Preaching Practices on Easy Street

Preaching Donkey wide-header

Preaching has many ironies. Many are sure they are good preachers; but many congregants feel their is a famine of God’s word. Some preachers struggle weekly trying to find things to say. Others couldn’t be shut down with a gun pointed at their heads. Some preachers are deemed ‘brave’ because they dare to call out the ‘gay agenda’ and bathroom politics. Others are deemed cowards because they educate their congregations on issues of war and peace, prosperity and poverty, and more. Again, some preachers are a lifetime learning this work. Contradicting that are tonnes of ‘improve your preaching in three easy steps’ gimmicks.

Preaching, Entry Level

IFBdom Preaching

A local IFB we’ve met mainly in civic-related matters recently wrote a few paragraphs on preaching. Among his points, Kevin Folger says that preachers should:

  1. …Approach the text…without preconceived ideas, notions or thoughts.
  2. …Approach the text simply — let Scripture say what it says.
  3. …Approach the text as a student, mining the text for truth.

Evaluating IFB Practice

The first point is explained by saying that the Bible should form our thoughts for us, rather than our bringing preconceived notions to the Bible. Maybe he thinks this results in a purer reading of the Scripture.

He may not know it, but Mr. Folger adapts a version of Aristotle’s ‘tabula rasa’ for Bible interpretation. John Locke and others held versions of the ‘mind as a blank tablet’ idea. Some take this on a ‘we are the sum of our experiences’ path. Other philosophical derivatives may exist also. The fact is, it simply isn’t possible to do what Mr. Folger suggests. His assertion that we bring no prior ideas to the text is itself a prior idea that shapes his own approach to the text. This is called a ‘self-negating premise.’

The second point on the surface attempts a good show. But it has at least two problems. The first further illustrates the issue with the earlier point.

Mr. Folger must make gigantic assumptions that the English language words in my text mean exactly the same thing as words written millennia ago for an alien culture and in languages we don’t know or use.

Moreover, ‘simply’ in ‘approach the text simply’ too easily ‘translates’ into speaking against any heavy lifting with the text. It’s as if we’re hearing, ‘read it a couple of times and you’ve got it.’ Now go and live it.

I addressed preaching and preparation in the ‘Leaving Fundamentalism’ series. Approaching Scripture and ‘simply’ allowing the text to say what it says doesn’t exactly encourage the diligence that preaching requires whatever Mr. Folger’s third point may say.

Hearing Scripture

1Pe 1:10-11 explains that the prophets preparing questions and took them to the Scriptures in order to know what person or time Christ’s Spirit in them indicated, and what was spoken about his sufferings and glory. The Bereans also formulated questions and brought them to the Scriptures for insight into their value and correctness [Act 17:11].

Questions about faith arise from life. In stable faith traditions, believers discuss, study, pray and think about issues. Questions are formulated with care, prayer and in concert with others. Adjustments are made as needed. These questions are then brought to the Scriptures, which are searched in the spirit of 1Pe 1:10-11. God’s people listen for the dialogue in the Bible on these questions and issues.

When disagreements arise [in healthy traditions, they always do], you go back to reevaluate your questions in light of that fact, and review your process of study. This matters more than fundamentalists may suppose.

In Fundamentalism

  • Presumes that it comes to the text with no assumptions.
  • Presumes that the text means what it says on the surface.

So when disagreement arises, it’s obvious that you’re disobedient.

Beyond Fundamentalism

  • A rational process is followed at each step of the Biblical journey.
  • Study follows a self-correcting path in concert with others.

And agree or not, the result is better theology and better preaching.

Friday Challenge – Questions Anonymous:

Questions, Questions

Regarding Questions

David Hayward of Saint John, New Brunswick gets Stuff Fundies Like. That, or we get him.

For years, David Hayward has maintained the ‘Naked Pastor‘ website. With 30+ years pastoral experience, there is little anyone can tell him about church culture. David plies his wit with artistry. The Naked Pastor website displays countless cartoons, essentially doing what we do here at SFL. But David does so primarily with his masterful cartoons.

How Monitors see themselves--fearsome predators!
Monitor goes about, seeking whom it may devour…

Regarding this cartoon, David understands that questions can be dangerous things.

More years ago than I’m going to admit, I had a conversation with a Hall Monitor. The Hall Monitor was the person to whom BJU room spies [APCs (Assistant Prayer Captain) and PCs (prayer captains)] were to tattle illicit activities. I don’t even recall what the issue was, but the monitor decided that my comment required redress. I was advised to be careful with my words. It seems that some such talk about certain matters lands one ‘in trouble.’

Questioning ‘Power’

Monitor Tackles Unwary Soul
Monitor hitches ride on Unwary Soul

My sense was that the Monitor’s censure was supposed to instill in the erring the fear of the Yom Yahweh. I was supposed to back down, become all submissive and compliant like. If so, this strategy was a resounding failure.

I asked whether we were at a university. It seemed that we were.

No Questions Indeed!
Disposing Disgusting Monitors

I pointed out that universities had always been communities of discussion, that education was impossible without it, that only those without answers fear questions. And I pointed out that the postulation of questions was integral to university life. To put this off limits belied the prior claim that this was a genuine university.

It was amusing to see the reaction. It wasn’t clear what shocked this monitor most: that any action taken would surely result in my expulsion and therefore [unquestioningly] my eternal damnation. Or was it that this poor fellow feared that lightening would strike for hearing such things? Then again, this might have made more sense than he expected.

We are not all blessed/cursed with drive to stand up to and call out heavy-handed louts in the service of injustice. Less belligerent souls are too often cowed into slavish submission, living in silent isolation among throngs of plastic happy-happy people. It’s all quite destructive to life and faith.

Question-Friendly Places

Especially young women have borne atrocious burdens in the ‘Name of the Lord.’ Home-schooled in IFB culture, some face unimaginable dilemmas. Lacking non-IFB contacts or life skills, and with no home to go if they are expelled/censured/shunned/shamed, they experience a power imbalance that is at once shocking, unjust, dehumanizing and dangerous.

Some localities really are not ‘question-friendly’ places. David Hayward found it liberating to leave such places to find freedom to question and explore and discover. He offers this simple word:

I encourage you to get to a place where you can do one simple thing: question.

Friday Challenge:

With as much or as little detail as you like, today’s Friday Challenge is to name a question, injustice, fear, practice, situation or other issue that arose in your life, or that you witnessed in others because IFB culture does not support question-safe places.

Seeking God Outside the IFB

To Seek God Outside the IFB

Seeking God

Fundamentalists readily tell people to seek God. They’re also quick to tell you that their IFB sect is a great place to find God. If you’re in a church rather than an IFB sect, fundamentalists are fairly sure you don’t know God. And yet fundamentalists inside IFB sects haven’t always convinced us that they are competent guides in these matters. Recently, SFL noted some common types of spiritually abusive practices. Then we suggested that God’s attributes can guide spiritual practices and biblical understanding.

Many attributes can [and should] be used in such an exercise. But God’s gentleness is used for this very limited study. Other studies go further, and still only scratch the surface. But our aim is not to be exhaustive.

The intent is to establish a point and learn a few lessons from it. It is, after all, one thing to say that God’s attributes can be a guide for us; it is another thing to demonstrate this.

Preparation for Work

Before beginning any study, it is helpful to formulate basic questions to guide us in our work.

Can God’s attributes guide us to spiritual understanding?
Do God’s attributes lead us in the imitation of Christ?
Do God’s attributes help us read Scripture with new eyes?

Some questions formulated, we search Scripture for answers.

Step One: we gather and survey data.

Gentleness and Biblical Interpretation

Not great wind, earthquake or fire — but in the gentle whisper that God met Elijah [1Ki 19:12].
In victory, David confessed that God’s gentleness made him great [Ps 18:35].
Gentleness is the answer that turns away fury [Pr 15:1].
Gentleness was the prophet’s demeanor when threatened with death [Je 11:19].
The blessed gentle will inherit the earth [eschatology yet!] [Mt 5:5].
Jesus promise to receive us rests on his gentleness [Mt 11:29].
Jesus entered Jerusalem to die clothed with gentleness [Mt 21:5].
Gentleness is the preferred method for admonition [1Co 4:21].
Gentleness is the fruit of the Spirit [Ga 5:23].
Gentleness necessary for spiritual restoration and health [Ga 6:1].
Gentleness seeks the unity that the Spirit gives [Ep 4:2-3].
Gentleness attests the Lord’s nearness [Phil 4:5].
Gentleness is normative for Christian living [Co 3:12].
Gentleness is commended for labor in ministry [1Th 2:7].
Gentleness is requisite for the office of overseers [1Ti 3:2].
Gentleness is contrasted to the dissolute life [1Ti 6:10-11].
Gentleness is required to work with opponents [2Ti 2:24-25].
Gentleness is mandated for dealings with others [Ti 3:2].
Gentleness belongs to the wisdom from above [Ja 3:13, 17].
A gentle, quiet spirit is imperishable and precious to God [1Pe 3:4].
Gentleness is requisite for Christian witness [1Pe 3:15].

Broadening the Study

Several texts pair God’s gentleness to other traits, making them relevant. Mt 11:29 uses ‘gentle and humble in heart.’ So does Ep. 4:2. Co 2:12 reads, ‘heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.’ Ps. 45:4 combines truth, humility and justice.

In Gal 5:23, gentleness is a fruit of the Spirit listed between faithfulness and self-control. So gentleness contrasts to the works of the flesh.

Any thorough study of the gentleness of God will reference texts using words that are similar in spirit to ‘gentleness.’ Together, these texts provide a backdrop against which to read Scriptures where such traits are referenced or are otherwise relevant.

Preliminary Conclusions

While not massive, this is significant attestation. Our ‘gentleness’ texts relate to God’s presence and promise, to the strength and victory he gives, to the practice of prophets and apostles, to the coming and passion of the Savior, to our spiritual life, health and salvation. Also related are such themes as church office and discipline, Christian ministry, witness, apologetics, unity, normative Christian living and other divine attributes.

God’s gentleness is a significant, spiritual motif. With many other themes, this motif is necessary to frame our spiritual disposition, to order our life practices, and to direct our reading of Scripture in ways that honor God.

The more this approach to study is used, the more apparent it becomes that God IS his attributes. Such study indeed guides us into spiritual maturity, and leads us to imitate Christ and opens our understanding to read God’s word in new ways. Indeed, it is to seek God.

To be continued…