Self-Focused or God-Focused?


*Not drawn to scale. Self should be much smaller and God should be much bigger.

In a previous post, I introduced Tom Long’s metaphors for preaching: herald, pastor, story-teller and witness. If you recall, the pastoral image of preaching focuses on the individual, their current situation, and the gospel’s ability to address their problems. I found his critique of the pastoral image of the preacher to be particularly helpful and relevant in today’s society. See some of his concluding remarks below.

All this calls into question the way in which pastoral preaching typically uses the Bible. The critical question is whether preachers are supposed to help people “find their stories in the Bible” or are supposed to call the hearers, as George Lindbeck has suggested, to “make the story of the Bible their story.”

In this view, the people in the Bible may be seen as people like ourselves, but what makes them critically different is that their lives became absorbed into the narration of God’s action in the world. They have become, in other words, characters in a larger story that is not primarily about them but about God. If this is so, we do not go to the Scripture to gain more information about life as we know it, but rather to have our fundamental understandings of life altered (The Witness of Preaching, p. 36).

Although it may seem simple and obvious, the gospel requires the necessary shift from self to God. Life is not about us; it is about God. Our culture is obsessed with self and self-improvement. While there is nothing wrong with trying to become a better person, the attention to self has become inordinate. As Long notes, even the Scriptures are prey to this mindset and misuse. The gospel points us to God, causing us to find our proper place within the larger story of God’s activity. The gospel consists of much more than mere doctrines to be believed. It bears the rich history of what God has been doing in the world, and it invites us to join. It reveals the truth that the world doesn’t revolve around us, and our concerns are not preeminent. God’s story is bigger than we are, and it provides meaning and purpose unrivaled by any self-help book. It is only when we take a step in this direction that we can discover what life is truly about.

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2 Responses to Self-Focused or God-Focused?

  1. Powerful stuff. I’ve been thinking along similar lines since I heard NT Wright suggest we need to stop imposing our questions on the biblical narrative and let it answer the questions it wants. God is probably better at setting the agenda than I am anyway, right?

    • Jeremy says:

      The approach to let the the Bible dictate the questions really changed my mode of thinking. Allowing the text to dictate the discussion forces us to focus on what is central rather than tangential.

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