In a previous post in Jesus Marketer, I discussed the purpose of parables. Our insistence at offering Deep teaching to those not yet ready for it hurts our work as the church. There’s a second problem that is equally as damaging. But first let me set some context.
M uch to the dismay of church creatives everywhere, reformed preacher John Piper said that video clips and dramas make sermons weak.
Though I haven’t heard a further explanation, I’d venture that he said this because of the fuzz factor. Piper strives for Deep teaching. He likes to crack open the Scriptures and extract truth like pearl from an oyster. And there is great value in this. We see Jesus employ a similar, propositional approach in training his disciples. (When I say propositions, I mean the subject of an argument as in rhetoric and not a proof as in law, though both are concerned with the principle rather than the image.)
Plainspokenness is crucial to deep teaching, and adding art can create confusion. When our themes are propositional—when they seek to prove arguments, as a scientist making a case—art is reduced to ornaments and illustrations. Mixing in metaphors and stories in such an approach is indeed distracting from a good case, like histrionics in a courtroom. They can make an argument weak.
But does this mean that we should eschew creative expression altogether?
Story and creativity skews toward ambiguity and divergence.
Video clips, to use Piper’s term – any art, really—aren’t clear in their meaning; they skew toward ambiguity and open interpretation. They’re fuzzy, which isn’t helpful when trying to clearly train a disciple. (To be clear, Piper may have also said this because many church videos and films are cheesy. They want to hammer you on the noggin with the point.)
If it’s bad art, it’s bad religion, no matter how pious the subject.
– Madeleine L’Engle
I don’t necessarily disagree with Piper, because I think I understand where he’s coming from. He values Deep teaching.
Perhaps, though, we need to examine our context a bit more. It’s important to understand the difference between Deep and Wide.
Fuzz is precisely why art is so important. It is the means by which many of us, crowd and disciples alike, hear the truth in a way that we can understand. Fuzz isn’t heresy; it’s divergent thinking.
Crowds and Disciples Alike Need Meaningful Expression.
Consider the Pixar film Up. The crux of the film’s narrative is a beautiful scene near the end when the man, after one last moment remembering the beauty of his longtime marriage, looks around his house and realizes he’s living in the past. His story is quite literally weighing him down and preventing him from saving his new, young friend. In the climactic scene, he pushes the big pieces of furniture out the door, the balloon-hoisted house lifts off, and they are saved. The clip preaches well on a variety of topics, from living in the present to accepting God’s grace to dealing with grief, to crowds and disciples alike.
The movie’s ambiguity creates multiple points of entry and side doors to truth, for people of a variety of experiences. This is why Jesus taught with story and image to everyone, including the disciples. For example, he mixed in evocative images to the Sermon on the Mount, such as the “the salt of the world,” “the eye is the lamp of the body” and “go through the narrow gate.”
His imaginative word pictures created intrigue and invited further exploration, to each according to his ability to hear.
Here’s the formula for teaching Wide or Deep.
Notice how Jesus closed the Sermon on the Mount with a parable: the story of the house built on rock and the house built on sand. The Bible says, “When Jesus finished these words, the crowds were amazed.”
The original Greek captures a level of response lost in our overused English word, amazed. They were shocked, even. Blown away may be a better way to say it. Whereas he began teaching disciples, he ended teaching disciples and crowds alike. Spiritual stalkers had found him again. All of them – disciples included – were captivated by Wide teaching.
So, the formula for Deep and Wide is really pretty simple:
When the audience included both crowds and disciples, Jesus taught Wide, with story.
When the audience included only disciples, Jesus taught Deep, with directives.
It may be simple, but it isn’t simplistic. In fact, it has dramatic implications for how we do church.
This is part 9 of a 12 part series, Jesus Marketer.
Next, Part 10: A Better Way To Talk About the Journey of Faith