Published on November 22, 2019 by Mark DeVine  
DeVine Mark

Dr. Mark DeVine introduces a lecture on preaching the whole Bible, given at Beeson Divinity School as part of the Robert Smith Jr. Preaching Institute's series, "Text to Sermon."

Preach all of the Bible all of the time. Of course, that’s impossible. But the attempt to aim at something like it commends itself for these reasons.

Since God is the author of the Bible, the ultimate context of every passage is nothing less than the canon of Holy Scripture itself.

No passage in Scripture poses a threat to the right interpretation of another. Just the opposite. We need them all to fully understand any one of them. The full meaning of the blood applied to the doorposts and lintels in Egypt depends upon the meaning of the blood shed by the Lamb of God at Calvary and vice-versa.

God created time, which produced history, which, in turn, made memory constitutive of his redemptive purposes.

If I erase your memory, in what sense are you still you? How much of the message of the Bible can we not know or forget and be said to be practicing Christians? Paul’s forgetting of what lies behind and God’s remembering of our sins no more refer, respectively, to wrong remembering and divine mercy, not to the impugning of memory as such.

Contrasted with his people’s ungrateful and slothful forgetting, Yahweh remembers his covenant promises and fulfills them. Not for nothing are we, in the Sacred Supper, enjoined — “remember his death until he comes.” God sees to it that moving ahead requires glancing back.

As the Father’s adopted children, we all become heirs to the whole history of God’s speaking, acting and dealings with his people — and especially of that history inspired and preserved for us “from Genesis to the maps.”

For these reasons our God “has caused his wonderful works to be remembered” (Ps. 111:4). David methodically recounts a series of pivotal episodes of God’s dealings with his people, spanning centuries before David drew his first breath. That history is his, too. With well-established warrant, we sing, “To God be the glory, for the things he has done.” And who particularly may and must remember and recount the Lord’s words and deeds in pursuit of him and in praise to him? The “offspring of Abraham his servant, sons of Jacob, his chosen ones!” (Ps. 105:6).

And who are his offspring? “Those who share the faith of Abraham, for he is the father of us all” (Rom. 4:16). We who have faith in Jesus Christ are implicated in every word spoken and deed done by the triune God because we, as the adopted children of the triune God, are heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ. David models for every believer and preacher and songwriter the happy prudence of holy remembering when he draws inspiration for his reflection and his psalmic composition from the history of God’s promise-keeping. So does the apostle Paul: “These things happened to them as a warning, but they were written down for our instruction, upon whom the end of the ages has come” (1 Cor. 10:11).

William Faulkner was half right when he famously wrote, “The past is not dead. It is not even past.” It is past, but it is not dead, because God remembers and makes redemptive use of the history he himself has produced. Even in the new heaven and earth, remembering shall retain its divinely secured place in the glory of God and acknowledgment of the glory of God. Thus, the wounds our sins inflicted upon the body of our Lord remain visible. We shall always be the blood-bought children of a merciful God, even though we weren’t yet born when the nails pierced our savior’s hands and feet.

Preachers who recognize their believing hearers as heirs to the whole storyline of the Bible long for the power to evoke as much of that history as possible in every sermon preached. The great barrier to this goal is simply the ignorance of congregations about the story itself. Decades of perhaps biblical but mainly topical and pragmatic preaching has left many a Christian bereft of a rich and overarching comprehension of the arc of biblical history to which they are now the rightful heirs. 

But a remedy for such congregational incapacity is near at hand. A planned and methodical program of history-focused and history-fixated preaching can produce a congregation alive to the one story that interprets every story and that shines the brightest light upon the path to the future God has promised.

Divide the big Bible story into successive epochs. For example:

  1. Creation
  2. Fall and expulsion
  3. East of Eden
  4. From Noah to the conquest
  5. The period of the Judges
  6. The united kingdom, etc.

You get the idea. Construe and name the epochs in your own way, but do it. Once every year or two, preach a series of sermons highlighting the epochs, their special contributions to the big story and how the epochs relate to each other.

Highlight pivotal turning points that demarcate the epochs themselves and others that occur within epochs:

  1. Expulsion from Eden
  2. The sacrifice of Isaac
  3. The walls of Jericho fall
  4. The Red Sea parts
  5. David is anointed
  6. Cyrus releases the captives
  7. Jesus is baptized
  8. Jesus ascends
  9. Paul is struck down on the Damascus road
  10. John receives a revelation, etc. 

Be alert in all sermons to references and connecting points that illumine its place within the big story to which it belongs. Persistently and methodically educate your congregation to recognize that the narrative genre dominates and frames the Bible. The Bible contains letters and songs and poems—but it is a history. It is a story. And that story becomes ours the moment we join the family of God as adopted children of our shared Father. Habituate those to whom you preach to expect every Bible passage to inform and be informed by the whole story. And in this way, you will, in truth, in some measure, preach all of the Bible all of the time.

Watch DeVine's full "Text to Sermon" lecture below.