Marking a lot of assignments where students examine different Bible passages, in an institution that seeks to prepare people in Applied Theology, and so expects exegesis to find its natural outworking in application, submits me to a great deal of exhortation.
The vast majority of students reach the application stage of the process, and promptly start telling me how I should try harder. If the passage is Psalm 113 then I should praise God more often, if it is Luke 9:1-6 then I should evangelise more…
Isn’t it strange. Neither passage seems to me to be primarily an exhortation to try harder.
The gospel passage tells how, having himself gone from place to place telling and showing people that the reign of God was breaking into this tired old world, Jesus sent his disciples to do the same with power and authority – there’s nothing about trying harder, and little that sounds like “evangelism”.
It’s true the psalm starts and ends with imperatives: Praise Yah! but the content between is focused on God and on the claim that we have so many reasons to praise God, not least that raising the needy from the ash heap is what God does all the time…
The exhortation to try harder is the preacher’s curse. Not gospel, not even good theology, yet the almost invariable default response to a Bible passage. If “Jesus” is the expected answer to questions asked by Sunday School teachers,1 then “try harder” is the gospel preachers find in every Bible passage.
- Teacher: “What is fury, and hops along with a fluffy white tail.” Students: Silence, till one brave lad says, “Well, I know the answer is Jesus, but I’m sorry I can’t work out how!” [↩]