This is an excellent chapter on the application part of preaching or the contextualizing of the sermon. Preaching must bridge the communication gulf of 2000 years.
In chapter four, Stott discusses the need for preaching to build bridges between the revealed Word in the ancient world and the contemporary world of our audience. He first deals with the theory side.
The problem is we usually stand in only one of the two worlds. The Biblical conservative sometimes finds himself on the Biblical side of the cultural chasm when he does not properly apply the eternal truths of the first century ancient world to his generation. We leave that up to the Holy Spirit. The theological liberal is often on the modern side so concerned with relevancy that he sacrifices Biblical doctrine.
To not neglect either side of the great divide, we must read from both worlds. Someone asked Karl Barth, “What do you do to prepare your Sunday sermon?” Barth answered, “I take the Bible in one hand and the daily newspaper in the other.” Al Mohler’s interview with the late Stott gives some practical ways to exegete contemporary culture.
Stott also points out that we should also preach on the level of our people. Spurgeon once commented, ‘Christ said, ‘Feed my sheep…Feed my lambs.’ Some preachers, however, put the food so high that neither lambs nor sheep can reach it. They seem to have read the text, ‘Feed my giraffes.’
Stott next turned from theory to practice with two examples. The first example is personal and the second is ethical.
First, in bridge building, we can answer the personal questions all generations having been poising: “What is the purpose of our life? Has life any significance?. . . .” We believe that Jesus Christ has the answers to these world-view questions. Therefore we must preach Christ as John Wesley did when he preached his favorite text: “Jesus Christ is our wisdom, our righteousness and sanctification and redemption” (1 Corinthians 1:30).
The next example in bridge building is ethics. Because saving faith produces works, ethics is the application part of our preaching. Stott gives a series of five kinds of ethics when preached will build a bridge between the two worlds. This concentric circle could be the application grid we think through when preparing sermons.
The first is individual Christian ethics. This is best described by Paul’s letter to Titus who was to teach sound doctrine and also the ethical conduct that adorned doctrine or displayed its beauty. Such as the elderly women teaching the younger women, and the older men mentoring the younger.
The next ethic is church ethics or the responsibility to fulfill the “one another” commands in the new community of the church.
There is also domestic ethics. Domestic ethics is addressed by both Paul (Ephesians 5:21-69) and Peter (1 Peter 2:18—3:3).
The fourth area of ethics is social ethics for the community at large. For example, we have an obligation to preach sexual ethics such as sexual intercourse limited to married, heterosexual couples. Social ethics also includes speaking out against covetousness and the need to help the poor.
Finally there is the political ethics. Old Testament prophets like Amos addressed social injustices. While opposed to the social gospel of works for salvation, Stott exhorted preachers to preach “biblical principles which relate to the problems of contemporary society, in such a way as to help everybody to develop a Christian judgment about them, and to inspire and encourage the opinion-formers and policy-makers in the congregation.”
Stott answers how preachers handle controversial topics when they bridge the gap and apply Scripture to personal, domestic, church, social and political ethics. Preachers should equip their people with what Stott calls the Christian mind or the Christian frame of reference or what we more commonly now call the Christian World view. We must teach a Christian framework of truth that includes creation, fall, redemption and consummation.
For example, the issue of abortion is a concrete contextualization of personal ethics as well as domestic, church, social and political. Al Mohler exposes the culture of death in America going after Crisis Pregnancy Centers. When a pregnant teenager goes to a Crisis Pregnancy Center and the ultrasound shows her live baby in her womb chances of an abortion greatly diminish. Baltimore, New York, and San Francesco are trying to regulate Crisis Pregnancy Centers out of business. How should we address this onslaught against life? What is the Biblical World view that would equip our people to answer this life and death topic?
At creation God created man in His image and therefore we should not attack God by destroying pre-born babies made in His image. The Bible also teaches the sanctity of human life (Genesis 9:6; Psalm 139:13-16). God told Jeremiah that He had a will for him before he was formed or created by God in his mother’s womb (Jeremiah 1:5). This Biblical frame of truth teaches us to oppose the murder of all human life and even pre-born human life.
Mohler made this comment in his interview with the late Stott that summarizes this chapter: “Mohler: That requires a double exegesis — an exegesis of the text and also an exegesis of life.”
In our next post we look at Stott’s stress on the importance of the preacher in his study which enables us exegete both worlds.