One of the things that I have grown into over the last three years is trying to get the big picture and communicate it as simply as possible. That is not an easy thing for me to do because I like all the little details, connections, and hints that may or may not really be what it appears to be in the text. It is very tempting to teach through a book of the Bible one chapter at a time as if those chapters exist in isolation and contain whole disconnected bits of information from each other. Somehow that just won’t do any more.
1 – Broader Theology of the Author:
There are two “Big Picture” items I think it is important for Bible class teachers to take into account in preparing and presenting a Bible class lesson. The first is the broader theology of the author. How do the things in the text we have in front of us fit into the broader theology of Paul, John, or whoever the author is you are studying. The simplest way to do this is to read from people who have a grip on these broader theologies (N.T. Wright for instance).
2 – Broader Context of the Text:
A second big picture item that I think is just as vital to get under our belts is context. People typically think of context being one verse on either side of the single verse you are studying. But I am talking even more macro than that. We have to know how the chapter we are studying both advances the narrative and is tied to the surrounding events. For instance, do you know what the context of some of the most famous verses in the Gospel of John is? John 14:1-4 about Jesus going to prepare a place? Just one verse back Jesus just told Peter he would deny him three times. Just before that Jesus talks about how he is going to a place they cannot yet come but eventually they will. Jesus is answering their questions about his mysterious language in John 13 with his famous words in John 14.
A second example – Jesus washing the disciples feet in John 13. This is not just some disconnected story about humility. Jesus is pointing them toward the cross, where again he will be stripped down, humbled, and take on the role of the suffering servant. But if you aren’t looking at the broader context, big picture, these things are easy to miss.
We have to continually ask ourselves:
- How does this fit into the broader theology of the author
- How does this advance the story and fit in with the surrounding chapters?
If we don’t know the answers to these questions with the text we are teaching we are certainly not going to be teaching it to others. But first we have to ask the question and then we have to go and find the answer. It is some additional work but it really does make the Bible come more alive in teaching. The details are still just as interesting and important but they make more sense when we understand how they fit together.