I am wondering if I am alone on this one and would love some feedback. I am discovering more and more what I think is a product of our teaching and preaching formats. The average Christian is hearing from the Bible on Sunday anywhere from an hour to an hour and a half. The Bible content they are getting is typically broken into small chunks (one chapter at a time or one story at a time or one topic) and I have come to believe that this is having an affect on people’s understanding of the message itself. Someone comes to Bible class and they hear about David and Goliath or Jesus calming the storm. They only get what is in the confines of the story itself and rarely much of the broader context of the unfolding narrative that the story itself is a pivotal part of. Biblegateway sure doesn’t help us by giving us a verse “in context” meaning one verse on either side of the verse we are looking up.
The Bible is a complex work of broader and broader contexts which all add layers of meaning to any given text. There is the cultural context, the immediate context, the context of genre, the context of how this fits the broader context of the gospel and salvation history, etc. It is really difficult to get a teacher to take these things into consideration and pass these things on to students in an understandable way because Bible class teachers have generally not had this modeled for them, don’t always have the tools to do it, and are under tremendous time constraints to get in the story or topic at hand, include discussion and prayers, and facilitate the class as a whole.
The Bible is trying to get us from Point A to Point B. Biblical narratives are not haphazardly thrown together but are woven very specifically to take us on a journey of faith and understanding. Because of that there is often a tremendous interconnection of stories (in the Gospel) and thoughts (in the epistles) that lose something when they are not seen in light of what led up to it and what followed.
Do you think this is a reasonable concern? If so, how do we deal with it? Teacher training would certainly help. More time for Bible study would be a plus. Is this something worthy of considering how we might alter some of our structures to allow a better presentation of God’s Word? Is it reasonable to deal with the stories and teachings of the Bible in context or do you think people get just enough out of them without being concerned how they fit in the bigger picture?
One last thought. The times I have incorporated the broader context of a teaching of Jesus or a Biblical narrative into a Bible class or a sermon I cannot tell you how many long time Christians have come up to me and said, “I have studied that story dozens of times and never thought of it that way.” I think there is a desire for this but I think the traditional structures we have been handed make it difficult to accomplish on a regular basis. I don’t really know what the solution is or if there even is a better way but I wanted to toss this out there and see what kinds of thoughts/feedback it generated.