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Thursday, October 12, 2006

The Foolishness of Preaching

Brian Orme mentioned an article by Dan Kimball. In that article, Kimball mentions an article about preaching on the next wave ezine. (How's that for a paragraph of blogspotting?)

I love Brian, and I think Kimball is usually spot on, but while I understand David Allis' concerns with preaching, I think he missed the mark somewhat. His conclusions are certainly accurate for much preaching that can be heard, but don't have to be accurate for biblical teaching. His reason for concern are:
    1. Preaching is Extra-Biblical.
The author suggests that most preaching in the New Testament is evangelistic in nature. He may have a point here. But he also argues that we don't see preaching in Scripture taking place for people that are established in their faith. When we search the Word of God, we don't see believers regularly hearing sermons to grow in their faith. He has a point. Of course, this can be explained by the fact that the New Testament we read was being written at the same time these churches existed. But we do see Paul encourage the flock to read his entire letter in the hearing of the church (Colossians 4:16).
    2. Preaching is an Ineffective Form of Communication.
Allis argues that most people (preacher included, he claims) do not remember the sermon for any length of time. This obviously proves sermons are antiquated. Scientific studies suggest that passive learning (as he calls the monologue of sermon) is the worst way to learn. This is probably true, if you are not talking about the Word of God and the work of the Holy Spirit. Two things he does not mention.
    3. Preaching Limits Learning, Discussion & Debate.
Allis mentions that people are not allowed to ask questions, or debate conclusions. And while Paul does not wish to stiffle any person, he does state that things must be orderly and proper (I Corinthians 14:26-40). Debates may be popular on Springer and Oprah may be able to captivate people with a conversation, but that doesn't appear to be God's design for the church. Perhaps, those discussions are best kept for small group meetings or conversations in the pastor's office. (Allis cites that many preachers are ineccesible. However, that problem is not with preaching, but with the preacher.)
    4. Preaching Doesn't Usually Change Lives.
I'm not sure where he validates this. I know of a few sermons that have changed me and have spoken to many others who feel the same. However, I am most surprised that Allis seems to believe the corporate nature of a sermon and singing songs together stiffles the multifacited nature of the Body. However, it seems seperate people gathered around different texts, all singing different songs is not the Body, but a bunch of severed limbs.
    5. Preaching Can Foster Biblical Illiteracy.
Allis says
Much contemporary preaching is based around themes, usually with little biblical basis. While these sermons might teach some truth, and are often done in creative ways, they don't teach how to personally learn from the Bible. It is common for believers to come to church regularly and listen to well-crafted sermons about how to live, yet rarely read the Bible personally. It is not that people can never learn from a sermon, but that they don't learn as effectively as they do with other methods.
I AGREE COMPLETELY! The problem is preaching...topical preaching. I don't think the problem is solved when we quit preaching, I think that problem is solved by expository preaching. If we don't preach through the Word of God, people could see it as a code book that they can't decipher. Preach through the Book, and they indirectly learn study habits.
    6. Preaching Disempowers People.
Who says people can not also study the text and discuss it before it is preached? (We do that at our church.) Also, who says people within the Body can't teach and preach at given opportunities?
    7. Preachers are a Problem.
Yet another reason for expository teaching. If illustrations or even application are the driving engine of the sermon, then the church will grow from only one personality. Yet, if the text is the driving engine, the preacher, or even his culture should not be an overly influential force. (Granted, you can not avoid this influence, nor should we completely strive to, but it can be mitigated.) Also, in our society people can download sermons from all over the world. No one in America is forced to only hear the preaching from their pastor.
    8. Preaching Has Misleading Implications.
Allis seems to assume it is bad for the entire Body to hear the same thing, and to hear another more sermons. He seems to believe a day is coming when the member of the church has heard enough sermons and wouldn't need another. I just don't share his perspective. It seems the more good sermons I hear, the more I want to hear.
    9. Preaching is Expensive.
Allis argues that preaching costs a lot of money when you consider the time a pastor spends preparing his sermon compared to his wage. However, the elders in Acts (6) claim that their ministry is to the Word and prayer. Time in the Word of God is one of the primary callings of the pastor.
    10. We are Preaching to Different People.
People can read today. They have access to multiple resources for the Word of God. It isn't necessary for a preacher to share the Word of God, it's at their fingertips. No offense to my good buddy but even though the resources are readily available, the world isn't becoming a better place.
    11. We are Preaching in a Different Context.
This one amazes me. We see preaching in the Old Testament. We see it in the New Testament. Fathers like Augustine preached. Reformers preached. We see preaching in urban areas and rural places. Yet, now we are going to claim we learn differently than everyone else. Am I really supossed to believe that preaching was appropriate for about 6000 years in every context and culture, but just recently (a generation or two) the entire thing has shifted? Seems a little short sighted.

Certainly if we want to hire assessment panels, run surveys and create statistics, it can seem like preaching is a rather foolish endeavor. For years, we've changed how we preach, getting away from the Bible and telling more fun stories or more advice for a better life. Now it seems there is a call to give up preaching altogether. But it seems to me that God rather enjoys using the foolish things to stun the wise (read: I Corinthians 1).


  • At 9:39 AM, Blogger ~d said…

    i read allis's article and your commentary, and i have to agree, in part, with both. i think one reason the church is so pure in persecuted nations is because it isn't a comfortable, feel-good place to be for those who aren't serious about their relationship with God. (he doesn't mention this specifically, but i think it's a by-product of our style of "church". i don't think that throwing out traditional preaching is the quick answer, but i have often thought that it would be nice to ADD to what we already have....i just haven't been brave enough to voice it....or think it over long enough to figure out exactly how it would work.

    here are a couple of ideas i think would be beneficial - and you can comment on the problematic details you may find with them:

    1. after a sermon one week, do some sort of follow-up the next week - an activity to help us put it into practice, or have some kind of accountability in life groups. i know we should be able to do this out ourselves, but most of the time when monday arrives, our attention gets focused on other screaming details, and the message we heard gets crowded out and placed on the back burner. sometimes i'm successful during my morning quiet times to do my own follow-up. often i'm not.

    2. shorten the sermon (just a little bit, danny) to provide a time for questions, clarification, further discussion, etc. afterwards. it could take place in a different room so that only those who want to participate can come. i have quite often wanted to do this because i know i'll never get around to sending an email later. it's my own weakness, i know, but after while my questions fade into the wasteland of forgetfulness.

    so, tell me what you think. i have more to say, but todd just reminded me that we need to get the car to the repair shop and i need to end this now.

  • At 1:11 PM, Blogger Keith's Blog said…

    Jesus' Sermon on the Mount was an exposition and amplification of Old Testament texts to His disciples (Matthew 5:1). Seems to me that is preaching to believers.

    Paul was eager to preach the Gospel to believers in Rome (Romans 1:15). The Gospel is the power of God for salvation - that is sanctification and glorification as well as justification (Romans 1:16). The expository preaching of the Gospel in all of the Scripture (redemptive preaching) is God's ordained means of the fullness of salvation for everyone who is believing.

    A line from a beloved hymn says it well - "I love to tell the story, for those who know it best are hungering and thirsting to hear it like the rest." Arrogant know-it-alls who no longer hunger and thirst for the proclamation of the Word have some kind of deep spiritual problem.

    The purpose of biblical preaching is not merely the communication of information, it is changing and development of affections toward God. Jonathan Edward's philosophy of preaching was not the expectation that the hearers would remember the details of the message, but that they would hold on to a God-glorifying, life-changing impression made upon their hearts by the Holy Spirit through the words and the godly character of the preacher. Only already glorified people do not need this, and I suspect even glorified people will enjoy it in heaven. Rejoicing in the proclamation of the Word of God
    will be as eternal a glory as the Word itself which is settled forever in the heavens.

    Keith Shearer

  • At 1:21 PM, Blogger Keith's Blog said…

    One more thought.

    I have been with those persecuted churches around the world, and it is a fable that they are more pure. I have seen corruption and impurity among them that is worse than many in western churches.

    As we see in Acts, persecution does spread the church, but it does not purify it. Only Jesus does that, through "the washing of water with the Word" Ephesians 5:26!!!

  • At 6:33 PM, Blogger ~d said…

    you may have to give me more information, keith, about this corruption and impurity that you've witnessed in persecuted churches, because it makes no sense to me that people would risk losing their homes, their families and possibly their lives if their faith wasn't real. or are you referring to those who are sent to infiltrate underground churches in order to hunt down "illegal religious activity"? i really am confused by your comment....

  • At 10:47 PM, Blogger brian said…

    Hey Danny, glad to give you more material...ha ha. I didn't check out the link on kimball's blog, but just to clarify, he didn't endorse the link, really, just labeled it intriguing. I thought Dan had some good q's about the architecture of pews and pulpits in his post, though.

    I would like to interact more on the preaching issue, though. Especially about the topical vs. expository. Maybe over lunch.

  • At 8:11 AM, Blogger danny2 said…

    thanks brian,

    yeah, i goofed that up. kimball says the article is thought provoking but doesn't agree with aspects of it. i meant to put that in the article and somehow missed it.

    (i'd love to talk about this over lunch...just be warned, i get a little passionate about expository preaching, so i may accidently spit some spicey garlic while i talk!)

  • At 9:24 AM, Blogger danny2 said…


    appreciate your thoughts. you're right, a lot of this should probably be covered face to face, but here are some thoughts:

    1. i may be naive, but i really think LIFE Groups can take care of this. we discuss the passage before the sermon (meaning people should be in the passage all week). then the next week, they are typically in the next passage, meaning the week before must be considered as context. i guess i just assume that if a person is reading joshua 1:10-19 daily, they will also be thinking about joshua 1:1-9 daily as well.

    2. i like the idea of follow up or questions. however, i think Scripture points out that during the service is not the time. perhaps an occassional, optional meeting after a sevice could be good.

    as for keith's comment:

    i hope he comes back to follow up, but here's my guess at what he's saying. we can have a pure church without persecution as long as they have the Word. we cannot have a pure chuch where there is persecution but they can't get their hands on the Word. i know of people who are very passionate about God, and understand the gospel of Christ, however, they have very distorted ideas about death and the afterlife, since they can't get their eyes on the Scriptures to learn doctrine.

    that may be what he means. it may not. i don't want to speak for him, but i will say that i agree that persecution is not a guarantee of a pure church.

  • At 11:24 AM, Blogger Keith's Blog said…

    I hesitate to provide too many details in this venue. Suffice it to say that there is financial dishonesty and sexual immorality among some pastors and some people in persecuted churches. Yes, there are many dear and precious godly believers in those churches as well. I'm only pointing out that persecution does not make people what they are, rather it reveals what they are. The spiritually strong in those environments will affirm that those who are not strong in the Word and Christlike character will fall away under persecution. The NT book of Hebrews was written to inform us regarding this problem.

    If you really need more negative stories for anecdotal evidence, give me a call.

    And, Dan, you have represented me fairly.

    Keith Shearer

  • At 2:45 PM, Blogger ~d said…

    Keith -
    you said, "I'm only pointing out that persecution does not make people what they are, rather it reveals what they are. The spiritually strong in those environments will affirm that those who are not strong in the Word and Christlike character will fall away under persecution."

    I guess that's what i was referring to...and perhaps i should have used the word "purifying" instead of "pure"....meaning, that those who aren't sincere in their faith get weeded out as a result of persecution. Those who quickly recant their beliefs are not the ones being imprisoned and tortured in ways we can't imagine. If we faced the same risks here in our churches, i believe our numbers would shrink dramatically.

    Thanks for clarifying what you meant. and no, i don't need examples of sin in the church. it's a little too common everywhere.

    danny -
    yeah, you're probably a little naive about us being in the current passage plus contextual passages daily - but then maybe i'm naive in thinking you can incorporate accountability in a group of people who perhaps don't want it. Asking, "What have you done this week as a result of studying this passage?" may scare some people away, i don't know.

    and sometimes the passage that spoke volumes to me wasn't the one we'd studied all week. it was a supporting one you took us to on Sunday morning. that has happened a lot....

  • At 11:23 PM, Blogger Brad said…

    All right. You've denyed it so many times that you've finally changed my mind. I confess: The world is not getting better.

    Now, moving on, some of d's suggestions actually strike me, good buddy, as quite biblical, especially in the context of I Corinthians 14, which heavily emphasizes "group" participation in the assembly.

    The members are called to "judge" what is spoken by the prophets, and it appears they (and by "they" I mean the men) were supposed to be asking questions as well. This fits well with the practices of the synagogue service, upon which much of the Lord's Day assembly seems to have been patterned.


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