Dialogue on Sermons #2

The following are further edited extracts from an email dialogue that I had recently with someone who wishes to remain anonymous. It followed a talk in which I questioned the privileged status given to sermons.

Questioner:
I’ll hold my hands up and say that I’m naturally skeptical of what you’re saying because it sounds innovative…

You say: ‘None of the six references you list describe what takes place in church.’ That wasn’t my aim. My aim was to show that the formal public monologue seems to have been a key and central ministry of the Word throughout the history of God’s people. Other ministries of the Word were also key. But there seems to have been a central place for the formal public monologue.

I don’t think it’s a fair standard of proof to require that we see a clear example of a formal public monologue given to a New Testament church community in our period of salvation history to mean that it should be a necessary and central part of church life. Women taking communion has simply no New Testament case from example alone, and a weaker Old Testament case from example alone than the case for the formal public monologue …

You say: ‘None of the other monologues you describe take place in a church. Indeed they are all addressed to unbelievers.’ Would you consistently apply this by saying that the public formal monologue is therefore more appropriate for unbelievers than for believers? Would you be happy with that conclusion? And if so, to apply your own reasoning about monologue: Why would God be pleased to use more persuasive means of teaching for believers than for unbelievers? …

My reply:
All the way through your email you argue from ‘monologues did happen or may have happened’ to ‘monologues are ‘key’ or ‘central’‘.

Here’s where you give the game away … ‘I don’t think it’s a fair standard of proof to require that we see a clear example of a formal public monologue given to a New Testament church community in our period of salvation history to mean that it should be a necessary and central part of church life.’

i.e. you agree there’s no evidence that formal public monologues took place in church. But this doesn’t mean they never took place or that they can take place today. I agree. But what we can’t then say is that they should be ‘a necessary and central part of church life’. That’s an extraordinary move. To argue from silence is one thing. But to argue move silence to a necessary and binding regulation in one go is another move altogether!

As for monologue/discussion with believers/unbelievers. I would argue that both are relevant and appropriate and seen in Acts. I just don’t see any reason to privilege one over the other.

2 thoughts on “Dialogue on Sermons #2

  1. Tim – I’m really encouraged by your posts on Dialogue on Sermons.

    I wonder if we’d do an end run round some of the problems if we talked more about teaching rather than preaching. ‘Teaching’ focuses on the content, and on what has been learned, without laying down any particular way of getting the message over. ‘Preaching’ seems to carry a lot of baggage about a particular kind of rhetorical act. The main word-groups in the NT that are usually translated ‘preach’ don’t carry the baggage that we associate with this word, and the NT seems to speak about teaching much more than it does about preaching. More about this.

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