Beliefnet
Mark D. Roberts

Today’s post, as well as several posts to come, are excerpts from my new book, Can We Trust the Gospels? Investigating the Reliability of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.
Sometimes I find it odd that certain scholars have so much trouble seeing how history and theology are intertwined, and how one with a theological agenda can, in fact, labor faithfully to pass on reliable history. This is hard for me to fathom because, frankly, I am motivated all the time by a theological passion that calls me to be a faithful historian.
Virtually every weekend I preach a sermon in the four worship services at Irvine Presbyterian Church. I freely admit that my sermons reflect my theological agenda. I want my congregants to grow in their faith. And, at the same time, I’m seeking to encourage non-Christians to put their faith in Christ. So I have a clear, open, and passionate theological agenda. No question about it. Agenda-less preaching would be drivel.
My agenda leads me to tell stories because I believe stories communicate powerfully in today’s world. Most of my stories concern events that really happened, either in my own life or in the lives of people I know, though sometimes I use items that have appeared in the news or other sources. When I tell a true story, I make every effort to get the crucial facts right. This also reflects my “agenda,” because I believe that my congregation will trust me if I am a reliable historian. Moreover, my theology tells me that truth matters.
My commitment to telling the truth means that when I hear some wonderful story from a friend or from the Internet, I work hard to verify its truthfulness before I use it in a sermon. Sometimes the most heartrending stories turn out to be fictitious. A notable example is the tale of little Teddy Stallard (or Stoddard), the disadvantaged student who became a success because of the love of a teacher, Miss Thompson. This saga has been used in hundreds of sermons, sometimes by pastors who talk as if they know Teddy personally. But, alas, Teddy  is a fictional character, made up in a short story by Elizabeth Ballard. See my blog entry on little Teddy.

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