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Using Contextualized Language in Preaching

Two Points of Application

Drawing from Paul, I want to suggest two things.

First, we must avoid using insider language when preaching to biblically illiterate people. We encounter more and more people today who are like Paul’s audience in Athens. As we preach, we should try to find ways to connect and engage the culture so they understand what we mean and do not feel excluded, like they’ve been left out of a joke. If we reference other Scripture in our sermons, we should not assume everyone knows what the reference is to!

So we must briefly explain that which we are discussing. Another example here would be abbreviations or names of theological positions; people may not know what “T.U.L.I.P.” or incarnation mean, so explain as you go.

Second, we don’t have prove that the Bible is relevant.

It is! We should, however, show how it’s relevant; that’s part of the job of the preacher. A biblically illiterate culture has particular difficulty connecting biblical truths with ethics and behaviors for today. We should pay extra attention to explain why a certain text should shape how Christians think, act, and believe.

A Good Place to Start

So where do we start when we want to preach the wonder of the Word of God to a biblically illiterate culture? One of my favorite places to begin is Psalm 119 because it is all about loving and following God’s Word. This single chapter is long enough for a series of messages focusing on how God’s Word endures through various challenges to the faith or seasons of life. Another good passage to begin with is 2 Timothy 3:16. From there, we can show how different genres and stories in Scripture inform how we live today.

We can also preach sermons on why we trust the Bible. Another way to begin is to preach an overview of the biblical storyline: creation, fall, redemption, consummation. Sermons like these would make helpful launching pads for biblically illiterate people to begin exploring, trusting, and understanding the Bible. 

(Auburn Powell contributed to this article and throughout this series.)