Preaching and Biblical Imagery

031021047xmI remember the first time I became aware of the fact that I enjoyed reading the New Testament epistles more than Apocalyptic literature. This didn’t bother me initially; I just figured it was because the epistles were more logical and the apocalyptic texts were, well, more weird. But as time has passed, I’ve developed a hunger for biblical imagery – or more accurately, I’ve developed a desire to enjoy imagery as much as logic.

Ezekiel is a book with some exciting imagery. I’ve written about some of it recently. In preparation for my Sunday school class for this coming Lord’s Day, I came across this nice quote by Iain Duguid:

The Bible is a book filled with images and imagery. God delivers his message not in the cold tones of propositional statements (although we may certainly deduce from the Bible propositions about who God is and what he is like) but in a welter of pictures. Supremely, his self-communication takes the form of the visible enactments of the prophets and most particularly of the final prophet, Jesus Christ, the Word become flesh.

Ironically, however, much expository preaching, which seeks to faithfully deliver the message of the Bible, begins by abstracting the proposition (the so-called “big idea of the passage”) from its surrounding imagery. That imagery is then tossed away like so much used wrapping paper, while the “big idea” is repackaged in an entirely new format for its delivery to the contemporary congregation. Could that be one reason why people find so much of our preaching boring? We have lost the vivid directness of the fire-filled Word of God, replacing it by the cool logical flow of classical rhetoric. If we wish to regain the power of the original proclamation, we would do well to consider more fully how we can deliver messages about fires that burn and words about the sword that can cut to the heart.

Ezekiel, pg. 280.

Perhaps a better adjective could be used of propositional statements than “cold,” and perhaps Duguid might have said that God does not only reveal himself in propositional statements (because there are plenty of places in Scripture where he does indeed use propositions), but I think Duguid nails it with this quote.

Preaching the imagery itself, rather than translating it into epistolary form, can bring a vividness and a wonder to the text that can easily be missed. This does not mean that we neglect helping people to understand the imagery, but it does mean that we bring the full weight of that imagery to them with as much excitement as we can muster. Of course we can never recreate the emotional sensations felt by Ezekiel watching the living creatures and the wheels within wheels near the Chebar canal, but we can do our best, by means of imaginative and vivid preaching, to not detract from the experience the text is trying to impose upon its readers and hearers.

R. Andrew Compton
Christ Reformed Church (URCNA)
Anaheim, CA