You don’t need another commentary

Artists everywhere know that it’s not the tools that make the Art. Tools just help them get the job done.

Sure, a painter can use a cool brush, and a writer can buy a new pen, but the Art is made by simply showing up and doing the work.

Don’t believe me? This man used a toy camera to make amazing pictures:

It’s a new year, and you have a nice, fat book allowance to spend. You’re probably trolling Cokebury right now looking for that commentary on Luke that’s gonna blow Year C wide open. If you can find that one good set of theologians and biblical scholars spilling their wisdom, you’re sure to set the world a-fire for Jesus.

It ain’t gonna happen that way, and – deep down – you know it.

You don’t need another commentary. You don’t need another blog post that’s going to give you the insight that will spark this thing.

You need to write. You need to dig deep, and recall that experience of Jesus that knocked your damn socks off.

When they reacted to Jesus’ teaching, they often said “He speaks like no one has ever spoken before.” They were amazed because something deep inside of him welled up and blew their hair back. He didn’t quote other rabbis like he was giving a book report. He had the word of God written on his heart.

You do, too.

You don’t need another commentary.

8 thoughts on “You don’t need another commentary

  1. Great to see this idea articulated. I’ve been doing just that, digging deep (well, that’s relative, isn’t it?) and writing a devotional commentary of my own on the epistle of Jude. Amazing and transforming experience. Everyday, mostly, a bible, a spiral notebook and a pen wait upon The Lord to amaze me who he is and who has been in my personal cosmos.

    I do look forward to teaching a men’s group rooting the teaching in the material.


  2. Ah, yes. As one of my Comp. 101 students so sagely noted, “It ain’t the writin’ that’s hard, Mrs. Bair. It’s the thinkin’!” (last word pronounced charmingly “thankin'”). And Mrs. Bair couldn’t have agreed more.

  3. Gotta say, I don’t agree. Sure, I understand the need for the preacher to do some thinking, but I just haven’t lived enough lives to see things from enough perspectives. I don’t have that many insights, all on my lonesome. The trouble is what we do with our reading. A sermon that begins, “As Joe Smith noted in his commentary on Ezekial, . . . blah, blah, blah.” I’m horrified by how little preachers take advantage of so much that is remarkably available to us. And I think about the model of Jewish thinking about the Bible — there is the Bible, and there is Talmud — centuries of thinking, and Midrash — more centuries of storytelling about the stories in the Bible. A preacher sits down with all of that available to him/her, and enters the conversation, with his or her own people’s stories in mind.

    So I read commentaries, and novels, and other people’s sermons — I read and read and read. And yes, I try to let it sink in — I realize I’m not writing a report. But I need help with my insights, or I’m likely to turn the same ground over and over. You’ve actually named what I think of as one of the reasons preaching seems so shallow sometimes. People aren’t reaching beyond their own narrow lived experiences.

    • I’m not sure we do actually disagree. Like you, I believe that we DO need commentaries. What I’m trying to flesh out here is that there comes a point (and soon, I think) where we don’t need ANOTHER one.

      Preachers are scared, and they shouldn’t be. What was seminary for if not to teach us how to think critically about the text, theology, and real life?

      The life-hacking crowd refers to it as “productivity porn,” and I think that’s a real thing preachers need to learn. We’ve been trained. We’re just scared to actually do the work.

  4. Landon, I’m not sure preachers get a whole lot of experience with preaching in seminaries–at least that was my experience. I had two classes (so that means less than 15 sermons prepared). That’s all. Where I gained the most experience was having the opportunity to serve a small congregation for two years as a student vicar. I preached every Sunday and provided a little bit of pastoral care. It was that formation and my background as an English/writing teacher that made the most difference. I did learn a lot in seminary, and it was a deeply formative experience, but preaching was not the strongest aspect of that experience. I credit the good people in the pews of that small congregation–and those congregations I have served since then–with the bulk of my formation as a preacher. And of course the Holy Spirit!

    I agree that preachers must study and do the proper preparation (prayer, conversation, reading widely, and being attuned to the culture), but the proclamation comes from a deep place within one’s spirit and bones, by the work of the Holy Spirit, and in concert with the congregation.

    Thanks for your post!

  5. I guess I have the experience of knowing that commentaries don’t say the same thing, hence the need for “more.” For example, I’ll noodle around with a text, and then go look at the four readings in Feasting on the Word. There is usually at least one insight in one of those sections I’d never remotely considered. Then maybe I’ll wander over and see what the Lutherans are saying on Working Preacher. There’s a printed piece, and then a recorded conversation between 3 people. Maybe one or two insights there. Maybe take a look at what’s online in The Text This Week, or The Hardest Question Then maybe I’ll read some of my favorite preachers — Taylor, Buechner, Bolz-Weber, Coffin, or Willimon (I’ve got a long list)– again, stories, insights — more stuff that wasn’t in the first stuff I read. It not only isn’t all the same, it is sometimes wildly contradictory! I’ve got lots of stuff on my shelves and in my files to look at too. And all the while its setting off my own insights. Lately, I’ve been trying to ferret out stuff from the international church, partly because my congregation is multi-cultural, and again, I just haven’t lived enough lives . Harder to get my hands on though.

    Yep, there comes a time when you need to stop and return to writing — but I’d say I’m the better for all that hunting. It’s classic “p” behavior, if you’re into myers-briggs — you wander around for a long time. Does it take hours and hours, and does much of it end up on the cutting room floor? Well sure, or in a later sermon, or in a conversation or a teaching. An article you hand somebody else. But I don’t think its time wasted. I think its part of the job.

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