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preaching theologically – mark keown

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We live a context in which Christians are biblically and theologically challenged. There are a range of reasons for this including anti-intellectualism, theology having a bad name, people living of scraps from the internet, preaching that does not challenge, poorly theologically equipped popular preachers, and more. One of the critical needs of our age is to inspire our hearers not only to live the Christian life, but grow in their understanding of the Bible and theology. We want them to dig deeper. So how can we preachers help facilitate this process.

First, we need to keep ourselves theologically sharp. If we have an undergrad degree, we need to keep reading not only Scripture and the newspaper, but some good theology. There is nothing worse than a preacher’s library covered in dust, out of date, or unused.

Second, if we have not studied theology, we should do so, even if only part-time or by distance. We need to be stretched to stretch our people. Postgrad study is an excellent way to push us to further theological depth. I have seen great examples at Laidlaw of preachers who have come and done this. I take my hat off to them.

Third, when we preach, we need to develop the skill of bringing theological depth and insight to our hearers in a meaningful way. That means making them aware of different views, how to interpret, books and resources that are inspiring us, snippets from church history, theological language well explained, and all with touches of humour, inspiration, connection, and at the appropriate level. This means it has to be a part of us, not something manufactured. Something processed to the point of ease of delivery and framed for the level of our people. It has to be ‘natural’ and not ‘forced.’

Where different views are in mind, I believe we should preach with conviction giving the view that we are convinced of (or in the process of thinking an issue through). However, we should do so making them aware of why other people hold diverse views. For example, I remember doing a sermon on tithing. I went through the two main views, suggested my own, but left the congregation with Rom 14-15 encouraging them to go and decide for themselves and then live out of their conviction without judgment on the other. There is also nothing wrong with us saying we are working on something ourselves, demonstrating that we too are growing theologically.

What we really want is for people to leave Church interested in learning more and with guidance as to how to do so. We want them to go to small groups and pick up the discussion points. We want them to come and ask questions. That said, perhaps also we need to teach them how to dialogue theologically with grace and seasoned with salt as well.

The Sunday sermon of course will only ever be a taster. In most churches we are preaching for a short period to a group that covers the wide range of theological understandings and levels. As such, developing pathways for further learning is critical. I am delighted to hear of churches that are doing summer/winter schools, developing theology programs in their churches. Bring it on. Then there are a range of colleges for the really interested.

I believe we need to take seriously the biblical and theological illiteracy of our age. We have our people for 20–30 mins or so on Sundays. We preachers need to lead them in how to think theologically. This is one dimension of our task.

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