Pastor Mike’s message on “Salt” last Sunday was both creative and relevant. His Michigan congregation had driven to church that morning behind snowplows spreading salt a quarter inch thick. In a lively and dynamic sermon Pastor Mike (not his real name) likened the role of Christians in the world to “spreading salt on the world’s icy roads.” His people were encouraged to be the “salt of the earth” based on Matthew 5:13.
Or, how about the sermon he preached last October after 13 straight days of Michigan drizzle. His title then: “Sometimes God rains on good people’s parades.” The church had already relocated the annual Harvest Picnic inside due to the rain. Mike read Matthew 5:45 then paused dramatically. “He… sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” The congregation tittered. Holding his Bible in the left hand, Mike preached one of the “expository sermons” for which he is known in his town. His encouraging three-pointer reminded his flock that God sometimes allowed bad things to fall on good people.
Of course pastor Mike totally missed the point of both passages. Using salt to “melt” anything was a foreign notion to ancient writers. Indeed, to stay true to the passage a preacher can’t go very far beyond flavor, for that’s the only use actually supported in the text.
And, as we all know, the “rain on the just and unjust” scripture has nothing whatsoever to do with “bad things happening to good people” but rather teaches quite the opposite: God sends his blessings to both good and bad people. In dry agricultural Israel rain was a sign of God’s blessing as it is today in Zimbabwe where they consider rain during a church dedication a sign of God’s approval.
There is little doubt Mike took both Scriptures out of context and made them mean something the writer never intended and first century readers would not have understood. But Mike’s story helps us think about our use of scripture in preaching. What do you think?
Can the Bible mean something it never meant or does the Bible only mean what it meant to the original writers and readers?
Is it OK for a preacher to use Scripture improperly to make a true point — that is; if the theology is right and the exegesis is wrong is a preacher still safe?
In what sense is preaching Scripture different than teaching Scripture? Are they different in their approach to Scripture, or are they essentially the same things?
What’s your take on these questions? What other questions should we be asking ourselves about using the Bible?
©Keith Drury, 2004. You are free to transmit, duplicate or distribute this article for non-profit use without permission.
Keith Drury served The Wesleyan Church headquarters in Christian Education and Youth leadership for 24 years before becoming a professor of religion at Indiana Wesleyan University. He is the author of more than a dozen books of practical spirituality, including Holiness for Ordinary People, Common Ground and Ageless Faith. Keith Drury wrote the Tuesday Column for 17 years (1995-2012), and many articles can be found on his blog “Drury Writing.”
Keith Drury retired from full time teaching in 2012. Keith is married to Sharon and has two adult sons and several grandchildren. He is retired in Florida with Sharon and enjoys cycling.