Non-sequential Preaching: One Fish, Two Fish, Blue Fish

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Theodor Seuss Geisel, better known as “Dr. Seuss” (and lesser-known pronounced as “Zoice”) stands as one of the most read and best-selling authors of all time.[1] Having written over sixty children’s books and selling over 600 million copies, he is beloved by youngsters all around the world. And it makes sense why—his fanciful writing and wacky illustrations make for an enjoyable experience. After all, it’s hard even for parents, who are reading to their children, not to crack a smile at some of the catchphrases and made-up words employed by Dr. Seuss.

Silliness from Seuss

Seuss writes, for example, the following tongue-twister in Oh Say Can You Say:

Bed Spreaders spread spreads on beds.
Bread Spreaders spread butters on breads.
And that Bed Spreader better
watch out how he’s spreading…
or that Bread Spreader’s
sure going to butter his bedding.[2]

Beyond surface-level silliness, Dr. Seuss often touched on important themes. In “How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” for example, Seuss wrote,

And the Grinch, with his Grinch-feet ice-cold in the snow,
Stood puzzling and puzzling: “How could it be so?
It came without ribbons! It came without tags!
It came without packages, boxes or bags!”
And he puzzled three hours, till his puzzler was sore.
Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn't before!
“Maybe Christmas,” he thought, “doesn't come from a store.
Maybe Christmas…perhaps…means a little bit more!”[3]

Yet, at the end of the day, Seuss was primarily interested in writing these books simply to bring out a quick smile in children. Although childless himself (writing his first children’s book the same year his wife found out she could not have children), Seuss said, in reference to children, “You make ‘em, I’ll amuse ‘em!”[4]

One Fish, Two Fish, Blue Fish

To that end, imagine how even more bizarre his books would sound, and how even more unintelligible they would be, if parents skipped over various lines or phrases while reading these books to their children. Some of the books are so far-fetched that it requires a tenacious commitment to each word in order to follow the story-line. So imagine the confusion (beyond that which was intended!) that would result if a parent unilaterally decided to read only certain parts or pages of Seuss’ books.

I imagine virtually every parent would be in agreement that it wouldn’t be the best practice.

Why then do we find such a practice acceptable for the Bible? Why do we legitimize the kind of Sunday morning preaching that skips around Scripture, teaching (and likewise avoiding) passages based on the preacher’s preference? Why is it ok to intentionally skip over pages of God’s Word (a shameful practice called “leapfrogging”), but not pages of Dr. Seuss books? If I were to sit down to read my kids a book by Dr. Seuss, and began with, “One fish, two fish, blue fish,” I wonder how many topical preachers would say, “Hey Josh, I think you missed a line!” There would be a fundamental recognition that the line “red fish” in between “two fish” and “blue fish” ought not be skipped over; its importance for the flow, context, and authorial intent would be obvious. In other words, those who would otherwise have no problem skipping around the Bible would insist on sequential exposition for a children’s book.

Let’s just be honest: in practice, many people give more attention to the words of Dr. Seuss than Yahweh.

Rather than preaching and teaching God’s Word verse by verse, evangelicalism at large is more than happy to hop, skip, and jump to whichever places in Scripture tickle people’s fancy—and ears (cf. 2 Tim. 4:3). Instead of faithful men climbing down into the text in order to serve up the exegetically accurate, theologically deep, Christ-exalting meat of God's Word, we have narcigetes opening up their own fallen imaginations to serve up Purpose Driven marshmallows. When pastors ought to be growing their congregations through sequential exposition of the full counsel of God, most have no problem delivering a heart-handicapping homily from the hand-picked counsel of God.

In one example, a story is told of a pastor who began teaching verse by verse through the book of Romans from the first chapter all the way through the seventh chapter, but then skipped to the twelfth chapter in order to avoid doctrines such as election and predestination that are plainly set forth in chapters eight through eleven![5]

One fish, two fish, blue fish.

In another example, a pastor worries that preaching verse-by-verse “during football season” would lead to discontinuity because congregants may only show up every third Sunday or so![6]

One fish, two fish, blue fish.

Furthermore, one well-known preacher says that the deepest kind of preaching is “life application preaching,” because doing a verse-by-verse exposition of a book of the Bible is “easy!” Naturally, this preacher likewise rejects the training he received in seminary in which he was taught to take his sermon points directly from the text.[7]

One fish, two fish, blue fish.

Preaching Should Be a Little Bit More

Of course, the aforementioned perspectives functionally deny the Bible’s own claim that all Scripture is profitable and necessary for equipping believers (cf. 2 Tim. 3:16-17). After all, to skip over a God-breathed passage is to say that God wasted His breath. But by definition, sequential expository preaching means that no verse is passed over. The true expositor recognizes that if the Holy Spirit wrote it, he needs to preach it.

Pastor John MacArthur identifies the problem as well, saying,

If I received five letters in the mail one day, it would make no sense to read a sentence or two out of one, skip two, read a few sentences out of another, and go to the next one and read a few out of that, and on and on. If I really want to comprehend the letter—what is going on, the tone, the spirit, the attitude, and the purpose—I must start from the beginning and go to the end of each one. If that is true of personal correspondence, I believe it is even more important when interpreting divine revelation.[8]

Likewise, if such a sentiment is true of Dr. Seuss’ books, it must be that much “truer than true” of God’s Word.

Maybe preaching, I think, shouldn’t be topics galore.
Maybe preaching…perhaps…should be a little bit more.


References:

[1] http://m.seussville.com/biography.html

[2] Dr. Seuss Enterprises, Oh Say Can You Say? (New York: Random House Children's Books, 1979).

[3] Dr. Seuss Enterprises, How the Grinch Stole Christmas (New York: Random House Children's Books, 1985).

[4] http://m.seussville.com/biography.html

[5] Voddie Baucham, L. Michael Morales, R.C. Sproul, and R.C. Sproul Jr., “Questions and Answers” (presentation, The Autobiography of God: 2011 Fall Conference at Reformation Bible College, Saint Andrew’s Chapel, Sanford, FL, October 15, 2011).

[6] https://baptistcourier.com/2015/06/preaching-bible-risks-pastors-say

[7] https://www.preaching.com/articles/40-days-in-the-word-an-interview-with-rick-warren

[8] https://www.gty.org/library/questions/QA83/why-are-you-compelled-to-preach-verse-by-verse-through-books-of-the-bible-unlike-other-notable-preachers-such-as-c-h-spurgeon