Thursday, November 18, 2010

Strong imagery and Gospel Communication

Recently I was taken to task for expressing the opinion that someone was a wolf: 'Surely not - he loves the gospel.  He may have his problems but 'wolf' is a bit strong.'  Well, more of wolves in another post.  But it set me thinking about the strong imagery - often negative - in the New Testament, and the anaemic , let's-not-upset-anyone communication that passes for preaching these days.  I am, from time to time, 'corrected'  when I use strong imagery in my own preaching.  But here are some better examples than any of mine:


Matthew 7:15  "Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves."

Matthew 7:18,19 A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.

Matthew 23:27 "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men's bones and everything unclean."

Now come on Lord, that's a bit harsh.  You know, the Pharisees love the Scriptures.  I know they don't always agree with your interpretation, and in fact some of them might be hypocrites, as you say.  But you can't tar them all with the same brush.  I mean - look at Nicodemus.  He came to you very respectfully, didn't he?

Other NT writers:

Acts 20:29,30  I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock.  Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them.

Galatians 5:12  As for those agitators, I wish they would go the whole way and emasculate themselves!

2 Peter 2:12-15 They are like brute beasts, creatures of instinct, born only to be caught and destroyed, and like beasts they too will perish.  They will be paid back with harm for the harm they have done. Their idea of pleasure is to carouse in broad daylight. They are blots and blemishes, reveling in their pleasures while they feast with you.  With eyes full of adultery, they never stop sinning; they seduce the unstable; they are experts in greed--an accursed brood!  They have left the straight way and wandered off to follow the way of Balaam son of Beor, who loved the wages of wickedness.

2 Peter 3:22 Of them the proverbs are true: "A dog returns to its vomit," and, "A sow that is washed goes back to her wallowing in the mud."

Jude 12-15  They are clouds without rain, blown along by the wind; autumn trees, without fruit and uprooted--twice dead.   They are wild waves of the sea, foaming up their shame; wandering stars, for whom blackest darkness has been reserved forever.   Enoch, the seventh from Adam, prophesied about these men: "See, the Lord is coming with thousands upon thousands of his holy ones  to judge everyone, and to convict all the ungodly of all the ungodly acts they have done in the ungodly way, and of all the harsh words ungodly sinners have spoken against him."

Now steady on, Jude - you're getting carried away.  I know Jesus is your brother and you've thought a lot about the things that he said - but even he didn't go that far.  The men you're talking about hardly deserve your eternal damnation.  Even if they did - wild waves of the sea?  Moderate your language a bit old chap.  This is England you know.

A need for balance?
Yes, of course.   But where is the balance, when most preachers insist on speaking of wooden-handled manually operated soil excavation equipment?  Where is the language that makes listeners sit up and think 'Wow!  This is serious!'  Where's the language that lets people know what the preacher really thinks?  Whitefield repented in later life of a language too apostolical.  Today's preachers need to repent of a language not apostolical enough.

Update on balance..
It's been suggested to me by my reader that balance isn't a helpful concept.  Was Jesus - in any of those quotes - balanced?  Er - no.  Guess not.  The correct 'balance' - if we must use the concept - has to be the balance of two different extremes.  When Paul says 'speaking the truth in love' he doesn't mean 'Sometimes speak the truth.  Sometimes speak in love.  Get the balance right.'  He means 'Always speak the truth.  Always speak in love.  Tell it bluntly, and do so because you love the gospel, love the God of the gospel, and love the person you're speaking to.'  And that, dear friend, is the balance that's hard.  Innit?

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