Continued from Part 2
A word is abstract when, of itself, it does not elicit a visual image. Words like “helpfulness” and “truthfulness” and “weariness” are abstract. To be sure, we can’t think precisely without abstract words such as these. But the preacher’s task is always to make the abstract concrete to the hearer. Concreteness in speaking makes our communication vivid.
The best source for concrete preaching is the Bible.
• The story of creation is concrete, even though it deals with truth beyond the full grasp of the human mind.
• The Bible doesn’t teach us about marriage by giving us a definition; it gives us the story of Adam and Eve, which confronts us concretely with deep and essential truths about marriage.
• The word “greed” may create only fuzz in hearers’ minds until they meet Achan and see his greedy conduct during the conquest of Jericho.
The New Testament does no less with its stories — stories about conversion (Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch) and kindness (Dorcas making garments for the poor); stories about providence (Paul’s divine deliverance from shipwreck on his way to Rome) and treacheries (Judas betraying Jesus). The cross of Jesus Christ will forever stand as the concrete picture of the utter coarseness of human sin, the fathomless reach of divine love, and the cost of redemptive suffering.
Consider the Proverbs. They give pithy insights about life for the training of the young, but they would be in danger of being opaque if it weren’t for the vivid similes they often draw. How about this one: “Like one who seizes a dog by the ears is a passer-by who meddles in a quarrel not his own” (Prov. 26:17). Similes like this contribute to vividness in preaching. So do metaphors, such as Jesus’ words to his disciples, “You are the light of the world . . .” (Matt. 5:14). These literary devices are easier for some to come by than for others, but we can all strive to create them in order to make truth vivid.
Preaching that always has a sense of the concrete will make its mark because the mind of the hearer is not so much a dictionary of definitions as an art gallery where pictures can be easily hung. Preaching concretely exploits this fact.