To Whom Do We Look First When Preparing Our Sermons? (Part I)

Of the writing (and reading) of (preaching) books, there is no end. And in my time at seminary, both in MDiv and DMin work, I have read my share of books on the art and science of homiletics. The track one takes most certainly depends on the social and theological backgrounds from which one comes.

In this particular upcoming seminar, we have been introduced to a philosophy of preaching called “The New Homiletic.” This philosophy moves away from deductive, propositional preaching which seeks to outline truths and themes from the passage and present them in a structured way. Instead, a more fluid, inductive way of preaching emerges which takes the listener on a crafted story filled with plot, tension, ambiguity, and finally a Gospel resolution. The emphasis is more on the listener’s involvement and the flow of the sermon. Given the resistance of our postmodern culture to anything authoritative, establishing a good rapport with the listener is seen as crucial to effective communication.

Having wrestled with this mindset, looking at the pros and cons, I’ve come to the conclusion that this “New Homiletic” philosophy, while well-intended, has a number of holes in it.

How is “The New Homiletic” Well-Intended But Misguided?

For one, the preacher keeps the listener in full view. This is helpful to a point. Donald Hamilton notes, “Preaching is irrelevant if there is no audience. The most carefully prepared and articulately delivered sermon is pointless if no one hears.” A pastor who loves His people cannot help but have his people in mind when he preaches. He loves them, lives among them, ministers in the midst of their culture. No one ministers in a vacuum and no one truly pastors and preaches in a vacuum.

Yet, he must be careful, because the listener is someone you can see and one from whom you may received immediate feedback. Thus, the temptation would be to go for the current reaction through the use of imaginative stories, illustrations, humor, etc., and be misled into the preacher thinking he is connecting. In truth, the preacher is connecting — but risking doing so with his own personality rather than with the Spirit-inspired Word of God.

Secondly, the preacher must aim to keep the listener’s attention. All communicators understand that in order for them to communicate something they need someone to whom they may communicate their message — but also be able to hold their attention. The question is, how? By what means does the preacher hold their attention?

Many options are available. Some work to be uber-relevant, overtly edgy, and work as a communicator to connect the people with himself. Joel Osteen works to connect with people — and does so to the tune of over 30,000 people who attend on Sunday morning. He connects — but he connects in a way that depletes the teeth of the Gospel by his refusal to preach on sin which makes us need a Savior. See this interview with 60 Minutes here:

Sadly, many others either follow in his footsteps or at least have the same type of understanding of what preaching is about.

Preaching is proclamation — proclamation of an offensive, scandalous, and gracious Gospel. 1 Cor. 1:18-21 says

For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. [19] For it is written,

“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”
[20] Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? [21] For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe.

When Paul describes the Gospel as foolishness, this seems so counter to the New Homiletic that words fail to describe it. When the first appeal of the New Homiletic is to that of the listener rather than to the fidelity of the Gospel as found in Scripture which was inspired by the Spirit, this is not being faithful to the intentions of our Savior.

I shall write more on this at a later date. What think ye?

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