Karl Barth’s dictum about reading the Bible and the newspaper at the same time and interpreting your newspaper from your Bible is one of the most frequently cited bits of preaching advice I’ve heard. From the first time I heard it, I took it to heart.
I used to think it meant that my sermons ought to be filled with allusions to contemporary events, and so they were. Often these allusions were in the form of a list–bullet pointed appeals to wars and oppressions, rapid fire asides referencing this or that outrage du jour. This felt relevant. Not that I was informing congregants about these events, but that I was providing a theological lens through which to view all the events they already knew about. It also made me appear in touch with the world (or so I hoped).
These lists and asides have largely disappeared from my sermons. Now it feels better to dwell at length upon news items. I don’t feel the need to demonstrate how much of the news I know anymore, but rather in preaching to choose carefully from the weekly buffet of tragedy and injustice (and some good news too!) and to do more than recite a headline. It also feels like appealing to the same issue more than once is beneficial. You can hardly “interpret” the happenings of the world in one pulpit session, just as a single news story is insufficient to understand the complexity of any given event.
Actually, given how much rapid fire reporting we are exposed to from so many sources and media, perhaps the newspaper is not the best companion to the Bible for our age. Maybe now it’s news magazines, with their long-form, analytical biases. Maybe interpreting magazines from the Bible is the challenge our era demands.