Monday, March 4, 2013

Preaching to the interpretative community

There have been two books out recently encouraging preachers to lift their game. The Anglican version came out several years ago and is titled Please, No more Boring Sermons. The Presbyterian version: Saving Eutychus is about to be released. Good advice is to be had from both and the bottom line of 'work hard at your preaching', is laudable. However I think both books miss a very important factor: the interpretative community.

One of the most interesting things about preaching that I've noticed recently is that "success" is often connected to the interpretative community, those hearing their preaching on some-sort of a regular basis. This means that measuring preaching will always be contaminated by the observer effect. To a certain extent we can identity when the art of rhetoric is employed well within a particular time and place. However the gift of the golden tongue is more like the rain, it falls on both the righteous and the unrighteous.

In a sense therefore, both books are wrong to present x or y method as "successful preaching". Because really at the end of the day, it's whatever the interpretative community says it is. It'd be better to master basic rhetoric and faithful exegesis and then be whatever preacher you most enjoyed then strive for some subjective (and often spiritualised) standard. It'd be then up the wisdom of church leaders to match preachers to congregations. 


Nathan said...

Hi Luke,

I'm not sure, having read Saving Eutychus, that it doesn't do what you say preachers should do.

Nathan said...

Or rather, that it doesn't do what you say books on preaching should do... it's more interested in principle than method (though Macca featured a particular chapter on method) - its conviction is that gospel clarity is fundamental to faithful preaching. The book is as theologically driven as it is practical. Here's something from a chapter by Gary on preaching to the heart (which comes after a chapter that urges preachers to make sure their interpretative community is praying that the gospel will be proclaimed clearly through the preaching):

"When Edwards uses the word ‘affections’ here, he isn’t talking primarily about the emotions. He uses the word ‘heart’ here in the Old Testament sense of ‘control centre of the personality’, which is really a shorthand way of saying ‘the essential me’. Edwards longs for Bible teaching that affects the way we think and feel and act. He wants his sermons to move people and result in real and lasting change. He wants to preach in a way that, under God, changes people’s hearts. And don’t we all?
When you listen to someone explain the Bible, what do you want to get out of it? I want to know that God has addressed me through his word. I want to be challenged, humbled, corrected, excited, moved, strengthened, overawed, corrected, shaped, stretched and propelled out into the world as a different person. I want to be changed! And if I’m the one who’s teaching the Bible—whether it’s to my children, to our students in college, to our church family in Brisbane, or to anybody else—I long for that change to happen in the hearts of those who hear. I long for Jane to find new security in Christ, and for Rob to discover real joy in following Jesus. I want Ian to stop doing that because he realizes it is dishonouring God, and I want everyone to be bowled over by the power and beauty of God. I want people (myself included) to become more like Christ. To borrow Edwards’ language, I want people to be affected. I want to preach in a way that results in change. Real change. Heart change."

I don't think the book is calling people to supplant their personality with some sort of golden mean. It's suggesting that if you're not being understood, the communication problem rests with you, not them.

Luke Isham said...

Hey Nathan,

Thanks for taking the time to respond. (By the way I actually found that summary by Macca of method really helpful.) I was using both books rightly or wrongly as a springboard to observe that in my experience while there's a fair amount of discussion about what constitutes "good" or "successful" preaching there's not much recognition of the fact that the assessment is determined by the people being preached to and is therefore subjective in that sense.

Great quote there from Gary, makes me want to read the book even more! And I heard him for the first time in Tassie over the Christmas break preach about prayer. :) I agree that as preachers we must have and/or cultivate a desire to change people through the proclamation of the gospel and God's words. If that desire is lacking or dulled by sin, then there is a problem.

"I don't think the book is calling people to supplant their personality with some sort of golden mean. It's suggesting that if you're not being understood, the communication problem rests with you, not them."

Mikey preached last week at our Uni Fellowship gathering, and some students understood him while others didn't. Was that Mikey's problem or the problem of the students who didn't understand him? Even more interestingly I've talked to people that love various "terriable" preachers. What's going on there!