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Between Two Worlds | Contextualizing the Biblical Message

A true sermon bridges the gulf between the biblical and the modern worlds, and must be equally earthed in both. 

John R. W. Stott

In 1982 a book titled “Between Two Worlds: The Art of Preaching in the Twentieth Century” was released, and I have recently revisited this book in an attempt to improve my own preaching and in an effort to pass on some useful information to the readers of the Quest blog.

As I have been thumbing the pages of this book I have been hit with some great quotes that I would like to pass along.  These quotes, I hope, will encourage each of you as communicators of the Word of God to make sure that the message you deliver will rest upon good exegesis of God’s Word and relevant application of God’s truths to the lives of those who need to hear a word from the Lord this week!

Quotation from John R. W. Stott on the commonality of every preacher and his listeners:

The ideals I have unfolded I believe to be universally true, although of course they need to be adapted to each particular reality. Whether the preacher is addressing a large congregation in a modern town church, or occupies an ancient pulpit in an ancient European village church, or is huddled with a tiny remnant in the draughty corner of a dilapidated old edifice which has long since outgrown its usefulness, or is talking to a crowd of peasants in a hut in Latin America or under some trees in Africa, or is sitting informally in a western home with a small group gathered round him—yet, with all these diversities, very much remains the same. We have the same Word of God, and the same human beings, and the same fallible preacher called by the same living God to study both the Word and the world in order to relate the one to the other with honesty, conviction, courage and meekness. 

Quotation from C. H. Spurgeon that exposes the folly of not connecting theology and doctrine to the individual lives of the hearers:

For instance, the great problems of sublapsarianism and supralapsarianism, the trenchant debates concerning eternal filiation, the earnest dispute concerning the double procession, and the pre- and post-millenarian schemes, however important some may deem them, are practically of very little concern to that godly widow woman, with seven children to support by her needle, who wants far more to hear of the loving-kindness of the God of providence than of these mysteries profound.  I know a minister who is great upon the ten toes of the beast, the four faces of the cherubim, the mystical meaning of badgers’ skins, and typical bearings of the staves of the ark, and windows of Solomon’s temple: but the sins of business men, the temptations of the times, and the needs of the age, he scarcely ever touches upon.

Final quotation by John Stott on the matter of relevant and Biblical preaching:

This earthing of the Word in the world is not something optional; it is an indispensable characteristic of true Christian preaching. Indeed, it is an obligation laid upon us by the kind of God we believe in and by the way in which he has himself communicated with us, namely in Christ and in Scripture, through his living and his written Word. . . . We have to plunge fearlessly into both worlds, ancient and modern, biblical and contemporary, and to listen attentively to both. For only then shall we understand what each is saying, and so discern the Spirit’s message to the present generation. . . . On the whole, if I may generalize, we do not make sufficient demands on the congregation. When they come to church, they have heard it all before. They have known it since they were in junior Sunday School.  It is stale, boring and irrelevant. It fails to “grab” or excite them. They can scarcely stifle their yawns. They come with their problems, and they leave with their problems. The sermon has not spoken to their need.

As you evaluate your own message this upcoming week, it might be wise to ask yourself before you preach, “So what?”

. . . So what does this mean to that teenage boy who has been disrespecting his single mother at home?

. . . So what does this mean to those men in the pew struggling with pornography?

. . . So what does this mean to that family whose father has just lost his job?

. . . So what does this mean to that wife who is considering leaving her husband?

. . . SO WHAT?!


  • Joe Earle says:

    Thanks Dave! Those quotes are a refreshing reminder.

  • Adam Harris says:

    Interesting! It has become a weekly routine for me to consider the applications of the text we are in for most of the families in the church. I tend to disagree with your posted quote by John Stott, however, because I think that equal “earthing” in both will trivialize the work of the Holy Spirit in illuminating the Word to the average Joe. There is no way that we as Bible teachers can make application of the text to every need in the church on any given Sunday, but the Spirit certainly can with ease. I believe that a true sermon must be earthed in the Bible and taught in practicality to each generation. Knowing the culture in which we live is vital, but not as important as knowing God’s Word.

  • Matthew LaPine says:

    Dave, is the “so what?” part of the meaning text or an implication you can draw from the text? Where do you get validation to draw that so what? How do I know if my “so what” is a proper application or an improper one?

  • David King says:

    The so what is the step of application. After understanding and rightly delivering the text in the message a preacher, I believe, must do the hard work of seeking to make some applications to the lives of the listeners. It is very easy for preachers to exegete a text with no regard for how the text will make them and their listeners more like Jesus.

    Good application will flow from right interpretation of the text properly contextualized for the hearers of the text.

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