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preaching that disturbs – sean du toit


Have you ever considered the varied responses to Jesus preaching?  Some loved him, others gathered rocks.  Some were moved to tears, others to thoughts of retaliation.  Does our preaching disturb people?  When last did a sermon challenge you to your very core, making you rethink seriously the way you live, act or think?  Does faithful preaching entail offending people at times, for their own good?

Blessed is anyone who doesn’t take offence at me” [Matt 11:2-6 // Lk 7.18-23].  Because this is what Jesus probably did on a regular basis.  This blessing is unusual because Jesus must have felt the need to pronounce this blessing as part of his mission and message to encourage those who were taking him at his word and trusting him to be an authentic prophet of YHWH.

I often reflect on Meier’s passage where he writes:

The historical Jesus did threaten, disturb, and infuriate people- from interpreters of the Law through the Jerusalem priestly aristocracy to the Roman prefect who finally tried and crucified him. This emphasis on Jesus’ violent end is not simply a focus imposed on the date by Christian theology.  To outsiders like Josephus, Tacitus and Lucian of Samosata, one of the most striking things about Jesus was his crucifixion or execution by Rome.  A Jesus whose words and deeds would not alienate people, especially powerful people, is not the historical Jesus [Meier, A Marginal Jew, 1:177.]

And yet does our proclamation reflect this Jesus? Or have we embraced a nice or liberal Jesus that is just concerned about arbitrary ethics and treating people well?  I struggle with these things and how I’m supposed to preach about them. Obviously this leads us into huge hermeneutical questions of how to translate this message from an ancient Jewish Apocalyptic context into our various cultural/philosophical/religious situations.  But I wonder if this even crosses our thoughts – proclaiming a Jesus who offends [not just for the sake of it] but because one has understood and is faithful to the message Jesus announced and the allegiance Jesus calls for.

The gospel of Jesus challenged people, it disturbed them, it incited a response.

Is our Jesus too nice and cute, instead of being the revolutionary he was in the gospels?  I’m uncomfortable with some of the things Jesus taught and did.  Are you?  Think on these things, then pray, and if you can, offer some wisdom because this is what I’m struggling with.

sean du toit – serving your community

Through a series of circumstances, my wife and I have had the privilege of joining a newly established community of faith. Throughout this process, a key question is: “How much does the community itself affect the content, style and type of preaching in that community?” This is the question that has plagued me over the past few months. Trial and error are my teachers here, and so these thoughts are in process and in need of wisdom… (more…)

sean du toit: do you mean it?

Over the years I’ve heard hundreds of sermons – some good, some not so good, and some even on their way to becoming great. But the one thing which distresses me is listening to a ‘gutless’ sermon.  What do I mean? A ‘gutless’ sermon is one that is calculated in every turn, precise in every detail, and perfect in every execution – but it lacks that vital ingredient in good preaching: it lacks a heart set on fire. Two quotes quickly come to mind when I say this:

“Theology is a particularly beautiful discipline.  Indeed, we can confidently say that it is the most beautiful of all disciplines.  To find academic study distasteful is the mark of the philistine.  The theologian who labours without joy is not a theologian at all. Sulky faces, morose thoughts and boring ways of speaking are intolerable in this field.” (Karl Barth)

“The stereotype of doctrine as dry and dusty cuts a flimsy caricature next to the real thing, which is brave and bracing. Doctrine deals with energies and events that are as real and powerful as anything known in chemistry or physics, energies and events that can turn the world we know upside down.” (Kevin Vanhoozer)

Notice how Barth ends off by stating that “boring ways of speaking are intolerable”, and then Vanhoozer notes the power in theology in the way it can effect change. Or, recall what Paul says to the Thessalonians, that when the apostles came preaching it was “not merely with words, but with power and deep conviction“.  There is something about a heart set on fire for God that preaches with passion. It’s not just about precision and perfect locution. Good preaching is about something in your gut resonating with the truth of what you’re expounding that adds a sense of power and urgency to your words.

The best compliment I have ever received from preaching was an old lady who said, “you preach like you mean it, that gives me hope.”  Is good preaching just about handling the text properly, or getting all the key points explained just the way you wanted, in just the right amount of time?  Or is good preaching about sometimes letting go, and feeling the power of your message so that affects your delivery?  Is silencing your gut all the time, the best way to explain God’s word?  Is it even about being cool, calm and collected, because that suits our personalities?

In other words, is it OK to let that ‘closet-pentecostal’ out, and forget about what people may or may not think, because your heart has been set on fire by the truth of a God who actually cares!  Do you mean it?  Or is this just a job?  Another lecture on a Sunday morning?  Or is it something that can actually change the lives of the people we’re speaking to?

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Sean du Toit is the husband of Sue, a student of Laidlaw-Carey Graduate School, a New Testament lecturer at Alpha Crucis, and more significantly, a follower of Jesus the Lord.

sean du toit: is the bible always necessary?

I love expository preaching.  It’s what I feel most comfortable doing. I am not competent enough in other ways of preaching, although at times I do try – always repenting afterwards.  I don’t trust my organizational and creative skills for fear that I may supply the message with my particular selection and at worse prove unfaithful to the intentions of the passage.  So I stick close to the text, always preach through particular books.  (more…)

sean du toit: implication vs. application?

Due to my own contexts which are so varied (I regularly engage with Kiwi’s, Pacific Islander’s, South Africans, Koreans, and others), I struggle to specifically apply a passage of Scripture.  Our lives are all so different, and the applications will be varied depending on the lives we encounter, and the situations we encounter them in.  This does not mean I don’t think carefully about the people with whom I will be engaging when writing my sermon.  However, trying to apply my preaching to the different genres of people that make up our congregations – this, I find, is an almost impossible task. (more…)