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objections to preaching – mark keown

Word on keyboard made in 3D

I recently heard Dr Ian Paul speak on the subject “Has Preaching Had its Day?”. It’s a really interesting listen, and I recommend you take a bit of time to listen and consider it.

In his presentation, Ian presents seven objections to the preaching as we know it. He then responded to them.

The first is the practical objection, so much preaching is as boring as! He challenged us that this is not necessarily true. He notes in the UK that where people are good, people pay come to massive Christian events to hear monological preaching. He encourages trainee preachers to develop their skill by watching comedians to enhance their ability to engage in the moment. He notes that Radio listening is on the increase as seen in BBC historical and political podcasts.

The second is what he calls the pedagogical objection; monological preaching is a poor way to disciple people. He responds that on its own, preaching is not enough. It must sit within a wider strategy to help people grow in their faith. He notes the importance of small groups and linking teaching material to the word taught. But he warned that he did find it very hard work to prepare the material.

The third is the learning-styles objection; monological preaching suits certain people, but not others. He notes that there is now a move away from learning styles as people learn from being challenged from alternative learning styles. He suggests giving appropriate opportunity for people to respond as we preach. We can also use technology and social media to encourage this.

His fourth point is the philosophical objection; monologue preaching is hierarchical in terms of power and truth. He urged preachers to preach as one without authority. We mustn’t draw on our social power based on position and expertise. He urged us to call others to test out what we say– don’t take my word for it, test it, live it, and put it into practice.

The fifth point is the cultural objection; many people are turned off by the traditional practice of preaching as it is culturally irrelevant. He met this objection by us working hard to ensure that our preaching connects with culture and everyday life. Hence, we must use jokes, the news, and current life issues. It must draw on the everyday world of our people.

The sixth objection is the theological objection. A preacher is not the only one with spiritual insight. We need to listen to all voices. He noted the gifts of 1 Cor 12–14 and the wide range of modes of preaching in the NT. His response is that while there is truth here, God calls people to be preachers and teachers of the word. He sees preaching as a prophetic ministry, God is speaking through it. He suggests that as there are different modes of preaching in the NT, we need to extend our understanding of preaching to a wider range of situations in all of life.

The final point is competence objection; preaching a good sermon is hard work and not many do it well. His response was to challenge us: are we investing personally and institutionally in preaching?

I found it a good presentation and very provocative for helping me consider my own preaching and teaching ministry. Some of the best material came as he asked what is preaching. He suggests the key question concerning preaching is this, “what is God saying to these people in this place in this time through this text?” Preaching is the liturgy of the word, “the meeting place is the training place for the market place.” He notes Darrell Johnson (The Glory of Preaching), “when God speaks, something happens. When the preacher speaks God’s word, God speaks. Therefore, when the preacher speaks God’s words, something happens.” He sees this as close to Barth who sees preaching as an event, “when the gospel is preached, that is the gospel.” It is proclaiming so that people can respond as its spoken. He goes on, “Preaching is our participation in the transformation-communication of the Trinity to the creation.” He notes Phillip Brooks great quote, “Preaching is truth expressed through personality.” Hence, we need to be people who embody the truth and really invest in preaching. He finished suggesting that “preaching deserves our best.” I say amen to this. Have a listen, he preached well.

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