the everyday for everyone

There is a post that I've wanted to write for years.

C.S. Lewis' Mere Christianity is remarkable for many reasons, but the one I've wanted to explore is its illustrations. Dozens and dozens of them. Simple. Obvious. Clear. Mostly finding the spiritually significant in the utterly everyday which is the hallmark of effective illustrating. Laying the familiar next to the unfamiliar and letting the osmosis of meaning flow across the borders.  Illustrations can be stories, but they can also be a word picture - or even a single word. Lewis is the master.

This is not that post.
But it is close...

I've discovered the same quality in N.T. Wright's For Everyone series.

Barby and I are currently half way through Hebrews for Everyone. Tom Wright  has covered the entire New Testament in this series. Little books which break the biblical books into small chunks, offering reflections that take about 12 minutes to read aloud.  They are for everyone - just as preaching should be.

His approach is to commence each reflection with something from outside the text and demonstrate how it illuminates something inside the text.

Here are a bunch of examples:

An old friend updating family news in an email, including a funky picture of his daughter (looking like dad at that age), leads to a reflection on Jesus as the image of God (1-4).

Children unwrapping Christmas presents - loving the paper, playing with the box and forgetting the present leads to a reflection about being distracted away from Jesus (4-9).

A movie (A River Runs through It) where tragedy strikes a younger brother and the older one is unable to help leads to a reflection about Jesus, the older brother, who helps (17-21).

Climbing a mountain. The enthusiasm turns to grumbling as the temperature drops until a hut is found and this leads to a reflection about wandering towards God's future (26-30).

Trying not to fall asleep at the wheel of a car, with the 'persuasive whisper' telling us to shut our eyes for a moment leads to a reflection about temptation and resisting it (30-34).

A nasty encounter with a ultra-sharp kitchen knife with a double edge leads to a reflection about the way God's word works in our lives (38-42).

Reading a book, a wartime diary, with a story about a soldier responsible both to German and Australian authorities, leads to a reflection on the priestly role of Christ (42-47).

A photo of the six month Nepalese royal baby being fed some solid food leads to a reflection about maturity and what it is that nourishes it (51-55).

Singing the ABCs as a child - and wondering how impressed university tutors might be with such a performance - leads to a reflection about moving on to maturity (55-60).

Wandering with a boy along the quay and sighting one anchor on a ship and one reaching down into the water leads to a reflection about God's unchangeable promise (64-68).

Parish churches with a board containing all the names of previous rectors leads to a reflection on the permanent priesthood of Jesus (77-80).

Playing a game of table-top football with his boys and imagining what it would be like to know no other football leads to a reflection on what is better about Christ (81-85).

Enjoying the River Coquet, with all its variety and tributaries, as it flows to the sea leads to a reflection on all the theological streams flowing towards a better covenant (85-89).

Being stuck in Boston traffic due to roadworks leads to a reflection about the temporary roadways that are necessary as the master plan of the new covenant is built (89-93).

Moving house, from an unpleasant basement flat to a 'house above ground', leads to a reflection about how with Christ things are 'better in every way' (93-97).

Pause for a moment and consider this list...

Look at the variety in the sources of illustration. Look at how each one is drawn from his own experiences. Look how everyday they are - with a couple of implications. The first is that the more everyday they are, the more likely they are to appeal to everyone because we all identify with the everyday. The second is for preachers and teachers. This 'everyday' feature makes finding illustrations - consistently, the most vexed question asked by those learning to preach - so much easier. This makes them more accessible. They are found as I walk through life with my eyes and ears open and with my mind learning to be creative and critical. These are always the best illustrations. 'Omnibus volumes - and websites - of sermon anecdotes are the last refuge of a bankrupt intelligence.' Like Lewis, Wright is the master of this craft.

But the point is this: YOU can be a master of this craft as well.

Extracts from NT Wright's For Everyone series will feature in my training of preachers from this point onwards. This is Stottian 'double listening' and moving 'between two worlds' put into practise. This is helping people see what you say - which is a hallmark of effective teaching. This helps sermons full of ideas to become sermons with a prevailing image.

But you know what is really cool? I have it on good authority that Tom Wright prayerfully does his biblical exegesis at his desk, but then, equally prayerfully, he leans on the Lord for help to uncover the right image for each reflection. Both the work of the intellect and the imagination require the Spirit's help.

nice chatting


PS: One day I may return for another post from this For Everyone series because Wright is also the master of the transitional sentence as he moves from imagery in the world to ideas in the Word.


Popular Posts