Spitting Fire: How Genre Influences Preaching James

ChurchLeaders | 5/24/2019 | Staff
hakimi308hakimi308 (Posted by) Level 4
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I raised my son Joseph on a steady diet of Bob Dylan. I wasn’t too surprised, therefore, when Joseph became a fan of the young indie-rock and folk songwriter, Connor Oberst. Joseph noticed similarities between the younger artist’s writing style and the familiar phrasing found in some of Dylan’s early work.

One day my son read an article in which Oberst was questioned about whether or not he felt his writing had been influenced by Dylan. His answer was classic. Connor Oberst said Dylan “spits fire.”

Analogy - Book - James - James - Fire

I’ve thought of that oblique analogy when I’ve read or preached from the book of James. James “spits fire.” His words are full of heat, and sometimes he can burn with his scorching pronouncements (for instance, in 4:2 he seems to accuse someone of murder).

We know James is probably the most direct and confrontational of any book in the New Testament, which raises a question. What is James exactly? In other words, what kind of literature is it? And does the answer to that question affect how we preach it?

James - Old - Testament - Prophet - Imperatives

James often sounds like an Old Testament prophet. He’s direct and uses imperatives more frequently than any other New Testament writer. At other times his tone is surprisingly pastoral, addressing his readers at least 15 times as “my brothers” or even “my beloved brothers.”

Attempting to outline James only highlights the sometimes frustratingly elusive nature of the book’s form, because it defies a familiar or simple structure. We aren’t the first to notice the literary “starts and stops, twists and turns” of James.

Spite - Challenges - James - Genre - Epistles

Still, in spite of its obvious challenges, James does have form and fits into the larger genre of the epistles. For example, James begins with a typical epistolary greeting identifying a sender and recipients (James 1:1).

It is true James also exudes the tone of Jewish wisdom...
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