While I am asking—“What is truth? What is faith? Who is God? What is He trying to say to us?”—trying to come to some understanding of Bible passages in their complete contexts, millions of priests, pastors, preachers and Bible teachers all over the world open their Bibles on their own and construct sermons and homilies and Bible lessons, complete with life applications, every week without even consulting me. The vast majority of them don’t know who I am or what I’m trying to do here. While I, with my philosophical bent of mind, endeavor to construct an abstract truth of the Bible, real people are doing real things with the Bible, in real space and real time. They come to real conclusions about Bible passages—if this is so then we should do thus and such—and they are having real success gathering others around them who think and act in accordance with their teachings.
Now I’ve heard, admittedly, a very small fraction of the sermons, homilies and Bible lessons presented by a handful of the millions of priests, pastors, preachers and Bible teachers who prepare these things every week. And when I’ve done so I’ve been a bit like the dinner guest who, as the hostess serves a succulent pork roast, all he can think about and speak about is cholesterol, hardening of the arteries, heart attack and stroke. No matter what portion of scripture the preacher chose to expound upon, that same kind of expansion of context that I’ve been following here, went on in my head. Sometimes, it’s true, the expansion only served to reinforce the preacher’s point. That was a good day, a Sunday I didn’t need a week to recover from. But far too often the expansion of context that ballooned uncontrollably in my mind severely limited, if not completely refuted, the preacher’s point.
On those days, I didn’t want to sit and listen to a sermon. I wanted to stand and make a dialogue of it, and not some postmodern-happy-go-lucky-all-points-of-view-are-equal dialogue. I mean a good old-fashioned Socratic brawl of a dialogue where I played Socrates and the preacher played the bumbling Sophist, and at the end of it, it would be clear to everyone present—including the preacher—that he doesn’t really know what he was talking about.
So why call this WHAT KIND OF CARPENTER IS JESUS? Why not call it PREACHERS DON’T KNOW MUCH ABOUT THE BIBLE? or something like that? I won’t say I haven’t thought that or even said it before. It’s just that whenever I thought or said it, I couldn’t get away with it. The same expansion of context that created the problem for me also solved it. To consider that solution I’ll need to take my first direct look at the question, what kind of carpenter is Jesus?