Let the Gospel tell the Gospel
This post’s title is of course the strapline that Christianity Explored, the course devised by my colleague Rico Tice at All Souls, has been using for a while. But it is a wonderfully apt and helpful one – for it not only describes how the course works – it gets people reading and grappling with Mark’s gospel to see for themselves what it says – but it also describes how preaching as a whole should work.
I’ll never forget Dick Lucas describing a piano recital he’d been at the previous evening. The performer was one of my heroes, Alfred Brendel, playing Beethoven sonatas. And Dick was mesmerised by the way Brendel allowed the printed music to control, direct, shape the entire performance. In Brendel (and this is one of the supreme reasons why I love listening to him), Beethoven’s text is always king – right down to the minutest dynamic markings and phrasing. The point is that the performer then fades so that the composer and his composition shine all the more brightly. There are too many musicians for whom the music is merely a platform on which to display their own (apparent) genius rather than exalt the composer’s.
The parallels with preachers and preaching are obvious. Which is why it is encouraging to see a plethora of resources appearing which seek to help people get into the text not the preacher (which is one of the reasons I worry about the celebritisation (!?) of preachers with fan clubs downloading their every utterance – especially on the other side of the Atlantic).
Mark’s Gospel Mark 3
Of course, having said all that, there’s an inevitable irony when we talk about CE – for Rico features pretty highly in the DVD revamp – he is the guide, narrator and reader. That is of course inevitable in the video age – the form/medium demands a trusted presenter to give continuity and guidance. But knowing Rico as I do, he is someone who totally recoils at the very notion of celebrity and works hard to point away from himself to the text. He wants Mark’s Gospel to tell the gospel – so he constantly gets noses buried in the text. And for the inquirer in a sceptical and suspicious age, this is simply essential. Courses based on a more systematic theological structure inevitably invite the question, ‘says who?’
The new edition (we’re now on the 3rd version) is brilliantly produced – it’s very strong visually (with all kinds of powerful scenes and images to back up the message), shorter than previous courses and in many ways gripping. It is also less culturally specific (i.e. rugby no longer features as much as it once did!).
One new development, though, is the online backup to the course. There are now two linked sites – one aimed at those running courses and wanting to find out more about the other resources available; and one aimed at the enquiry, with a whole load of useful video clips explaining different aspects of the faith. They’ve done a brilliant job and it’s well worth spending a bit of time checking them out. Click on the relevant image below:
So I’m really excited to see the range of things that CE is developing. Long may it continue…
But then a couple of weeks ago, I received something else in the post out of the blue…
This time, the focus of attention in Peter Dickson and David Gibson’s course (called RICH) is Luke’s Gospel. It has been developed at their church in Aberdeen, High Church Hilton. But the principle is the same – as is the anticipated format with a meal, talk and discussion. The Alpha Course has popularised this format all over the world and for good reason – it really works. But even Alpha was by no means the first to use it.
I’ve not seen the course in action but from what I’ve read, it looks great. The outline is fairly standard too – but then it does take Luke’s telling of the message into account:
- What’s wrong with the world?
- Who does Jesus think he is?
- Who does Jesus think I am?
- What does Jesus want from me?
- What does Jesus offer me?
- Why did Jesus have to die?
I love the fact that the course is called RICH – for Luke is known for his many challenges and references to what constitutes true wealth. Because (I think) the book was published as a self-contained book and it has 9 chapters, the leaders’ notes suggest reading different chapters from different parts of the book (as well as from Luke, of course) each week. I wonder if that makes it a little bit muddling for the guest – but then other courses have done similar things. It does mean that the published book is not so much a workbook as background material to the course. Another small point is that the headings do sound a little individualistic as if the gospel was just about ‘God and me’. The book and the accompanying leaders’ guide do make it clear that this is not the case – but it might have been better to replace ‘me’ with ‘us’.
But these are a small gripes – anything that gets people into the text to let the text speak for itself has to be welcomed – and it’s just great that there are more and more means by which to help people do this. You can download various materials for the course for free from the church website.