I was talking the other day to a friend about a Christian conference he had been to. In the context of telling me about one of the speakers, my friend made an interesting comment: “when it comes to Christian speakers, I find it helpful to ask, ‘who do they think is the enemy?’” In other words, what is the viewpoint or paradigm that their message is subtly (or not so subtly) opposing?
That question struck me as an interesting one to ask of preaching. In our preaching, who do we think is the enemy? Maybe the word ‘enemy’ is too harsh. A softer question might be: what is the counterpoint to my preaching? It seems to me that most preaching is a counterpoint to something. Sermons tend not only to promote a particular way of thinking, but also to counter an alternative way of thinking. By identifying what that alternative is, we are better placed to evaluate and improve our own preaching.
The senior pastor of our church before me was big on defending the Christian faith against non-Christian sceptics. His preaching counterpoint was secular humanism or atheism. So his preaching tended to be heavily apologetic, giving rational arguments for the truth of the gospel. For me, I think my primary preaching counterpoint these days is a staunch Christian fundamentalism that truncates the gospel and reduces theology to a set of rigid, abstract propositions. That’s where I used to be, and having moved away from that personally, I find that it has become the counterpoint to much of my preaching. So my preaching often attempts to broaden people’s understanding of the gospel and connect people to the overarching narrative of the Scriptures.
This may seem like a bit of a negative way to think about preaching, as a counterpoint to an alternative way of thinking. But I have found that identifying my preaching counterpoint has helped me become more self-aware as a preacher. It has also helped me make adjustments so that my preaching is not too one-sided; I am trying to interact with other counterpoint views and perspective that I may otherwise ignore.
Does this idea of a preaching counterpoint ring true for anyone else, and if so, can you identify what yours is?
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Reuben Munn is Senior Pastor of Shore Community Church on Auckland’s North Shore, whose teaching features on the TV programme Connection Point on Shine TV.