Connecting “This” and “That”

“But this is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel; And it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh: and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams: And on my servants and on my hand maidens I will pour out in those days of my Spirit; and they shall prophesy”

-Acts 2:16-17 

Peter Enns observes in The Sin of Certainty: Why God desires our trust more than our “correct” beliefs, “No one just ‘follows’ the Bible. We interpret it as people with a past and present, and in community with others, within certain traditions, none of which is absolute. Many factors influence how we ‘follow’ the Bible. None of us rises above our place in the human drama and grasps God with pure clarity, without our own baggage coming along for the ride. We all bring our broken and limited selves into how we think of God.” 

This perspective is helpful to those of us who trade in the art and science of bible interpretation, application, and proclamation. It is helpful precisely because it teaches us that we should approach the sacred text with humility, honesty, and a hyper vigilance to protect the ability of what we believe to be God’s word to speak to all people at all times and in all circumstances.

On The Day of Pentecost, the Apostle Peter was tasked with the first gospel message of the Church age. At this monumental moment in history, Peter employs an approach that is often missed in modern pulpits. Peter, citing Joel 2:28 says “This is that….” Speaking of the present happenings on The Day of Pentecost (This) and connecting it to the prophecy of Joel 2:28 (That) he rhetorically combines the two to create a portmanteau packed with significance. It has been my experience that often we preachers are good at unpacking the historical and cultural narratives of Scripture (That) or at revealing the failings of the modern world (This) but seldom do we effectively connect the two. Extending the illustration of the portmanteau, we end up arriving at our rhetorical destinations, with our congregations in tow, ill prepared for the changing climates of the cultural landscape. 

For example, while many lament the social and justice ills of our day, few are doing the hard work of mining the Scripture for the connections that illustrate a biblical foundation for these important causes. Systematic theologies do little to inform the battles against systemic issues of our day, and often unintentionally contribute to their proliferation. 

This calls for a more robust scholarship that will seek to mine the treasure of Scripture to address the challenges of the day. Scripture isn’t just a document designed to create lists of propositions to be believed, but it is also a prescription for how we should live. As preachers and teachers, we must be willing to answer this call to connect the questions of the modern era to the wisdom of the ancient text. To do anything less is a disservice to the tradition of Apostles and Prophets and ultimately results in a uniformed Church with ballooned heads but beleaguered hearts. 

We must recognize that when approaching what the Scripture says, we can never fully divorce ourselves from how we read the text. The “That” of Scripture will always be fundamentally tied to the “This” of our lives and experience. The two must interact and influence each other in order for the totality of our world to be transformed. 

What Peter proclaimed at Pentecost was a message that connected the ancient tradition to the present reality. Aided by the Holy Spirit this must become our mission as well. Because the present is challenged and changed, not by novel concepts of trending methods, but by powerful truths that perennially flourish.