History, Theology

Thinking about Preaching, post 1

My co-laborer and friend, Darin Shaw, has started posting a series of thoughts called “A Preacher on Preaching” highlighting some of his thoughts on sermon preparation and delivery. (You can catch some thoughts here and here.)

I thought I would do a sort of parallel series of posts from my perspective on the topic. Diversity is the key to unity, and as you will see by reading both our posts, although we have some similarities and shared practices, there are also some differences.

To start, let’s begin with some of the things I really don’t like about most of what is considered preaching in our culture.

Pet Peeve #1 – Sermonizing

First off, if you’ve been reading this blog for any amount of time, you know that I prefer the idea of a homily over a sermon. A homily is supposed to be a simple companion to the Scriptures while a sermon is often meant for the ecclesia militans (church militant) of the medieval Crusaders. Since I’m not a Crusader and I am not medieval, I prefer the ancient practice of homily.

What does that mean for sermon preparation? It means I read little or no commentary on the texts I share with our congregation. It is three times more likely that I will make some kind of pop culture than it is for me to quote commentators or ‘great preachers’ of any age.  This sounds awful I suppose, but I really don’t care what they had to say.

Instead, I will read the entire book I will be speaking on, often several times and over several weeks. First, I read it just to read it. Then, I go over it and make notes in a spiral bound notebook. While doing that, I continually review the passages I have read previously. Then, I read it again, organizing and adding to my notes before putting together my schedule of teaching the book. While preaching through the book, I will often go back over the book again – sometimes every week – to make sure I am staying in line with the author’s intention and not getting distracted by my tangent thoughts.

Pet Peeve #2 – Scholarizing

Second, you should know that I don’t preach exegetically. For the most part, I don’t think the people in the chairs care whether I can parse Greek verbs (I can) or pronounce Hebrew names properly (I do). They want the eternal truth of God’s word applied to today, and that’s what I am called to do every Sunday. Why spend forty five minutes explaining the nuances most people couldn’t care less about? I do all that behind the scenes.

I do study exegetically. I apply knowledge of original languages in my reading of the text. I often read passages in the original languages, looking for nuances and turns of phrase that are lost in translation. It is not uncommon for me to puzzle over the use of a word or phrase and do a lot of cultural and historical research (not in commentaries but in [gasp!] secular sources).

Find a peculiar Greek word? Research it; learn it; check it out. I tend to jump to the Perseus Project‘s vast archives and search for word usages whenever I can. But tell everyone everything I found? Nope. I might do five to ten hours of research on a word or idea, but when it comes out of my mouth on Sunday morning, it is rarely more than a 30-second side note.

Look, I grew up reading the New Testament in Greek. My dad was teaching me college level Greek classes in 5th grade (seriously, ask him). I took Hebrew in seminary. I love the original languages of the Bible. But I’ve got nothing to prove and nothing to gain really by showing off in the pulpit.

Pet Peeve #3 – Sublimating

How often do we major on minor texts? This Sunday, I took one of these texts head-on with Ephesians 5:22-6:9. So many preachers hit this text as if it is actually about marriage family, and employment; when in reality is about the church’s submission to Christ.

We sublimate when we downplay the actual and obvious themes of the greater context in favor of some minor agenda we need to justify. This is also called proof-texting although my own word for it is myopegesis.

Pet Peeve #4 – Spiritualizing

Most of the Bible is simply recorded life. Sure, the prophets have a lot of concepts that look forward to Christ and then beyond. Yes, the Revelation is difficult to interpret and understand. But that does not give us permission to read the ancient stories of the Old Testament and turn them all into morality plays. With the exception of Job (probably) and Song of Solomon (definitely), they’re NOT. The records of the Hebrew Scriptures are not meant to be reinterpreted to benefit whatever moralistic agenda a church has. They just are what they are and need to be cherished as that.

I’ve seen people butcher the story of Esther by judging her actions against modernist Christian codes of ethics. I’ve seen David used as justification for homosexuality. I’ve seen Moses reverse interpreted so much that I’m surprised any of the historical man exists after you strip away the veneer layers of interpretations.


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