Thursday, May 13, 2010
To Preachers: Boring Your People Is a Sin, So Stop It.
Good stuff from Russell Moore of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. It is a mystifying thing why something as exciting as the history of redemption is turned by many an orthodox preacher into something boring. It is also a mystifying thing why something on which all eternity for individuals hinges is so often preached as if nothing is at stake.
Maybe preachers need to think about sermons less, and think about preaching more, not in such a way to turn them into polished orators with affected methods of speaking, but rather a basic understanding of what preaching is.
Is preaching expositing a text? Yes, it is. Without a text, we have no message to bring to our people. But, there is much expositing that doesn't qualify as preaching.
I have the great privilege of meeting with several seminarians regularly. What I am trying to get them to see is the romance of preaching, the art of preaching, the joy of preaching --the sort of preaching touted by old liberal Fred B. Craddock in his book Preaching or by old conservative Willie Still in The Work of the Pastor or by Lloyd-Jones, or Fred Lybrand or others.
And that is this: not preaching that sounds one particular way, or follows one particular method, but is, at least in part, what Phillips Brooks called "Truth mediated through personality." It can take a myriad of different forms. Two of my favorites are Sinclair Ferguson and John Piper. Their styles could not be more different, but the ethos they show forth is the same. If I were to journey outside my own Reformed camp, I would cite the ethos of Tozer (the portrait above), or of Jim Cymbala or of David Wilkerson or of Len Ravenhill. The truth can be shouted, and it can be whispered. The cry of "sound the alarm" from the rooftops can rouse the sleeper to action, but so can the anguished whisper that comes in the middle of the night. We can be roused with a shout; we can be wooed in a whisper.
Ethos is a slippery thing upon which to get a grip, to be sure. But, preaching must manifest a sacred thirst, a holy desperation, the spirit of Psalm 42. It must have an urgency, and a vitality to it. I have come to think it is more about lifting a text off a page, than it is driving people into a text. It is heralding it forth before hearers --holding it up to their faces so they might see it, smell it, and taste it, as well as hear it.
The Scriptures are a fascinating story. The language is sensual: there is blood and illicit behaviors, and jarring grotesque imagery, as well as profound beauty, and affecting human drama. There are truths that confront us, and poetry that soothes us. There are warnings, and there is inestimable comfort. Most of all, there is a call: the call to stand in God's holy presence, clad in the righteous robe of his Son, to both come away from the world, and to be pressed back into the world, to serve the world in the name of its Creator. Is it a radical thing to say our sermons ought to be filled with the sound of Scripture, as well as the substance of Scripture?
And the worst thing we can do to a book like that is to make it boring. My friend and mentor J. R. de Witt often cited his own homiletics professor who said, "It is no sin to be interesting." May every preacher heed those words today.