When we speak of reaching out to our culture through the gospel, we must be reminded that the gospel is also a culture. In the attempt to “translate” the gospel into the language of the culture, something is lost. We are learning that you have not said “salvation” when you say “self-esteem.” “The American Way” is not equivalent to “the kingdom of God.”
William H. Willimon – Dean of chapel and professor of Christian ministry at Duke University.
When I recently asked a group of pastors what areas they wanted help with in their preaching, most replied, “To preach sermons that really hit my people where they live.”
At one time I would have agreed this was one of the primary purposes of Christian preaching—to relate the gospel to contemporary culture. Now I believe it is our weakness.
In leaning over to speak to the modern world, I fear we may have fallen in. Most of the preaching in my own denomination struggles to relate the gospel to the modern world. We sought to use our sermons to build a bridge from the old world of the Bible to the modern world; the traffic was always one way, with the modern world rummaging about in Scripture, saying things like, “This relates to me,” or, “I’m sorry, this is really impractical.” It was always the modern world telling the Bible what’s what.
This way of preaching fails to do justice to the rather imperialistic claims of Scripture. The Bible doesn’t want to speak to the modern world; the Bible wants to convert the modern world.
We who may have lived through the most violent century in the history of the world—based on body counts alone—ought not to give too much credence to the modern world. The modern world is not only the realm of the telephone and allegedly “critical thinking” but also the habitat of Auschwitz, two of the bloodiest wars of history, and assorted totalitarian schemes. Why would our preaching want to be comprehensible to that world?
The modern world must be made to understand that it is nothing more than that—just a world. By that I mean the modern world is an ideological construct, an intellectual fabrication, a way of construing reality that has lasted for about two hundred years, mainly in Northern Europe and in some of its colonies. It is now losing its grip.