A Preference for the Gospels

As I review my preaching patterns, it seems that I have a preference for the Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. 85% to 90% of my sermons are based on a text from one of these four books, even though only one of the four texts appointed each Sunday is a Gospel reading. There are those who have challenged me to pull myself out of that rut, and make better use of Hebrew Bible texts as well as the rest of the New Testament. But I have remained committed to base the majority of my preaching on the Gospels, believing that they are the richest resource we have in exploring what it means to be rooted in the good news of Jesus Christ, and living lives of faithful discipleship in his name.

This morning, a much more articulate theologian comes to my rescue (two of them, actually):

Martin Marty, in his weekly e-mail message titled "Sightings" (6/16/08), quotes a Christian Century article (6/12/08), which in turn quotes Anglican Bishop of Durham, N. T. Wright from a lecture he delivered last November to the Society of Biblical literature. Marty excerpts:

"The central message of all four canonical Gospels is that the Creator God, Israel's God, is at last reclaiming the whole world as his own, in and through Jesus of Nazareth. That, to offer a riskily broad generalization, is the message of the kingdom of God, which is Jesus' answer to the question, What would it look like if God were running this show." Which God? Not the one Nietzsche or Christopher Hitchens denounces, their "celestial tyrant" who is badly "running the world." No, "the whole point of the Gospels is that the coming of God's kingdom on earth as in heaven is precisely not the imposition of an alien and dehumanizing tyranny, bur rather the confrontation of alien and dehumanizing tyrannies with the news of a God-the God recognized in Jesus-who is radically different from them all, and whose inbreaking justice aims at rescuing and restoring genuine humanness."

 I am quoting more than usual, perhaps offering something redundant to our many readers who also subscribe to The Christian Century and who may have skimmed or scanned or mentally filed "for further reflection" Wright's original. I certainly will not have space to quote sufficiently to let Wright flesh out what this all means. I hope I am tantalizing readers to track the article down and do their own arguing with it. So let me just point to a few themes that deal with "public theology." Wright is rough on those who believe there are no options between tyranny and anarchy, who confuse Enlightenment "democracy" with the kingdom of God, who split the Jesus of the gospels from the Christ announced in New Testament letters, fundamentalists who tout biblical authority but do not listen to the biblical gospels, the political left, the political right, those who are too eager to muffle the Gospel themes in the face of "pagans, ancient and modern alike" or the scandalized Jews then and now. This is not an anti-secular or anti-Semitic book, but one that clears space for the witness of the Gospels, which he sees too often softened.

If you want to chase down the "Christian Century" article to which Marty refers, you can access it online at http://www.christiancentury.org/index.lasso (click the words "Kingdom come").

As for me and my house, I'll take the occasional excursion into Isaiah, Jeremiah, Titus and Timothy, but I'll spend most of my time in the four Gospels, where the ministry, message and presence of Jesus is always central.