Preaching to Make the Bible User Friendly

Preaching in a Way that Trains Bible Readers

Have you ever listened to a sermon and thought, “Wow, I could never get as much from that Scripture text as he did”—as if the preacher was a magician pulling a rabbit out of a hat?

I have.

When the preacher is biblically faithful, this can be a beautiful demonstration of God gifting the church with shepherds and teachers (Ephesians 4:11). It may also expose a flaw: the preacher may not be training his flock how to read the Bible through his preaching.

Preachers need to see the preaching event as a key moment in church life that makes the Bible more “user friendly” for congregants. This will deepen their own time in the Word, growing them as disciples and equipping them for ministry (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Failing to do this will hinder spiritual growth by hindering Bible engagement, and could also leave congregants amazed at their preacher’s vast knowledge instead of what God has done for us in Jesus Christ.

Colin Marshall and Tony Payne address the importance of this in The Vine Project: Shaping Your Ministry Culture Around Disciple Making:

In his preaching, a pastor sounds the tuning fork so that the whole orchestra knows in what key to play. He teaches and guards the sound deposit of the gospel so that all may know it clearly and thoroughly (for how else will they speak it?). He shows them not only what the Bible says, but how they can read and speak that truth for themselves. He constantly teaches the sound doctrinal framework that shapes the Bible reading and speaking of the whole congregation. (117)

What does this equipping look like in practice?

This way of thinking doesn’t require an extra twenty minutes of specialized instruction in each sermon.

What it does require is first understanding the text deeply and knowing how God wants to use it to shepherd hearts (often called the transformational intent of the passage). We will also want to know the challenges our congregants face approaching Scripture so we can properly address them (i.e. does biblical poetry confuse them?). Lastly, we will want to model faithful biblical interpretation by using basic hermeneutical principles to explain our thought process and conclusions. Below are several practical suggestions of how to implement this.

Practical Suggestions:

  • Remind listeners the most important question to ask when reading the Bible: What does the text actually say?
  • Walk through the historical, literary, and biblical context of the passage.
  • Explain how to approach the biblical genre that your text comes from.
  • Explain how the individual parts of your text make up the big idea of the text.
  • Make sure sermons are not a mere oration on the subject that doesn’t flow from the text or so detail-focused you lose the text’s big idea.
  • Regularly point back to the book’s main ideas and explain how your text functions in light of the whole.
  • At the start of a new sermon series through one book of Scripture, encourage your people to read through the whole book in one sitting. You could also preach an overview sermon for a book before beginning a new series on it.
  • Fight the temptation to look to another text of Scripture before you stick your nose deep in the one you’re studying.
  • Note connecting words and their functions. How does the use of words like “therefore”, “for”, “in order that”, “then”, “now” help the author communicate his main point?
  • Lead listeners with thoughtful questions that direct them to the text’s authorial intent.
  • Help the text’s surprises jump out at your listeners.
  • Model asking good questions that uncover the author’s transformative intent. “You might notice in verse two, Paul says such-and-such. Now why would he say that here? Let’s look at verse three for the answer.”
  • Zoom out of your text to see its place in the context of redemptive history.
  • Explain biblical theological themes and how your text points to Christ.
  • Encourage your congregation to underline repeated words or ideas in their Bibles.
  • Have application undergird your teaching as a reminder that God means for Scripture to change our lives.
  • When explaining a hard to understand text, remind listeners that Scripture is its own best interpreter, and model how you think through the text.
  • Recommend and give away books that model faithful Bible interpretation.
  • Offer Bible reading classes/lessons or read the Bible more one-to-one with congregants.
  • Encourage equipped members to minister by regularly reading the Bible with others.

Just like people are more likely to embrace technology that is user-friendly, peppering your preaching with these suggestions over time will help your people better engage the Bible, which will nourish their faith, grow them in holiness, and spur them on to bear fruit.

And as that happens, there will be less magic tricks and exaltation of the preacher in favor of more “wow!” comments where they should be directed: God and His glory as revealed to us in Scripture.

How to Find the Big Idea of a Book of the Bible

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Want clarity in your preaching? Finding the Big Idea of a passage or biblical book is one helpful tool for doing just that. That’s why we teach it in the Training National Trainers program.

This clarity should make others take notice—like the wife of one Indonesian TNTer. She said this about her husband’s improved clarity in preaching:

“Even though you are only preaching a ten or twenty minute sermon [now], the message is very clear. Before TNT, you could preach for 30 minutes to an hour, and the congregation still didn’t understand anything!”

Finding the Big Idea of a book helps us see the focal point around which all of the ideas in the book are organized. It acknowledges that the writer had a message he was trying to communicate through the whole book, not just different ideas in separate passages.

Sweating through this exercise encourages greater fidelity in communicating what God is saying through His Word. What He says will be more clear to us, and we will be less prone to teach our own thoughts and ideas.

How Do We Find the Big Idea of a Book?

Finding the Big Idea of a book is hard work and a long process of working through a text with our hermeneutical principles in mind.

1. Read through the book several times.

There are no shortcuts for the hard work of Bible study. This can’t be a quick surface-level skim, but a deep and curious read.

2. Ask a lot of questions.

Try to understand the questions the book is deliberately raising and answering. We must move beyond the questions we have to the questions that the text is concerned to answer. The questions the text is raising and answering are the important ones for determining the meaning and the Big Idea.

The four questions below will help you discover what the author is communicating:

  • What does the author say?
  • How does the author say it?
  • Why does he say it here? Why in this way?
  • What is surprising about the text?

See more good questions under the heading: Asking Good Questions.

3. Look for clues to the Big Idea in the way the book begins and ends.

Often a writer introduces his reason for writing as he opens the book and comes back to it as he closes. Observing the way a book begins and ends will usually share themes that can be traced through the entire book.

At this point, it is vital to look for clues for the big idea, which is not the same as having a one-sentence Big Idea. That point will come, but there are a few more steps to take first.

4. Break the book into smaller sections and try to summarize what those sections are about.

This step finds the book’s structure and writes a big idea for each major part.

Looking for the structure of a book involves:

  1. the parts of a passage – the units of thought that contain the major ideas of the passage
  2. the connections of thought that hold the sections and major ideas of the passage together

5. Ask: What are the connections of thought between the major ideas of each section of the book?

Understanding how each section relates to each other will help us to see what the author is getting at in the book’s overall message.

6. Look for patterns, like the repetition of key words and ideas.

The repetition of key words and ideas shows us what is important to the author. Contrasts and progressions also aid our understanding of the book and may play a key role in arriving at the Big Idea.

7. Capture the Big Idea by stating it as one complete sentence.

This step pulls all of your thoughts together into one clear sentence. In order to do that, ask two questions:

  • What is this book talking about?
  • What is it saying about what it’s talking about?

Combining the answers to those two questions will help us state the Big Idea.


Below is merely an example seeking to demonstrate this idea and not to be considered the “right answer.” (Perhaps you can come up with a better Big Idea for 2 Timothy.)

What’s 2 Timothy talking about?
Answer: Enduring in ministry

What’s it saying about enduring in ministry?
Answer: That it depends on God’s grace and power.

Big Idea: 2 Timothy is saying that we should depend on God’s grace and power in order to endure in ministry.

How Should We Use the Big Idea of a Book?

  • Work hard to understand how a passage in a book connects to the Big Idea of the book.
  • Allow the Big Idea of the book to shape the message we preach or teach.
  • When preaching, draw attention to the Big Idea regularly. That will bring clarity and power to our preaching.
  • It will also stay with many people as they read the book on their own in the future.

May God richly bless your study of His life-giving Word!


For information on Leadership Resources’ ministry training pastors, learn more about the Fellowship of the Word (US) or Training National Trainers (worldwide) programs.

This post has been adapted from a previous version of our Dig & Discover Hermeneutical Principles Booklet. You can download our latest version in multiple languages.

Don’t Let Your Bible Keep You From the Bible

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In a recent interview with DesiringGod, Glenn Paauw, the Executive Director of the Biblica Institute for Bible Reading and author of Saving the Bible from Ourselves: Learning to Read and Live the Bible Well, shared how “Bible clutter” can provide a framework that warps how we engage with Scripture.

(“Bible clutter” refers to anything added to Scripture including chapter and verse numbers, study notes, cross-references, concordances, etc.)

The interview overlapped so much with the “Text and Framework” hermeneutical principle that we are compelled to share the interview mp3 and our notes below.



Unintended consequences from “Bible Clutter”:

  • Chapter numbers (added in the early 1200s by Steven Langdon, a church leader in England) and verse numbers (added in the 1500s by Robert Essien, a Frenchman working on a Bible concordance) can cause Bible readers to see books as fragmented collections of verses rather than an entire book.
  • Concordances, while being great reference tools, can change the way people interact with the text and hurt the plain reading of Scripture by neglecting the immediate or whole-book context of a passage.
  • While cross-references are helpful, they might prevent a reader from focusing on the text in front of them and wrestling with meaning. Again, what is primarily lost is a sense of context—something vital for faithful interpretation.
  • Many modern Bibles are designed for people who aren’t readers and who may not be very biblically literate. This pushes Bible publishers to make Bibles with helps, notes, and highlights because that is what buyers want.
  • While we may boast a confidence in Scripture, our true confidence might rather lie in a certain study Bible we align with theologically more than Scripture itself. Many feel Bible reading needs ‘guide rails’ to keep people from falling off of the theological cliff.
  • A temptation of using Study Bibles is engaging with study notes more than Scripture itself. Research on Study Bibles proves this is the case for many.
  • All of the colors and special designs common in many Bibles today (study notes, graphics, special sections, etc.) can draw people’s attention more than Scripture, which is generally left untouched.
  • We want to read Scripture and apply it to our lives fast. Our desire for quick application can short-circuit the study process by jumping to application to early or buying a study Bible that will apply it for us.

Two flawed approaches to engaging Scripture:

1. Seeing Scripture as a collection of inspirational quotations.

Many who do this take favorite verses like Philippians 4:13 and Jeremiah 29:11 out of context and virtually ignore most other passages of Scripture. This greatly misrepresents what the Bible is and deforms us spiritually just like a pure cotton candy diet would. (Interviewer Tony Reinke deems these using verses in this way as “Scripture McNuggets.”)

2. Seeing Scripture as a self-help manual.

Some want to gather all of the Bible verses on a certain topic and create messages from those verses. This also strips verses of their context and fails to take Biblical Theology into account. Biblical theological themes develop throughout the Scriptures in various genres, and, as Paauw reminds, some accounts are not to be taken prescriptively but rather descriptively. (For example, Paauw says we wouldn’t build a doctrine of marriage on the example of patriarchs.)

A Better Comparison

A better comparison for the Bible is “the collected papers of the American Antislavery Society” because,

“the Bible is a collection of different kinds of writings, each of which exist in its own context, its own literary form, and they have to be taken as this kind of a collection. It is true that the collection of the Bible comes together to tell this amazing, redemptive, restorative narrative of what Jesus the Messiah has done. But the books themselves are the core units. The Bible is the collection of those things. It is not a collection of verses, so not a collection of little how-to passages. Again, it is a matter of receiving the Bible on its own terms, receiving the Bible in the form that God actually chose to give it to us. That, I think, is something that our modern format tempts us to move away from.”


How can we fight against “Bible clutter”?

“The first and the primary and the most natural thing to do with the Bible is to read individual books at length in their own terms. So understanding the kind of literature it is, who was the author, who were they writing to, what was the issue, those kinds of things are necessary.”

“We need to make sure we are always ready to listen to the text first…[not] our material [or thinking], which is not inspired… A real high view of Scripture says: Let the text be the text, and always seek to let it speak to me, even on things where I think I might have my mind settled… But we need to always be willing to say: What does the Word of God say? Not: What have I always said that the Word of God says?”

The true spiritual riches are found in engaging God’s Word directly, not going through another’s explanation of God’s Word.


Related Story from Honduras: “Take that Bible Away from that Man!”

How a Biblical Theology of Work Can Transform Your Life: Interview with Dr. Jim Hamilton

Biblical Theology of Work - Dr James Hamilton

Understanding how key biblical themes develop over time is essential for reading the Bible correctly and living faithfully.

One biblical theological theme that can transform our daily lives and identities is that of work. To discuss how a biblical theology of work can transform our work lives, I conversed with Dr. James Hamilton, author of a new book in the Short Studies in Biblical Theology series from Crossway called Work and Our Labor in the Lord.

Dr. Hamilton is the Professor of Biblical Theology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and author of several books, including God’s Glory in Salvation Through Judgment and What is Biblical Theology? among other commentaries and books on biblical theology. He currently serves as preaching pastor at Kenwood Baptist Church in Louisville, KY in addition to responsibilities at Southern Seminary. The transcript of our conversation is below.


Kevin Halloran: On the first page of Work and Our Labor in the Lord, you write this: “Biblical theology…is the attempt to understand and embrace the interpretive perspective of the biblical authors…to attempt to understand their worldview.” Can you explain how biblical theology shapes our worldview and why that’s so important?

Dr. James Hamilton: I can do that easily by contrasting it with a movie I watched last night on an airplane: Interstellar.

If you’ve seen this movie, the underlying premise—which I found so unbelievable that it took away from my enjoyment of the movie—is that our world cannot sustain life anymore. The earth is dying and there is a new Dust Bowl coming, and no one will be able to survive on earth. That kind of eschatology (or understanding of where things are going) then informs the work people try to do in the movie, and they actually think that they are trying to save the world—to save humanity. They accomplish it through supernatural feats of the manipulation of time, and it involves relativity and gravity (it’s a little complex, but honestly it was unbelievable).

Our worldview is the big story of where things came from, what we understand to be wrong, how we understand those things might get better, and where everything is going in the end—it is going to inform all of our lives. I think the Bible’s account of all those things—in spite of the enlightenment, the industrial revolution, and the so-called ‘sexual revolution’—is still the most compelling one available.

KH: The part of your book that most drove me to worship was the chapter on creation. It made me ponder the wisdom and glory of God in creating work. My question is this: why did God ultimately create work?

Dr. James Hamilton: Life would be pretty slow if we didn’t have any tasks to do… In the very good world prior to the fall, I don’t think we would know the frustrations, difficulties, feelings of lethargy, and lack of desire to do work. Minus all of the negative effects of sin, God created a world where there would be a rhythm of diligent labor followed by rest, and then more diligent labor where you actually accomplish something. You actually get to see something completed.

I can remember years ago, Elizabeth Elliot contrasted sweeping the floor with writing a book. She said, sometimes I really love to sweep a floor because I can see the fruits of my work. Whereas, if I sit down to write, I might not see that book for years. It’s great to mow the grass and see the fruits of our labor and see the lawn nice and trimmed. Work is a gratifying thing; it can be a physically exhilarating thing to engage in, depending on what kind of work we are talking about. And so, this may sound strange, but work is a gift, a mercy from God, something good that he created for us to engage in.

Work is a gift, a mercy from God, something good that he created for us to engage in.

KH: Like you express in the book, working is a way to reflect our working God. He created six days and rested on the seventh. That being said, what are some misconceptions Christians have about work that a biblical theology of work can clear up?

Dr. James Hamilton: I don’t know how widespread these misconceptions are, but I think people tend to think it stems from the judgment spoken on Adam’s work in Genesis 3:17–19. This overshadows the fact that Adam was supposed to work and keep the garden in Genesis 2:15 prior to the fall. Then their own experience of work being frustrating and perhaps misreadings of the book of Ecclesiastes where “Vanity of vanity, all is vanity” can lead people to the conclusion that the world is going to burn, my work doesn’t matter. They might also misinterpret that poem that concludes ‘only what’s done for Christ will last’—this kind of idea.

The Bible teaches that everything that we do has value and that our labor in the Lord, as Paul puts it in 1 Corinthians 15:58, [and I do in] the subtitle of the book, is not in vain. This is because we are created in the image and likeness of God and we are to bring God’s character to bear on all creation in everything that we do.

KH: In addition to clearing up negative misconceptions of work, biblical theology also provides a positive power for believers as they think about work. How might a biblical theology of work encourage someone perpetually discouraged in his or her work?

Dr. James Hamilton: The Scriptures encourage us that, ultimately, we work for the Lord—[as] that classic statement in Colossians 3 says, “Whatever you do work at it with all your heart as for the Lord and not for men.” Discouragement tends to come from, maybe an overbearing boss who never says anything positive; a lack of acclaim or commendation… We counter that by remembering that ultimately we are working for the Lord and not for men. There’s an audience of one that I’m seeking to please.

In the new heavens and new earth, we’re not going to be these cloudy, wispy ghosts, we are going to be resurrected bodies in the new heavens and new earth, engaged in grand projects for the glory of God.

The whole Bible’s framework teaches that work was in the garden and continues after the fall. Now that Christ has come, there’s a possibility for the redemption even for the things that we engage in, and our hearts are renewed. We come at this as a remade humanity. In the new heavens and new earth, we’re not going to be these cloudy, wispy ghosts, we are going to be resurrected bodies in the new heavens and new earth, engaged in grand projects for the glory of God. If we have this broader framework, it will reinforce and inform the idea that we are really working for God’s glory.

KH: My last question might be a challenge because you wrote an entire book on the subject, but if you had to give a one-minute biblical theology of work, how would you do it?

Dr. James Hamilton: I would start with what Jesus said in John 10, “My Father is working until now and I am working.” A biblical theology of work starts with the idea that God is a worker. From there, I would say that as those made in the image and likeness of God, we are made to work. We are going to be most satisfied and most fulfilled when we are doing what we were created to do. From there, I would walk through that big story where God created good work in the garden. That work was judged as the result of man’s sin—it was made more difficult—and yet the man was mercifully allowed to do that work. The warning was that in the day you eat of it, you will die. He died spiritually, but I think through God’s words, he began to trust the Lord and he began to continue his work.

Christ came and has set in motion the renewal of all things in such a way that we live as children of God. We live in a manner worthy of the gospel in everything we do. I think that in all kinds of jobs there are ways to lay down our lives to benefit other people spiritually, and we work in anticipation of a renewal of all things when all tears will be wiped away.

When as the Lord says through the prophet Isaiah, “Would that I had thorns to battle” (Isaiah 27:4)—there will be no more thorns and thistles on the ground, and all things will be made new, and we will know as we are known, and we will be the Lord’s.

KH: Thank you Dr. Hamilton for the time to discuss Work and Our Labor in the Lord.

David Jackman on Staying on the Line of God’s Word (Hermeneutical Principle)

Staying on the Line - David Jackman

One of our convictional hermeneutical principles is Staying on the Line. Staying on the Line focuses on faithfulness and precision in handling God’s Word, encouraging preachers to tell the truth, the whole truth [not to go below the line], and nothing but the truth [not to go above the line]. (Download a PDF of our hermeneutical principles.)

“Don’t be more concerned with the structure of the sermon than with what the Bible itself is saying.” David Jackman

David Jackman, a friend of LRI and preacher/trainer with the Proclamation Trust, has released a helpful video going deeper on this foundational principle. If you like this video, you will enjoy the whole Equipped Series from the Proclamation Trust.



Staying on the Line - Hermeneutical Principle

Our four-year program called Traning National Trainers uses Staying on the Line as one of our key hermeneutical principles. Here is what Pastor Fred from Uganda said about staying on the line of God’s Word:

“I believe my ministry will change because of this training. From the time I started in the ministry, I had the conviction that I should ‘stay on the line,’ but I did not have this knowledge of what it meant to stay on the line. I would still end up using my framework. Now I have the tools to guide me and help me stay on the line.”

Learn more about our training or opportunities to partner to ignite a movement of God’s Word around the world.

#PreachingTip: Echo the Bible’s Tone

Echo the Bible's Tone

When studying a text, part of Asking Good Questions is discovering the tone of the passage. (Understanding the genre also helps us understand tone.)

David Jackman of The Proclamation Trust recommends that we Echo the Bible’s Tone in the video below. If you like this video, you will enjoy the whole Equipped Series from the Proclamation Trust.

Also watch: Staying on the Line

 

 

Preaching the Bible’s Transformative Intent: The What and the How

Preaching the Transformational Intent of the Bible / Authorial Intent

If you have been around Leadership Resources’ people or training for more than a little while, you probably have heard us talk about the transformational intent of the Scriptures, which is foundational for our ministry and all transformational word ministry.

LRI’s Kevin Halloran recently talked with Tim Sattler, LRI’s International Training Director, on preaching the Bible’s transformational intent. Listen to the audio of our conversation below (or through this link) or read the transcript. Subscribe to our YouTube channel for future interviews.



What is the transformational intent and how does it relate to authorial intent?

Tim Sattler: Intent is connected to our view of inspiration. If we believe in divine inspiration, we need to think about it the way Peter thinks about it in 2 Peter 1:16–21.

The intent of the way they proclaim the gospel message is to not by following “cleverly devised myths when they made known to you the power and coming of the Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. And He received glory and honor from God the Father and the voice was born to Him by the majestic glory, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well-pleased,’ we ourselves heard this voice from heaven for we have heard him from the holy mountain…” And he goes on to talk about the prophetic word being fully confirmed and to pay attention to it “as a lamp shining in a dark place until the day dawns and the morning star arises in your hearts. Knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from one’s own interpretation for no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.”

And he goes on to talk about the prophetic word being fully confirmed and to pay attention to it, “as a lamp shining in a dark place until the day dawns and the morning star arises in your hearts. Knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from one’s own interpretation for no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.”

Part of his argument here is that it’s not human intention, it’s God’s intention and God’s Spirit moving the authors of Scripture to write with a purpose—what we believe is a transformational purpose.

Every time God proclaims His Word, it has an intended response.

God wants people to respond to His gospel call in all of the Scriptures. Right from the very beginning when you see Him pursue Adam and Eve, He wants them to respond to what He is saying. When Moses went to Pharaoh, we see a response that is given. Every time God proclaims His Word, it has an intended response. We call it “transformational intent” because we believe that God gave the gospel to transform hearts and lives, hopefully into the image of Christ and not a hardening like Pharaoh. One of those things is going to happen. It is the authorial intent. Our goal is not just communicating information but bringing about transformation.

Our goal is not just communicating information but bringing about transformation.

I’ve asked a lot of pastors when we first start our work with them, “What the goal is of preaching out of any passage?” Most guys who have been exposed to exposition (about 90%) say, “To clearly express or explain what God has said.” If that’s the goal on a Sunday morning, all you will give is information. But if your goal is transformation, the explanation of God’s Word becomes the process, not the goal. If transformation is your goal, that process will always be driven to how the author is intending people to respond.

Paul said in Colossians 1:28, “We proclaim Christ that we might present every man complete in Christ.” He gives the goal of apostolic preaching as being, “to be transformed into the image of Christ” every time the gospel is being proclaimed.

An Example from Ephesians 1

Let’s look at an example from Ephesians 1, where Paul starts his great doxology that goes for verse after verse, a long run-on sentence, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.” Then he goes on pouring out all of the blessings we find in Christ.

I remember as a young man hearing sermon after sermon on Ephesians 1 and hearing a doctrinal defense of election or something like that, really not in line with the intention Paul has here. His intention is that we would praise God with Him. Multiple times he says, “To the praise of His glory” and “to the praise of His glorious grace.” He’s wanting the Ephesian heart to enter into the praise and worship of Christ that he’s expressing himself. It’s far different than a doctrinal examination of election.

There is a building in that passage—all of the blessings we have heard about in the Old Testament, through Abraham, that were promised very early in the book have now been fulfilled in Christ—and they’re ours, as Gentiles! Paul’s intention is that we would walk away with this same doxology in our hearts.

Kevin: What happens if we don’t preach the transformational intent?

Tim: We preach content. We preach a lot of information and wonder why lives are not being changed. We will wonder why they are falling asleep. We will wonder why their hearts aren’t being captured in our preaching.

Eventually, I think, if we are not thinking through transformational intent, we might rely on human emotion to drive transformation. We might make great emotional appeals and make sure our voice and theatrics are going. We try and force the transformation ourselves, instead of expressing it as God has expressed it.

We have simple principles that help get to the transformational intent, here are a few. (Browse our Dig & Discover Hermeneutical Principle booklet for more.)

Hermeneutical Principle #1: Asking Good Questions

There are a lot of good questions we can ask of any passage. There are a lot of questions we need to ask. These questions help us get to the intent. There are basically six investigative questions you can ask: who, what, where, when, why, and how.

The questions, “Who”, “What”, “When”, or “Where” need to be answered to explain the text, but the majority of the answers will be content. The “Why” question is what gets you to the reasoning or the intention or the transformation idea in a text:

  • Why does he say it here?
  • Why in this way?
  • What’s surprising about this?
  • How did he want his readers to respond to what’s being said?

These questions will help us with the reasoning of the passage and help us get to the author’s transformative intention. We need content, but we need to go deeper to get to the “Why” questions.

Hermeneutical Principle #2: Structure

Structure is not just an outline. We think of structure as helping us see the direction of the author. We use the illustration of a bridge. The most important part of the bridge is the roadway getting you from one place to another. While there’s a lot of structural pieces that uphold that, the real goal when you come to the bridge is know where you will come to on the other side.

People think of structure like an outline or just dividing verses. But when you see the end from the beginning, understanding where the author is headed, you begin to see his intention. Structure will help you see how the message unfolds in a book or passage. Knowing the author’s conclusions are helps you get to intent.

Hermeneutical Principle #3: Traveling Instructions

God is speaking to us, but he has already spoken in His Word. We want to know what God is saying and how God wants us to respond in any age. He has spoken in His Word, but He hasn’t spoken directly to Chicago in 2017. He has spoken [first] to somebody else. Again, with our view of inspiration, He has moved an author to write what he writes. We must first understand what the passage meant in the original context before we apply it to ourselves today.

An Example from the Entire Book of Ephesians

In Ephesians, Paul is in a prison and the gospel is being threatened. All through the book of Acts, you’ve seen the unbelieving Jews rise up and stir trouble from the very moment the gospel goes out to the Gentiles. They don’t want Gentiles to become equal heirs and share in the equal blessings of Christ that God has promised Israel.

In Acts 15, it is said that unless someone is circumcised according to the custom of Moses, they can’t be saved. Move into Acts 21, and the situation is even worse. There are thousands of Jews who have been convinced that the gospel Paul is teaching is wrong. Their solution again doesn’t work, they end up arresting Paul. They want to kill him. Paul appeals to Caesar. He always wanted to go to Rome, now he’s in Rome with the Gospel. He wants these churches to stand firm in the gospel. The very last chapter, that’s his command: to stand firm. Love Christ with a love that is incorruptible (Ephesians 6:24). What would corrupt it? Going back to Old Covenant ways—that would corrupt the New Covenant. Paul is writing to this church to talk about the blessings they have received and how God has transformed all of humanity. He has reconciled the Gentiles with the Jews, humanity with Himself. He’s building a new temple with the people of God. Paul’s intent is that they would stand firm in that truth.

An Example from Philippians

Paul writes another letter to Philippi, to a church that has supported him from the very beginning. They had fellowship with him and his gospel. Paul wrote to thank them for a gift he received in this prison cell. He knows there’s a problem in the church with Euodia and Syntyche (Philippians 4:2). They have the potential to cause division in the church that is similar to the division between the Judaizers and the true gospel followers. He is wanting to help this church get along. He has a lot of build up to that point in that letter (chapters 1-3). He’s writing them to maintain this joy of partnership in this gospel and not let it be divided in the church. There’s intention in everything that these authors write and there’s a response that they want.

Kevin: One thing that I appreciate about the way LRI talks about transformational intent is that pastors should shepherd their people with the transformational intent. Can you explain what we mean by that?

Tim: It comes down to application. Once you understand the intent, why Paul or Mark or why any author is writing a book to an audience, you can now shepherd your church and bring the Word of God to today by asking a few questions.

The weakest part of most preaching is application. But in looking for intention, you need to ask, “What would that look like in my context today?” “What are similarities?” “How would that response look like in my context in my city with my people?” “What would God want us to do?” That’s the way you begin to shepherd with the author’s intent.

The weakest part of most preaching is application.
Kevin: Tim, you shared once about transformation in the life of one pastor in the Philippines when he finally got what it meant to preach the transformational intent. Would you mind sharing that story?

Tim: I’ve known this guy for about ten years. He was a representative of one of the large ministries in the United States in the Philippines. His preaching for many years was to transpose commentaries, preaching chapter-by-chapter out of them. He realized it was doctrinally driven and that he wasn’t doing his own study. We’ve worked with him and he has gained confidence seeing the Word of God clearly himself; he doesn’t need to rely on commentaries to make sure he had a good message (even though commentaries can be useful conversation partners)—he can now see what God is saying and bring that to his people. Most importantly, he sees that he used to give a lot of information to his people and not transformation.

When he saw the difference in how these principles help you get to transformational intent, he got rid of all those commentaries he was using as a crutch and has been preaching on his own. It’s interesting; his congregation has responded quite favorably. They have constantly remarked on how his preaching has changed. He even had one lady in his church who wanted to sponsor one of his trainings on another island. He’s going and multiplying what we’re doing in the Philippines—part of what we are seeing as a movement start over there. She wanted to pay for work to go.

When he was chatting with her, she had an unsaved husband and asked her what his thoughts were about sponsoring training. The husband had actually said this, “If this type of preaching can bring about this change in my wife, it’s worthy of my financial investment.” The nonbelieving husband was seeing such transformation in his wife that he wanted to invest.

Kevin: Tim, thank you for your time. It’s my prayer that this conversation spurs many pastors and leaders to be transformed by God’s word themselves and also to preach in a transformational way.


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Tracing Theological Themes Through the Whole Bible Story

The Bible is one main story with one main focus, sharing what God has done and will do through His Son Jesus Christ. Like any epic story, there are many threads that run through it. Understanding those threads and how they develop aids our study of Scripture. LRI’s Kevin Halloran interviewed Tim Sattler, International Training Director for Leadership Resources, on the importance of tracing themes throughout the whole Bible.


Kevin Halloran

Kevin Halloran

Kevin: Tim, can you explain the importance of tracing Biblical Theological threads?

Tim: Sure. The Bible’s one story, and like a story, there are multiple threads that develop and are involved. These threads hold the story together all the way along. We don’t have a series of disconnected stories. There are threads that pick up early on.

Example 1: Comparing Genesis with Revelation

Tim Sattler

Tim Sattler

If you have ever looked at the beginning chapters of Genesis and the ending chapters of Revelation, it’s interesting how many of those threads come together. We see the heavens and earth being created in Genesis and the new heavens and new earth being announced in Revelation 21. We see land and water and sea at the beginning, and land and no sea at the end. We see a garden in the presence of God and God dwelling with man—the great announcement of Rev. 21 is the dwelling of God is with man again.

Example 2: The Promised Seed

There are these different threads that pick up through the storyline. One key thread would be the promised seed that is going to conquer Satan and overcome sin (Genesis 3:15). The whole genealogical structure of Genesis follows this thread along. Abraham it picks up again. Later in the Davidic promise focused more specifically so that we would know who we are looking for in this king that would come.

Example 3: The Temple

One great thread is the temple, the idea of God dwelling with His people. They were pushed out of that dwelling because of their sin. They were pushed out of that place of His presence but the tabernacle, the temple—all these symbolic images where God comes and dwells among His people. Interestingly, both the tabernacle and temple are filled with God’s glory, but the third temple after the exile isn’t. You don’t see that glory come back to the temple. There’s something missing.

But then you have Jesus standing and the Spirit descends on Him like a dove. We understand that He came and tabernacled among us. This is God Himself tabernacling. It’s not an accident that John uses that terminology in John 1:14. All along we see that God is wanting to restore His presence with His people.

In Ephesians, Paul says we are being built up into the true temple, the dwelling of God in the Spirit. You can follow the theme of the Holy Spirit from the garden all the way through the book of Acts. It’s God’s presence restored through Christ that makes us the indwelling of God.

Example 4: A sin-atoning sacrifice

The strand of sacrifice goes along right from Genesis 4 all the way through to the cross.

These stories ebb and flow in the overall story but they are all pulled together like the strands of a rope. As a rope has many different strands, so the story of the Bible has many different strands.

Kevin: It’s rich to see how the story develops and those threads develop, how the Old Testament points forward to Christ. Also, as we understand who Christ is for us, we can look back at the Old Testament and see the build-up and appreciate Christ all the more.

Tim: You can. That’s right.

Kevin: You’ve mentioned to me in the past that you prefer to say tracing Biblical Theological threads rather than themes. Why is that?

Tim: It’s not a big deal to me frankly! I would use theme and thread interchangeably except for this: As we have been training pastors and sometimes use the word ‘themes’, it gets confused with thematic preaching. Instead of telling the story or understanding the development of Biblical Theology in a storyline, it becomes a topical proof-texting of a theme in the Bible—which really doesn’t help. That is more systematic theology (which is fine) rather than biblical theology.

As we are talking about tracing a thread or a theme, we are really trying to unfold the natural development of each part of the story. The tabernacle isn’t as great as the temple, is it? One’s a more permanent place, there’s been a development from one dwelling place to another. It’s there to show us that God wants to be in a permanent place with His people. In Genesis the dwelling place was lost, but it will be restored. We find out that that the tabernacle and temple were never intended to be the permanent place—the permanent place is the New Heavens and the New Earth.

What we’re trying to do is keep it in language that helps us understand the development of a storyline. Not simply tracing thematic theological ideas.

Kevin: How do you recommend tracing Biblical Theological themes?

Tim: Read the Bible.

Kevin: Good answer.

Tim: We need to know the Bible.

Kevin: There’s no shortcut. We shouldn’t want a shortcut.

Tim: If you really want to know what David Copperfield is about, read David Copperfield. You need to read the whole book; you need to read the whole story. Dickens put a marvelous story out there for us and the Bible is an even greater story. We really do need to read the Bible. We need to know how each book fits with the unfolding of the story, which books are really mainline in the story, and which are commentary on the main story. We need to know what’s happening.

Kevin: Which biblical books are main-line verses commentary on the main story?

Tim: Genesis and Exodus would be mainline. Leviticus would be commentary into the story because it’s not moving the story along, it’s bringing more depth to the story. It’s the whole sacrificial system. Numbers is moving the story along, in the wilderness. Deuteronomy at a point where you are getting ready to transition, but is at a moment in time as Moses is giving his last words. Joshua moves us along. Judges moves us along. 1 & 2 Samuel move us along. Kings does as well. Ezra and Nehemiah coming back from the exile carry the story along. Most of the prophets would be voices spoken into the people and the times. The Psalms speak into the times. Basically, Psalms are songs about the times that are put together in kind of a symphony looking back, the last compilation of these is looking back over Israel’s history from Moses all the way to after the exile coming back into a temple that’s been rebuilt. It’s a commentary into how God has been working among His people and that it’s God’s king meets God’s people through this valley to God’s grace. There are books that carry the story along; there are books that speak into it.

The storyline is contained in fewer books than we think so it’s easy to get that storyline.

Kevin: You had mentioned before that you recommend four key questions for understanding Biblical Theology as it pertains to a passage.

Tim: Yes, they are questions a friend Phil Wheeler from Sydney, Australia, put together. I think they’re really good questions:

  1. What’s the story so far?

Wherever you are in the Bible, you need to know what the story has been leading up to that point in time. What’s happened so far?

  1. What’s this story about?

Now we are looking at what a particular story contributes. What is it about?

Take Judges, for instance. What is Judges about? It’s about everybody doing what’s right in his own eyes. That’s commentary. It’s also about a leadership gap after Joshua. There’s a question, who would be king? The more you study these judges the more you see they are trying to fill a leadership void. But they are going about it the wrong way. We find out the end in the next story, not Ruth, but Samuel—God provides a king. He wants it to be His king and His way: David.

  1. What do we learn about how God does things?

Before we even look at leading us to Christ there are lessons about the way God works. The way God is accomplishing things in the world.

  1. What do we learn about the way God does things through Jesus?

Not every story is on a major highway towards Jesus. We need to learn about the way God does things. But there are major stories; every book is contributing to the major story of Jesus. So, what do we learn about how God does things through Jesus.

Often times we miss true Biblical Theology because we don’t get it on the book level first; we are looking for Jesus in every little detail. A lot of preachers look for Jesus in too many places and make too many wrong connections. We need to understand what the book contributes to the story first.

What we learn about how God does things through Jesus and then how pieces unfold that. There may be more than one strand in a book, but at the same time, we want to be with those major strands as we are talking about Christ.

The Power of “The Line” in Ethiopia: Pastors Repent for Incorrectly Preaching the Bible

Testimony from Allan Sherer, Pastor of Global Connection at the North Hills Church, Taylors, South Carolina.


Nine years ago I was introduced to TNT training. Through a series of remarkable providences God opened a compelling opportunity to partner with two dynamic leaders in Ethiopia. These two men, independent from one another, became deeply burdened by the fact that the vast majority of pastors in their nation do not enjoy access to biblical training. In response to their invitation, I traveled with Doug Dunton of LRI to conduct TNT training with two groups of leaders in Ethiopia.

Conditions that day were not pleasant. It was cold and rainy and there was mud and water everywhere. I found myself slipping and almost falling multiple times throughout the day.

Allan leading a session during a training in Ethiopia

Yet, those attending the training engaged wholeheartedly. I had the privilege of teaching the foundational principle of everything we do in TNT: “Staying on the Line.” (See the illustration below.)

This simple, yet revolutionary, concept can be summed up in this way:

“We should think of the Word of God as we would think of a line. Our goal as preachers and teachers is to stay ‘on the line,’ avoiding going ‘above the line’ and thus adding to what God has said as well as ‘going below the line’ and taking away from what God has said.”

“They were weeping and repenting because they realize they have not been preaching on the line of the Word of God. They were asking God to help them learn to handle his word properly.”I was aware there was an unusual attention as I taught this simple principle. In fact, the entire day – from around 8:30 in the morning until around 5:00 in the afternoon – was marked by earnest participation. It was compelling and humbling to be with such eager students. Yet, when it was time for the training to end I was genuinely happy to anticipate our warm, dry lodging, comfortable seating, a good hot meal, and best of all, my bed.

The following morning dawned clear and bright. I was eager to see our new-found friends again. As we sat waiting for everyone to arrive, our interpreter said, “Everyone was here until after 11pm last night.” I was dumbfounded. “Why were they here? What were they doing?” I asked. “They were weeping and repenting because they realized they have not been preaching on the line of the Word of God. They were asking God to help them learn to handle his word properly.”

Allan chatting with one Ethiopian leader

“It isn’t about what we choose to say about the Bible. It is about faithfully telling God’s people what the Bible actually says.”Nine years, a dozen trainings, and thousands of trainees later, that simple principle continues to revolutionize the ethos of a nation of pastors and teachers. The interpreter who told me about the late night prayer meeting is now one of our mentor trainers. He has led dozens of trainings, even beyond the borders of Ethiopia. He is passionate about transferring to a generation of preachers a deep conviction that it isn’t about what we choose to say about the Bible. It is about faithfully telling God’s people what the Bible actually says.

This man is one of around 20 mentor trainers distributed all over Ethiopia. These faithful, sacrificial workers cross vast distances, and even risk their lives, to spread the Word that captivated the hearts of that original faithful training group.

“Stay on the line. Preach the Word of God with the heart of God.”

What an amazing joy and thrill to be able to serve and co-labor with these faithful men of God!


Allan and LRI’s Africa ministry were featured on Episode 5 of Dispatches from the Front. Watch a clip below.

Tim Keesee: “What they are doing here is nation-shaking. Training that moves from generation to generation takes work, focus, mentoring, translators, and logistics. Conferences are easy, but multiplying leaders and overcoming lots of geographic and linguistic barriers isn’t.”

20 Frameworks that Mess Up Your Bible Reading

20-cognitive-biases-that-screw-up-your-decisions

One of our convictional principles for reading the Bible is called Text and Framework, a principle that teaches,

“We must let the Bible shape our frameworks rather than letting our frameworks shape our interpretations of the Bible.”

Text and Framework Hermeneutical Principle — Proclamation TrustBusiness Insider recently published an article called “20 cognitive biases that screw up your decisions“, describing information that quickly becomes cognitive biases, or when applied to reading the Bible, unhelpful frameworks that can prevent us from seeing the text of Scripture as we ought.

The list below gives a summary of the 20 frameworks. [Or view the full graphic.]

How many of them affect your Bible reading?

1. Anchoring bias. People are over-reliant on the first piece of information they hear.

2. Availability heuristic. People overestimate the importance of information that is available to them.

3. Bandwagon effect. The probability of one person adopting a belief increases based on the number of people who hold that belief.

4. Blind-spot bias. Failing to recognize your own cognitive biases is a bias in itself.

5. Choice-supportive bias. When you choose something, you tend to feel positive about it, even if that choice has flaws.

6. Clustering illusion. This is the tendency to see patterns in random events.

7. Confirmation bias. We tend to listen only to information that confirms our preconceptions.

8. Conservatism bias. When people favor prior evidence over new evidence or information that has emerged.

9. Information bias. The tendency to seek information when it does not affect action.

10. Ostrich effect. The decision to ignore dangerous or negative information by “burying” one’s head in the sand, like an ostrich.

11. Outcome bias. Judging a decision based on the outcome—rather than how exactly the decision was made in the moment.

12. Overconfidence. Some of us are too confident about our abilities, and this causes us to take greater risks in our daily lives.

13. Placebo effect. When simply believing that something will have a certain effect on you causes it to have that effect.

14. Pro-innovation bias. When a proponent of an innovation tends to overvalue its usefulness and undervalue its limitations.

15. Recency. The tendency to weigh the latest information more heavily than older data.

16. Salience. Our tendency to focus on the most easily recognizable features of a person or concept.

17. Selective perception. Allowing our expectations to influence how we perceive the world.

18. Stereotyping. Expecting a group or person to have certain qualities without having real information about the person.

19. Survivorship bias. An error that comes from focusing only on surviving examples, causing us to misjudge a situation.

20. Zero-risk bias. Sociologists have found that we love certainty—even if it’s counterproductive.


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    Launching Pastoral Training Movements Worldwide

     

    The mission of Leadership Resources is to launch pastoral training movements worldwide. This blog shares articles, resources, and updates from staff of God’s work around the world through our training. If you’re new to our blog, start here.

     


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