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The Bible Project and Better Preaching

By now, you have probably heard and seen the work of BibleProject. Their website will do a better job introducing themselves than I will. So I’ll confine myself to commending them to you as the single best resource available to get more deeply and broadly into the study of the Bible.


And that means preachers, too.


In fact, that means especially preachers.


Considering also “The Chosen” TV project, we contemporary English speakers are extraordinarily blessed to have resources that speak the language of video so well. Evangelicals have long been in the forefront of using mass media to proclaim the gospel to the un- and under-evangelized—from publishing to broadcasting to Alpha programs. We have been less effective, however, in teaching disciples the Word of God.


Where is Beta and Gamma, to follow Alpha? BibleProject doesn’t provide (yet) a linear curriculum. But it offers a splendid library for Christians to teach themselves and others a lot of what is available in Scripture. And their BibleProject app, along with other resources on their website, provides guidance for new readers and for veterans.

(I’m a big fan, having been introduced to the BibleProject some time ago by my wife. It was a blast for us to meet Dr. Tim Mackie, the Bible brain behind BibleProject—and then to have Tim tell her that he had found one of my books helpful years ago. New respect from the spouse is always a good thing. But I digress.)


Preaching is always hard, and it’s no easier today in Canada—or wherever you are reading this. I urge preachers to spend lots of time in BibleProject, elementary as it may seem compared to the rows of commentaries you have shelved in your personal library going back to seminary days.


Here are several reasons why the BibleProject, and not the latest massive tome from your favourite Bible scholar, should be your own next (forgive me) Bible project.


1. Simple has to precede complicated in proper understanding. BibleProject uses vocabulary and syntax aimed at the intelligent and educated audience, the audience most preachers reading this post have in front of them on Sundays.


Folks without much schooling, whether adults or children, will find some of the BibleProject videos go by too quickly and with too many technical terms to grasp right away. But they can still learn a lot, while the rest of us can follow without strain.


Speaking as simply and accurately as does BibleProject is extraordinarily difficult. So observe how BibleProject says hard things more easily, clearly, and compellingly, and adjust your own expression accordingly.


2. Order is crucial in proper simplicity. And there is rarely enough order in contemporary sermons.


Too many preachers, including (and sometimes especially) seminary graduates show in their preaching that their minds are a storm of bits and pieces picked up here and there. They know a lot, but memorable phrases from favourite professors swirl around in their heads with clever bits from recent reading along with lines from a favourite streaming show plus proverbial sayings from Mom and Dad and that funny thing the kid did the other day and, yes, some Scripture, too—in a chaos that badly needs subduing to cosmos.


BibleProject admirably simplifies without oversimplification. (Honestly, they strike the best balance I’ve ever seen in this critical pedagogical—and homiletical—respect.) Even veteran preachers will find disparate and disjointed elements in their Bible knowledge suddenly click into place when attending carefully to BibleProject materials.

I can't emphasize this point enough. Too many pastors arrive at Sunday morning without having taken the time—even if it has to be Saturday night—to edit their sermons into shape: into a definite, pointed shape, like an aircraft that has every component aimed at maximum performance, no extra weight, but everything working smoothly on mission and nothing sticking out to drag on or divert the flight path.

The late, great preacher John R. W. Stott, whose sermons were models of lucidity, pleaded with pastors to work harder on simplicity and order, essential to clarity. To lightly paraphrase one of his proverbs, "A mist in the preacher's mind becomes a fog in the pew."


Without order in the preacher’s mind, the sermon cannot possibly be well ordered and come across to the layperson as anything other than, yes, foggy bits and pieces.  And not many people are educated, let alone edifyingly enthused and guided in the hard things of life, by foggy bits and pieces.


3. Graphics help make sense of words. The world of preaching is oral and aural, and that’s fine, since the Bible is a book of words. Speaking and listening are crucial to the reception of God’s Word.


Still, if illustrations are faithful to the text—and I rarely find fault with the BibleProject graphics, while I frequently smile in admiration at their aptness and power—they connect, reinforce, and delight. BibleProject’s careful artwork truly serves the Word and our words.


So watch and learn . . . and perhaps incorporate some visuals of like usefulness into your sermons.


4. Connect the Old Testament and the New. One of the most important heresies in church history keeps recurring even in evangelical pulpits: the pitting of the Old Testament against the New or, even worse, the championing of Jesus (the nice NT deity) against Yhwh (the bad OT deity).


Whenever you find someone glorying in the Sermon on the Mount and despising the Torah, or telling you that “Jesus’ way” is a repudiation of the “old religion” of Israel, you’re in the presence of this wicked untruth.


Jesus’ “Bible” was, yes, the Old Testament, as it was the Scripture for the writers of the New. The New Testament comes after the Old in Christian Bibles because Christians are supposed to know and reverence the Old Testament in intepreting the New Testament, as the early Christians did.


BibleProject properly connects the Testaments over and over again—as, indeed, the New Testament itself continually does. The Bible is, after all, ton biblion: “the Book,” one book, made up of sixty-six volumes, with one Author and one Story.


If your preaching isn’t constantly referring to both Testaments, BibleProject can help you avoid being such a heretic.


5. Keeping the main things the main things. BibleProject is now large enough to include some interesting byways for the curious to explore. But their videos typically recur to and focus on the big themes, as the Bible itself does, and as our preaching should.


Watching enough of the BibleProject, in fact, will construct crucially helpful frameworks in your Biblical interpretation so that you will see and grasp for yourself more quickly, even reflexively, such Biblical motifs as “lamb” and “wine” and “land” and “blood” and “light”; or such symbolic place names as Egypt and Sinai and Babylon and Jerusalem; or such themes as, yes, “chaos and cosmos,” and “slavery and deliverance,” and “exile and return,” and “old and new.”


I could say more, but go see for yourself. See a lot. And preach better.


 Mini Courses 


Understand key ideas in important Christian theology, ethics, and history in 30 minutes (or less!) in ThinkBetter Media's mini-courses, created by award-winning theologian and historian Dr. John G. Stackhouse, Jr. 

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