The place of preaching in the 21st century has been questioned by both scholars (which?) and the mundane in the society. For some contemporary critics, the Bible is irrelevant, outdated and has no authority today. In this climate of diverse opinions, the fundamental stories and characters in the Bible do not carry the meaning and significance they did in previous generations. The great task of the modern preacher is to present the Gospel message effectively and with relevance to a society that is hugely disengaged from the biblical world in the context of history, geography and culture.
This essay examines the importance of understanding historical, geographical and cultural context for effective preaching. In order to ascertain a feasible conclusion, this essay first discusses preaching in the 21st Century and the importance of understanding context. Second, this essay investigates challenges of preaching historical text to the modern Western society and the limitations of geographical setting in the West. Third an attempt will be made to compare and contrast African and Western approaches to understanding cultural context before discussing the importance of bridging the historical and cultural gap. Finally, the essay attempts to recapitulate the importance of understanding the contexts of the Bible for effective preaching by highlighting the need for contextualisation.
The Greek word ‘Kerusso’ (italics) is often translated as ‘to preach’ and means to ‘cry out, herald or proclaim’ and is used several times in the Bible. Stott’s description of a preacher as an ambassador commissioned to serve in a foreign land is conceivably an accurate description of the task of contemporary preachers (2Cor. 5:20). Arguably, preachers should approach the Bible in similar ways to missionaries who go into foreign cultures to preach. In this way, effective preaching can be achieved when preachers understand the culture and history of the Biblical text as well as their contemporary congregation. Stott observes that modern preachers are faced with a difficult task of making the Bible which was put together two millennia ago relevant today. For some ‘Third World’countries some of the biblical cultures and geographical descriptions are relevant and still prevalent.
Conversely, the ‘Western culture’is changing so rapidly that it cannot be seen in a monolithic fashion any longer. In many metropolitan areas, pastors are faced with multi-cultural congregations. Their task is not simply to elucidate ancient passages but to communicate the timeless truth of the Bible. Ford observes that though biblical writers were inspired by the Spirit, their audiences understood their messages because they shared the same physical environment, cultural practices and historical background. Significantly, effective preaching needs to acknowledge the world of the bible in order to expose the writer’s intended meaning and make relevant application.