Dr. Tom Long, Bandy Professor of Preaching at the Candler School of Theology and voted one of the top 12 most effective preachers in the English-speaking world by Baylor University, proved once again why he is such a dynamic messenger. Long delivered Campbell University's annual Staley Lecture Series March 13-14 at Memorial Baptist Church in Buies Creek. Interpreting the Bible in preaching and translating it into daily life was the theme of three lectures: "The Acoustical Impact of the Biblical Text," "Narrative Text, Narrative Sermon," and "Puzzles, Paradoxes, and Parables." "A lot of sermons fail because they aren't clear," Long said. "People don't understand what the preacher means." The sermon should be plotted and shaped like a story because people listen to stories, Long explained. It should start with trouble, deepen the trouble, and contain resolution. Like a story, the narrative should contain plot, setting and both flat and round characters. In the Gospel of Matthew, for example, Joseph is a fully developed character. Described as being a righteous man. He knows God's law, but the voice of God told Joseph to take Mary as his wife, even though she had not conceived by him. "Joseph has a dilemma," said Long. "Is he going to be righteous, according to the Scribes and abandon Mary, or is he going to develop the kind of righteousness God intended him to have?" Preaching the parables of Jesus can be a beginning preacher's dream or an experienced preacher's nightmare, according to Long. "Just when you think you know the meaning of the parable, you sink down to another meaning that you don't understand." Parables are tricky; they are like puzzles that must be decoded; they contain metaphor and fields of meaning and are story lines, laid side by side, in which one must discover the connection between the two. God's kingdom is likened to a vineyard in Mark 12, for example. God is the landowner who leases his vineyard out to tenants. When it is time to collect the fruit of the vineyard, the landowner sends a servant, but the tenants beat him and send him away empty-handed. A second servant is killed, and another and another. Then the landowner sends his son, thinking the tenants will not kill his beloved son, but they kill him also. "What kind of a God would send his son into a world of violence?" Long asks. "This parable gives you a sense of the price God paid for his sacrifice." The Bible must also be read for its acoustical impact. Acoustical impact requires close reading of the text, looking for odd pieces and reading cumulatively. For example, in Mark 6, the parable of the loaves and fishes, an "odd piece" would be the mention of the "green grass" in the desert. Long referred to the phrase as an "acoustical speed bump," designed to make people think. "Why would there be green grass in the desert?" he asked. "Perhaps this verse is a reference to the 'desert shall blossom' in Isaiah 35:1-2." Narrative preaching, parables, and acoustical reading of the Bible have enjoyed periods of popularity in American history, especially when the religious experience was imperiled—at the Great Awakening, during the Civil War, and during the decades of the 70s and 80s. During the 70s and 80s, it was a kind of modernist secularism that endangered religion, during the Great Awakening, it was Puritan theology and after the Civil War it was Calvinist scholasticism. Books like "The Da Vinci Code," which claims Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene, also threaten to undermine the religious experience, Long added. "A kind of untrustworthiness of the Gospel is at play here, but the book also illustrates the powerful curiosity of the larger culture about God and religion."
Photo Copy: Dr. Tom Long, Bandy Professor of Preaching at the Candler School of Theology in Atlanta, Ga., delivered the Staley Lectures at Campbell University.