This last Saturday I was back in Oceanside having lunch with a good friend.
I should say a few things about this friend. He’s two years younger than I am, an officer in the Marine Corps, and is quite theologically astute. His dad is a seminary professor back east. He started attending the church I worked at in Oceanside about a year before I left, and he and I hit it off almost immediately.
From the beginning, we didn’t agree on much of anything theologically, outside of the basic fundamentals of Christian doctrine. We both hold the Scriptures in extremely high regard, we just often interpreted them and their implications differently. Nonetheless, we became great friends, and made a habit meeting together to have a beer and discuss theology. Those conversations were incredibly rich.
I loved having this friend of mine in the congregation when I preached, because I knew he was a careful and critical listener. He took notes better than anyone I knew, and often times we would have fascinating discussions about my sermons in the days that followed.
All of that to say, he’s a great friend and a sharp guy who I enjoy talking with and who has shaped my own thinking in profound ways.
As we sat talking and eating Mexican food this last Saturday, he, in the context of a larger point he was making, was telling me about what he remembered about my preaching. “I loved listening to you,” he said, “Because when I did it was like you’d take a text, and if this is all of the standard stuff I’d always been taught about that text (he made a big circle on the table with his hands), you’d come at if from a totally different angle and you’d be over here (he motioned with his finger outside of the circle) and you’d say stuff and draw conclusions that I’d never even thought of, and I’d always walk away saying, ‘ok, I never thought about this before, I need to maybe rethink some things.’”
Best preaching compliment I’ve ever received, right there. And I told him that.
He went on to say that he didn’t always agree with me 100%, but that I always made him think. That’s what I like to hear.
When I preach and teach or when I talk about God I am not burdened by the need to be different, or controversial, or needlessly contrarian. I believe that when preachers set out to be difficult or controversial then can cause great pain. Frankly, I think that is a sign of insecurity on the part of the preacher.
But when it appears that our standard interpretations of a text are off base, or are shaped more by our cultural, political, economic, or philosophical presuppositions and commitments rather than what the text actually says, I’m willing to call them into question. And I believe that is healthy. Even if, every now and then, it rubs people the wrong way. I am burdened to, as humbly as I can, be faithful to what the text actually says while trying to weed out as many of my own biases as I can.
When I preach my hope is to point myself and my audience to the Scriptures in a way that leads everyone involved to a greater love for Jesus and a greater desire to live a life that glorifies him. My hope is that that would be a process that really gets people to think. And when it is, that makes me happy.
It’s been tough not preaching regularly this year. I’ve had about five chances to preach, and they’ve been great, and I look forward to getting “back in the game” soon. I think the fact that I’ve been out of regular preaching for the last several months made that compliment especially encouraging.