// CassetteBoy vs. Biblical Exposition

Maybe you are familiar with CassetteBoy, the internet phenomenon who takes programmes like The Apprentice or Jamie Oliver’s cooking shows and then mangles them into unrecognisable (and frequently hilarious) forms. If not, then I highly recommend that you check out what is probably his greatest work here – although consider yourself warned, because that clip does contain swearing. You have to wonder how the man holds down a full-time job whilst watching as much TV as he clearly does, admittedly, but it’s nonetheless a very impressive effort.

It does show the ease with which you can turn something serious into whatever you want it to be, though. How if you’ve got enough time and creativity you can construct a whole different narrative out of the materials that you have in front of you. The same thing goes for the culture of making recut trailers, which has been knocking around the internet for a while (see one of the best here). But i wonder sometimes if that’s what we’ve been doing with our preaching. We take a bit of poetry, a bit of history, a couple of proverbs and some comments from the new Testament letters, tie it together with a weird section of prophecy and hey presto, you’ve got a recipe for a sermon!

Most of the time it’s done in a way that looks serious, but sometimes it just ends up looking unintentionally hilarious instead. Plenty of people i’ve met have cited proof-texting from Christians as one of the things that offends them the most about organised religion, that it is essentially people seeking to justify their own views with reference to a higher power. It gives them grounds for sexism, racism and homophobia, because that’s what the Book says. It’s a fair criticism, some of the time at least.

I think you can often tell the sermons that are written with an agenda in mind by the respect that people give the text – both the passage that they are studying and the way it holds together with the rest of the book. The preachers who work at getting underneath the skin of a text, understanding its context and what its first readers would have heard and then working at communicating that, they are people who speak words of life.

In their own way, too, these are the people who show that the Bible is still culturally relevant. It doesn’t need to be dressed up or handled with a kind of delicate embarrassment. There is a power in these words because of their situation in history, because they are written about the interaction of an incredible God with humanity, not just because they stand apart from their immediate contexts. In the end, although our circumstances and cultures have changed, we are not really that different from the people back then. There are some foundational elements of culture that have stayed in place across the years – general trends in morality, general approaches to the world, general arguments for and against the existence of God.

In contrast, the people who mangle Scripture to serve their own agenda always end up serving up sermons where the gaps are apparent and the message, although logically argued, just doesn’t quite ring true. They sound tired, overcooked, and that’s possibly because they don’t look at the words in front of them with any wonder any more. The Dove World Outreach Centre are one example of a church whose messages clearly serve a nationalistic agenda of xenophobia, fear and racial hatred, at the extreme end of that spectrum, but there are plenty of examples from elsewhere.

I remember sitting in a church once, for example, where the sermon was entitled “the humble poor” and in which the poor were not mentioned even once. Not even in passing. The rationale was to focus on communicating the gospel, the central and foundational message of the cross and salvation, but the impression i got by the end was that the gospel had no relevance to the poor at all. It didn’t communicate to them and it wasn’t for people of their station in life. (Needless to say, it was quite a middle-class church). I wonder what Jesus would have thought.

The Bible has always needed interpreters, but it needs interpreters who handle the words they have in front of them with a kind of respect and wonder, or else we risk turning preaching into an exercise for CassetteBoy, and i shudder to think of what the end result of that could be.

Earlier today Soul Survivor’s “Bible in One Year” project addressed some of the most hair-raising passages in Genesis, with the men of Sodom wanting to rape the visitors who show up at Lot’s house (who were actually angels), only for Lot to offer to send his virgin daughters out instead.

Which, let’s face it, isn’t much better.

Lot’s daughters then proceed to sleep with their father and get pregnant from his in order to continue their family line.

What do you do with something like that?

And yet the Bible is full of stories like that, and so that’s why we need good interpreters. Otherwise we either avoid them entirely, or we interpret them badly, and both of those are methods of avoidance that leave us reading an incomplete story.

If our preachers don’t have a sense of awe and wonder at the word of God, if it doesn’t take their breath away some days, then how can be we expect to have that same kind of awe if we are the ones following them?

What are your thoughts on this? What are the best ways to maintain a sense of wonder when it comes to reading the Bible?

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