Wednesday, March 25, 2009

the big picture

It occurred to me today - that's what happens when you write blog posts in a hurry! - that I left out an important step yesterday, when I told you how I prepare topical series.

You see, God's word isn't an encyclopedia (as I was reminded while I was reading Paul David Tripp's Instruments in the Redeemer's Hands today). You can't pick a topic, any topic, look up all the verses on it, and expect to find an instant answer. Some topics you won't even find in the Bible (career guidance? schizophrenia? home renovation?) so what are you supposed to do when you want to know what God thinks about them?

When you're researching a topic, you always need to think about the big picture of the Bible. And what's the Bible about? It's about the gospel: about how God sent a Rescuer to free us from our rebellion against him and make us his own, so that we can glorify him. It's about Jesus. Every bit of the Old Testament points forward to Jesus, and every bit of the New Testament proclaims his name.

So if all I have is a list of verses, I haven't got very far. I have to think about Jesus. Otherwise, when I'm teaching people about a topic, I'll give them bandaids rather than heal their wounds. I'll look at the surface problem, and provide lots of practical advice and handy hints, but skate over the deep issues: our sinful hearts and our desperate need for a Saviour.

If I'm looking at pride, I need to think about how Jesus humbled himself to die on a cross, so that I can be forgiven and transformed, becoming like him in humility. If I'm looking at "the fear of the LORD", I need to consider how God has drawn near to me in Christ, so that his perfect love drives away cringing fear.

Every topic needs to be put in the context of the Bible, God's unfolding plan of salvation, and the gospel, the story of Jesus, who died and rose again.

I might go back and add another point to yesterday's post, so don't be surprised if you discover an extra point there!!


mattnbec said...

It's interesting that this point is the one you forgot to put in the original, Jean. I find that this step is sometimes the most important, but easiest to forget stage in practice too. Sometimes it's a hard one to nail down exactly how things fit, particularly in a deep, real way rather than a superficial way. But, of course, it's such an important step because of the bandaid-ing wounds point you make.

Thanks for sharing your behind-the-scenes prep. Good mentoring!!


Jean said...

Good point, Bec. You're right, of course - easily forgotten, but the most important! Otherwise we offer human solutions - techniques and wise observations, even if they are extracted from proof-texts - but no bigger, wider picture of God and his dealings with us.

I was listening to an Ed Welch talk yesterday where he said that, with an issue of anger, he would once have sent someone home to look up all the verses on anger. Now he would get them to read John 13, where Jesus washes the disciples' feet. Dealing with the deeper problem - placing yourself over others in authority and anger rather than taking the place of a servant like Jesus - rather than the surface one.

I would have liked to make this point much bigger - that you have to place your topic in the wider biblical and systematic theological context - but this would have been very intimidating. But it's true, isn't it? You can't teach a topic well without this. The way you teach it will always be shaped by your broader understanding of the Bible and your theological assumptions.

I do this at an unconscious level, which is why it didn't occur to me when I wrote that other post. But I will always put any verses I read in a wider context - through a grid something like this:

- God made us for his glory
- God is sovereign
- God reveals himself to us through his word
- God gives us grace through the death of his Son; we are saved and grow through grace by the work of his Spirit

As you can see, I could keep going!! Perhaps you could simplify it and say

- sovereignty
- grace
- glory

That's how Paul Tripp does it in the book I'm reading. There would be different ways to do it.

What do you reckon?

mattnbec said...

"I do this at an unconscious level, which is why it didn't occur to me when I wrote that other post."

It's a wonderful thing to do things like this in such an unconscious way, isn't it?! Makes me so glad for good models and teachers. I think I do the same. It's easy to forget in one way because it's so hard and can seem a bit more abstract from the task when you've got a lot of Biblical data to process. On the other hand, it becomes so second-nature that filtering things and considering things in the light of other doctrines and the whole flow of salvation history stops being a separate step - it just gets integrated with all the other prep. So I think your list of things to consider a passage in the light of is really helpful because it makes it a more conscious step. I guess I've just tended to think about it in terms of general categories something along the lines of things about God, ourselves, the gospel and biblical theology more generally is probably the filter I use the most (because seeing things in the list of salvation history can mkae such a difference). Not that different to your list, I guess. It is a hard task to pin down though, I think, and something that is not an easy when you first start!


Jean said...

More excellent food for thought ...