The Special Relevance Of Ecclesiastes For Contemporary Culture -- By: John E. Johnson
BSac 169:674 (April-June 2012) p. 159
The Special Relevance Of Ecclesiastes For Contemporary Culture
John E. Johnson is Associate Professor of Pastoral Ministries, Western Seminary, Portland, Oregon, and Senior Pastor, Village Baptist Church, Portland, Oregon.
Few books of the Bible have prompted such a strong reaction as Ecclesiastes, both positive and negative. Some love its candor, its relevance to life’s situations, and its guidance for godly living. Others are offended, believing its message is inappropriate for Christians. For them, Ecclesiastes is nothing more than the musings of a quirky eccentric, the rant of a dissatisfied narcissist. They would have likely agreed with an ancient rabbi, who once quipped, “Solomon wrote Song of Solomon in his youth, Proverbs in his maturity, and Qoheleth in his senility.”1
Most would agree Ecclesiastes is an unnerving book, just by its sheer homiletic challenges. As Kreeft comments, “Compared with the neat little nostrums of comfort-mongering minds who cross our t’s and dot our i’s, Ecclesiastes is as great, as deep, and as terrifying as the ocean.”2 The themes and structure tend to scare off both preacher and congregant. Its message can seem unfocused and its relationship to other Old Testament traditions strained.
Added to the homiletic challenge is the alleged negative tone. Given what Qoheleth wrote about mankind’s limitations to know or control much in life, one might suppose his conclusions about life are as depressing as those of philosophers such as Camus.3 Others read Qoheleth as “a pathological doubter of everything,” stemming
BSac 169:674 (April-June 2012) p. 160
from some drastic emotional experience, perhaps even a psychological disturbance!4 Who needs to hear this from the pulpit?
The complexity, tone, and message of Ecclesiastes have discouraged both preachers and listeners. Martin Luther lamented that the book in his time “has lain in miserable neglect, so that today we have neither the use nor the benefit from it that we should.”5 John Calvin referred to Ecclesiastes only a few times in his writings, and Ulrich Zwingli paid little attention to it. Charles H. Spurgeon, out of his thousands of sermons, preached only a handful from Ecclesiastes. Many preachers today bypass the preaching of the book.6
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