I’m still reading Fowl’s commentary on Philippians. I’m thinking today about the practice of pulling out verses to preach on or proof-texting. Usually how this works is a pastor decides what subject he/she wishes to teach on and then searches their concordance for passages or story which supports the point they wish to make. In this manner, pastors dictate to the scripture what should be taught. However, the lectionary model forces one to deal with the text on its own terms.
It’s interesting to crash that idea together w/Paul’s assertions about his own faith in Phil. 3:1-11. Fowl notes that Paul’s litany of accomplishments serves as a sort of financial balance sheet. But when he turns to his identity in Christ or what he calls “being in Christ,” financial metaphors will no longer do. The reason is that the individual person is no longer the focus of the faith, but rather Christ is. He writes, “Christ is not simply some blue chip stock Paul has added to his portfolio. To stay with the financial metaphors at this point in the argument risks both making Christ into a commodity and allowing Paul to remain the subject of this narrative of transformation.” 153 For Paul, gaining Christ isn’t a matter of personal or individual enhancement, but it is “being found in him.” It’s ontology – identity. Fowl says, “Paul subtly shifts from being the subject of his own story to being part of a story in which Christ is now the subject.” 154
Here’s how I close the loop. What if preaching in the first manner, i.e., deciding what point you want to make and then commandeering the scriptures to support your thesis, actually plays into the hand of the type of legalism and moralizing which Paul is specifically writing against in Philippians? It seems to me that the second option, to take big chunks of the scripture or the lectionary passages and then just see where they take us, is intrinsically inclined toward helping the pastor lead the entire church toward finding their identity in the story of God. Isn’t this what Paul is talking about when he recommends “being in Christ.” Shouldn’t we find our being in Christ, on God’s terms and according to the economy of God’s salvation and coming kingdom? Perhaps the way many of those who preach, myself included, fall prey to psychologizing and moralizing and in so doing, we set our people up to attain that which Paul would describe as rubbish.
One of the key difficulties of radical individualism is that it sets people up to think that the story of salvation is about them. But isn’t even our salvation really about God? Our identity as the people of God lies in our being caught up in the ongoing drama of God’s salvation through Jesus Christ. The end in mind is not simply our salvation, but the glory of the God who is the creator, sustainer and redeemer of the cosmos.