Category Archives: preaching

High tech or low tech?

Adrian Warnock wrote an article last year that I’ve only just discovered. It’s called The Risks and Rewards of Using Technology in Sermon Preparation, and succinctly and persuasively argues for using technology in sermon preparation, much of which also applies to personal Bible study. It is well worth reading.

I still like a low tech approach alongside a high tech one. Undoubtedly the computer does aid research, concordance and lexicon lookups, and the like. I use Logos and the Internet alonside my dead tree books. But I still find that gathering my thoughts together is better done in a low tech way first — pen(cil) and paper allow me to diagram and jot more efficiently. I suppose I’m basically a complementarian when it comes to technology, as well as theology.

Journaling for preaching

Matthew Perry has a good article entitled When Journaling Helps Your Preaching (4 July 2008). I don’t use a Moleskine myself, but I have found handwriting study notes and sermon drafts extremely helpful in my own preparation for preaching, and my own personal meditations. I find scraps of A5-sized paper useful as they are about Bible size, and easily accommodate my habit of writing in short bursts that need finishing later, sometimes with something different in between.

It is always an encouragement to see that you’re not alone in your preferences for writing over typing as the first draft. Not having Matthew’s good handwriting, I tend to type up my ramblings, and I find the second go over them helpful in retaining the material, though I find I always have much more material this way than is practical to incorporate into a sermon. Occasionally such ‘discarded’ material makes its way into the blog.

Impressions of Judges

It’s obvious when you get to the end of Judges that everyone was doing what was right in their own eyes. But reading through the book a few weeks ago I noticed that the rot had set in with Samson when he asked his gather to get a Philistine wife, “for,” he said, “she is right in my eyes” (Jdg 14:3). The irony of Samson’s story was that he did the greatest good when his eyes had been put out.

But after listening to Bryan Chapell speaking today about Gideon, I wonder whether the rot had set in earlier. It doesn’t say that Gideon did what was right in his own eyes, but his ephod (Jdg 8) was a terrible snare to the people of God. His judgment was certainly faulty, and even though he refused kingship, calling on the people to acknowledge YHWH’s rule over them, his actions didn’t help commend this attitude to them.

Bryan stressed the importance of the preacher’s testimony in commending the message of Scripture. Perhaps Gideon illustrates what can happen when preachers fail to commend the message of Scripture wholeheartedly by their life.

Best read?

Matthew Perry has an interesting posting on Spurgeon and extemporaneous preaching, where among other things he says, “Preachers should be the most well-read individuals on the planet — with the Scriptures being the first in line, of course.” I couldn’t agree more. And, of course, every Christian should follow their pastor’s example. The article is well worth reading. It gives an interesting insight on the Prince of Preachers.

The 222 Principle

John Brand has started a new series of blog postings over at A Steward of the Secret Things called The 222 Principle. In his second posting he shares some advice from Geoffrey Grogan to new preachers. They are a helpful reminder to all who preach, but it struck me that in many ways his advice is no different from what all Christians should practice in their reading of the Bible.

Knowledge of the contents is a vital foundation step to understanding the Bible. Prayerful application to one’s own life is for all. And while analysis may seem more relevant to preachers, it is a useful way for every Christian to achieve a sound understanding of the Bible’s message.

The preacher will take what he has learned via these steps and communicate it to others. But these three steps are essentially what every Christian should undertake in their personal Bible study.

Avoiding exposition like the plague

Neil Postman’s third commandment of the philosophy of teleducation is “thou shalt avoid exposition like the ten plagues visited upon Egypt” (Amusing Ourselves to Death, p. 148).

Oh, the uphill struggle of the true expository preacher!  It is not only teleducation that has been reduced to story-telling. The massive reorientation that has refashioned the classroom “into a place where both teaching and learning are intended to be vastly amusing activities” (p. 148) has impacted many more places besides. Postman believed children immersed in such teleducation would come to expect it “and thus be well prepared to receive their politics, their religion, their news and their commerce in the same delightful way” (p. 154). Twenty years on we are reaping the consequences in the Church of Christ.

And yet, there is hope, with the increasing interest in and practice of expository preaching. It’s Corinth all over again: spin doctors, sound bites, and stories versus preaching nothing but Christ and him crucified.

Live Earth Irony

How ironic that those who will proclaim the message of action to prevent climate change the loudest are also those whose generally conspicuous and consumptive lifestyle contributes to it both by their own actions and the actions of those who would seek to emulate them.

And yet these pop idols are so lie the idols of the classical and pagan worlds. No one suggested they should be paragons of virtue — holy deities. They were not bound by the lifestyles they expected of mortals. So, too, these pop idols do not practice what they preach, and to a large extent no on expects them to.

Christian preachers, though not perfect, are expected to model their message, and though redeemed they are still fallen, so sometimes do fall. Nonetheless, Christian preachers and church leaders are expected to maintain high moral and spiritual standards. They do seek to live by the message they proclaim.

Postman on preaching?

Neil Postman points out how the tv commercial is “about how one ought to live one’s life” (Amusing Ourselves to Death, 131). Although this observation comes in the middle of a chapter devoted to politics and tv (9. Reach Out and Elect Someone), it struck me that at this part of the chapter there is an interesting comparison with Christian preaching.

Let me say, before someone else says it for me, that true Christian preaching is not about telling people how to live, but about declaring what God has said. Nonetheless, there is a popular perception that when men are preaching that is precisely what they are doing: telling people how to live their lives. And furthermore, they don’t like being told how to live. The truth is, of course, that when God’s word is declared, men and women are convicted that how they are living is not the way God wants them to live. But somehow they feel that it is the preacher who is telling them how to live, when all the time God is speaking to them about their lifestyle.

Postman’s point is that commercials are pseudo-parables. And like the biblical parables from which they are derived, they are “unambiguously didactic”. And the amazing thing is that people will accept the teaching of the commercials without question. Postman identifies their power in the short, simple messages, portrayed dramatically. They always address themselves, he says, “to the psychological needs of the viewer. Thus it is not merely therapy. It is instant therapy.” (130) Now, where have I heard that kind of preaching? Short sermons? Felt needs?

While preaching that is faithful exposition of God’s word will not be the kind of preaching that tells anyone how to live their life, there is a kind of preaching, pseudo-preaching if you like, that addresses the psychological needs of the listener. It is couched in Oprah-speak. It gives a simple, indeed simplistic, solution to the listener’s problems. It comes as part of a spectacle, a lavish entertainment-styled event. It is no accident that its practitioners use tv to promote themselves, never mind their message. I’m sure you can identify suspects.

As we live in a media age, it can be desperately appealing to engage in this kind of preaching. And many there are who are content to listen to it. This kind of media-friendly presentation will always bring results, though whether they are what God intends is intensely questionable. A major challenge for the faithful preacher is to avoid such means, so that the Word of God may be proclaimed in the power of God. Here is the difference between the politician and the preacher: the politician must rely on his image consultant to be elected; the preacher must rely on the Holy Spirit if men and women are to be convicted of sin and truly converted.

Out of step with secular media

Can [preaching] really be simply a passing phenomenon destined to become outdated as we enter a more technologically oriented age of electronic communication media?
(Graeme Goldsworthy, Preaching the Whole Bible as Christian Scripture, p.29)

The Reformation and Evangelical Awakening may have been highlights in recent church history for preaching, but the fathers and apostles practised it, as did the OT prophets. The Bible and church history show it to be more than a passing phase.

Is it outdated? The message is obviously not because the Gospel is timeless. When held against electronic communication media the vast difference in method is apparent. But we must beware of this comparison because we are comparing chalk with cheese.

Electronic media are not communication oriented, at least not in the same way as other media. Neil Postman’s insightful analysis (which is shared by others) has shown us how they do not tend towards information but rather entertainment. Preaching is not entertainment (at least not if engaged in as God intended), and thus does not work in such media, unless great care is taken to ensure that the message is not overwhelmed or lost within the media itself.

Electronic communication media cannot, therefore, be used to outdate preaching. What is clear is that electronic communication media and preaching are out of step with each other, and not only in terms of technique, but ultimately in terms of content, which looks like the main thrust of Goldsworthy’s chapter (which I’ve only just started). This out of stepness is a necessary consequence of being in the world, but not of it.