This is the second time I have written this post for today.
The first time, it was a frankly a rant - on the condition of the sermon I heard yesterday, on the condition of Christianity in my larger circle, on the seeming attractiveness of other forms of belief. It was bitter, angry - and completely un-Christian. So I decided I would have to start over.
What I would write about, instead, is the whole counsel of God.
We now live in an age where (at least here in North America) the Church has largely abandoned the practice of expository preaching, of preaching through the Bible or even books of the Bible in their totality, going verse by verse and bringing out the meaning of the verses as they were written. Under this method it can take years to get through a single book of the Bible - but within this style one captures the whole of the book, the good and the bad, embarrassing and unworthy.
What we have moved to - seemingly in larger and larger part - is topical preaching. In this method, one chooses a topic and then finds passages or verses around it. Another version - none better, in my view - is to preach through a book of the Bible but to do it selectively: skip some verses here, a chapter there, all in the pursuit of the underlying topic you are trying to communicate.
As you may guess, I am a fan of the first and not the second.
Why? Because the first gives the whole counsel of God's word. It does not choose a point to emphasize which is often one important to the speaker but a minor contextual note but instead paints the tapestry of God's Word in all its fullness. It can also create odd gaps in the understanding of the hearers and their relationship to God: they know they need to be saved for example, but are not sure what they need to be saved from (the answer, of course, is sin).
Improperly wielded, topical preaching makes the Church a victim of the age it lives in. Suddenly God's word seems to speak to the particular conditions of our times (which it can, of course - it is God's word) but in such a way that our modern sensibilities are pleased (until they have to be redefined for the next generation's "modern" sensibilities). The word then becomes void, merely a social action pamphlet of one sort of another. And the people of God, instead of being fed true food, are given the sort of things that make them feel full but will disappear as quickly as sugar rush on Easter when the tough times come.
Strangely enough, I am not overcome with fear at this development. Sadness, yes - God's word is so rich and we allow ourselves to only grasp the barest minimum and I believe there are many that will be unable to stand when the social currents they ride now suddenly turn against them. But in reality, Our Lord always said this day would come as it has countless times before over the centuries. And it gives us a principle which any good small holder would embrace: it is not enough to rely on someone else. In this, as in all else, we need to be as involved as we are in any other activity.