Friday, January 15, 2010

The Microscope and The Fish-eye Lens

Recently, Ken and I were discussing the relative merits of listening to sermons by Mark Driscoll. Driscoll is a pastor in Seattle who has become quite well known in the church-planting world. He planted a church in Seattle which has become enormous, and is popular with the young, hip, urbanite crowd you think of when you think of Seattle. Nevertheless, Driscoll is quite traditional when it comes to preaching. He preaches lengthy expositional messages from the Bible, and is surprisingly conservative is his theology. These are the facts of the case.

Our discussion consisted of Ken trying to convince me that I should like Driscoll's preaching. And maybe I should. Its not that he's unbiblical, or theologically weak (quite the opposite), its just that he preaches with a fish-eye lens.

A fish-eye lens is the ultimate wide-angle lens. And Driscoll is the ultimate "big picture" kind of guy in preaching. In his sermons, he doesn't focus so much on the details of any particular text, but rather on the biblical-theological themes being developed. In other words, say Driscoll were preaching on the temptation of Jesus in Matthew 4. The text mentions that Jesus is tempted by Satan. Driscoll would stop, zoom the lens all the way out, and starting with Genesis 1 explain the biblical testimony concerning who Satan is. Next, the wilderness. Then Jesus. Then, with the components explained, he will begin to draw application.

I tend to preach with a microscope. I usually do the opposite of what Driscoll does. Instead of reading a passage, and then zooming the lens all the way out in order to explain it, I zoom all the way in, in order to examine each relevant detail. Why this word instead of that? Why does this sentence follow that? I explain a text from the inside out, Driscoll sets it in the context of all of scripture and draws conclusions from there.

So which way is better?

Well, I think the fish-eye lens approach is great for helping people grasp the big picture of scripture, helping them learn a biblical-theological approach and seeing the shape of all of scripture. In a place like Seattle where biblical literacy is low, this is a good thing. I think Tim Keller is also a fish-eyer.

I think the microscope is great for meditating on God's word, exposing the beauty and richness of it, and savoring the complexity. If the Holy Spirit has inspired each and every word, then not only is the text able to bear such scrutiny, but it deserves such scrutiny. John Piper preaches with a microscope. And if your pastor has ever taken five years to work through one book of the bible, he might be a microscoper too.


The Scooper said...

Really great analysis. I don't think I've ever thought of sermons in that I have something new to analyze. I love Keller and Piper. Haven't listened to Driscoll but now I'm curious.


Cheryl said...

FYI: Mark Driscoll says he is going to take 5 years to preach his current series, the book of Luke :-)

The Howell family said...

Next Sun. I'm going to figure out what style Bob preaches in. I think he is more of a microscoper, but not positive. Whatever it is, I like it. :)

Jeff said...

Cheryl - Yowza! Just when I thought I had Driscoll pigeonholed. That's a really long series on Luke. Even though Luke is the longest book in the NT, narratives don't lend themselves to microscoping as well as the epistles do.

Howell's - I think Craig was a classic fish-eyer as well. He loved to use a passage as a lead-in to talking about a biblical theme or topic.