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reuben munn – counterpoint preaching

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.


  1. Scott Mackay says:

    This is a fascinating question! Undoubtedly all preachers have an ‘implied enemy’ or counterpoint.

    If we’re committed to biblical preaching, then perhaps an addition question could be helpful: Who are the ‘enemies’ in my text? Is my counterpoint the counterpoint of the text?

    Obviously, our counterpoint shouldn’t be the main focus of preaching. But there are plenty of examples of NT authors exposing ‘enemies’ of the gospel. My mind went to Philippians 3:18:

    ‘For I have often told you, and now say again with tears,
    that many live as enemies of the cross of Christ.’

    These enemies are probably the ‘dogs’ of 3:1 who put their confidence in the flesh rather than looking to the death and resurrection of Christ, and living in light of his return. Paul says they are basically pagan, focussed on earthly things. But note – he says this with tears! That is a helpful corrective to belligerent preaching.

    I’m preparing 1 John at the moment. Identifying the ‘enemy’ or counterpoint is a real key to preaching the letter. John writes not only to reassure believers, but to expose ‘those who are trying to lead you astray’ (2:26). These ‘enemies’ had moved away from the historic apostolic testimony to Christ and from love towards their former brothers and sisters.

    It does seem that fundamentalist Christianity is the ‘implied enemy’ of much evangelical preaching in NZ. Now I know how damaging unthinking, rigid distortions of Christianity can be. But its interesting that the NT often has very different enemies in its sights.

  2. Cam Gracey says:

    Hearty food for thought – my thoughts are that although certainly helpful as far as critiquing ones own predispositions – the risk is if taken too far “preaching counterpoint” would tend to promote a “play the man not the ball” paradigm for ones theology. That is to say our theology becomes more about reaction than it is proclamation. Or more apologetic than it is evangelistic…..(argh maybe this is my counterpoint!)

  3. Reuben Munn says:

    I know what you mean Cam – it’s easy for our preaching to become defined more by what we are against than what we are for. Maybe a counterpoint is best when it is just a subtle under-current in our preaching? Like when Paul is preaching in Athens, I think he’s using some of the prevailing Greek philosophies of his day such as Stocisim and Epicureanism as a counterpoint, but he’s still focussed on proclaiming the God who has revealed himself in Jesus.

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