The above picture is Depache Mode in concert. One of their songs, “Your Own Personal Jesus”, while catchy, has been greatly offensive to many Christians. Yet, many sermons are even more offensive to the biblically literate.
One homiletical idol I see in classrooms and books disturb me. I know many will hate me for blogging about this, but blog I must. The popular “you must repeatedly appeal to and mention Jesus in your sermon to be biblical” is a crock of … nonsense. There, I said it. May the hate mail start. Many preaching profs teach this. The reasons they teach this are many. One clear reason is because they lack understanding of how biblical literature works. Another reason is because they bought into one of the many idolatrous cliches in “evangelicalism” line, hook and sinker.
Such nonsensical coaching in homiletics from these half-baked profs produces sermons from students who say that Boaz is like Jesus, the Father in the Prodigal Son story is in fact Jesus, Deborah is like Jesus, and Samson is like Jesus (all right, you think I made the Samson one up? No, I’ve actually heard that once somewhere, but thankfully not from my own students or I would rip them from end to end). Most homileticians are not scholars of biblical literature. If we preach the TEXT (i.e. biblical literature) accurately, Boaz is just … Boaz … the Father in the Prodigal story is just … a figure in Jesus’ story … and Deborah is … well, you get my point!
The appeal to JESUS by repeated mention of him or by saying that some characters symbolize him is no more biblical than cursing on the basketball court using Jesus’ name. When someone says, “Jesus Christ,” s/he did not just preach a biblical sermon. Instead, s/he has just preached an intellectually insulting and annoying sermon to many of us. A truly biblical sermon is true to the content, intent and rhetoric of the chosen text. That requires not just good communication skills but also a good understanding of biblical studies and literature.
Thus, my appeal to my fellow preaching professors and preachers is to not just teach and practice the quick-fix by appealing to popular (false, idolatrous and cheap) notion of biblical sermon needing the word “Jesus” in it but to study the very content of what you are preaching. I would say that each preacher ought to study one or two good dissertations a year on biblical studies to widen his horizon on how the Bible actually works and how literature impacts both the ancient and modern audiences. Otherwise, an appeal to Jesus is at best an inadequate copout and at worse outright blasphemy. So, please, no more appeal to your “own personal Jesus”, at least not on my watch. You don’t need to mention “Jesus” in EVERY sermon to be biblical. In fact, artificial mentioning of him is unbiblical.