sunday. I'd love to chat with you!