Monday, February 22, 2010

People of the Book

Junk mail may find its place in the trash unopened. Bills may sit unnoticed until they are due. But something personal—a love letter—doesn’t go without notice. The recipient opens it carefully, anxious to see what the one he loves has written. His heart swells with joy as he reads each word. He holds the paper close to his face and takes in the faint scent, bringing him closer to his beloved. He’ll put it back in the envelope for a while, but he puts it aside with care. It won’t get torn or carelessly dropped in soup. And then the time will come when he will take it up again and read it, memorizing portions of it without even trying.

I recently saw a post about the use of scripture in sermons. It seems that many preachers are being encouraged to reduce the amount of scripture. Some seem to suggest that while it is good to read scripture a preacher must move quickly to something relevant to the people in the audience if he doesn’t want to lose them. And lest you think it is just overactive worry on someone’s part, I once visited a church in which the preacher got up read one verse of scripture and never referenced his text again. All I remember of the sermon after that was that he talked about why his sermons were so short and that what he said was about what I would expect out of a Psychology 101 class. It was a very large church and they had a beautiful building, but I was not impressed with his sermon.


Just as we treat mail differently based on our attitude toward the sender, the value we place on the Word of God in our churches and in our everyday life is based on our attitude toward God. Show me a preacher and a church that put the Word of God central to the sermon and I’ll show you a church that worships the Lord. Show me a preacher and church who will put the Word of God aside in favor of something that is “more relevant” and I’ll show you a church that isn’t interested in God and that doesn’t believe God desires to communicate with us through his Word. When people aren’t interested in what the Word of God says, it isn’t a problem with its ability to hold an audience, but rather it is a problem with the people.

Consider Proverbs 29:18, Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he. So many preachers will take this verse and try to make it “relevant” to the people of today and talk about leadership, but it speaks to the underlying problem. Without the Word of God, people perish, but those who have it are happy. But in the quest to change what church is, there are many people who seem to be losing sight of the most important thing.

At the end of the day, one of the highest compliments a church can receive is for someone to say that they are people of the book. As fiction writers, we may not have the same opportunities to include scripture directly in our text. To do so often comes off as just a character quoting stuff that most of us don’t remember, or as a block quote that is skipped at the first of a chapter, but we too need to keep The Word—God’s vision—central to our writing. It has been said that all truth is God’s truth. We should turn that around and say that God’s truth is the only truth.