Phillip Jensen: preaching is more than sermons

I was interested to read no lesser person than Phillip Jensen confirming that preaching is more than sermons …

What, then, is the essence of preaching? It is not related to the number of people we speak to, nor is it related to our ability to communicate. The essence of preaching is passing on the message as we have received it – that it what it means to speak the very oracles of God …

Sermons and preaching are not synonymous … Biblical preaching is about communicating God’s thoughts and not our own. And so we preach biblically whenever and wherever we declare the word of God to each other. In fact, sometimes there may even be more preaching happening over morning tea than from the pulpit, if dozens of conversations revolve around sharing God’s word of encouragement and rebuke with one another. Sermons, in other words, are a subset of a larger activity – the activity of proclaiming God’s word to one another, and from one generation to the next. Preaching is an activity that all are called on to perform.

It’s a quote from Jensen’s new book, written with Paul Grimmond, entitled The Archer and the Arrow: Preaching the Very Words of God which is published tomorrow (1 September). Ironically the rest of the book is on preparing and delivering sermons.

Available here from amazon.com and amazon.co.uk.

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Preaching Re-imagined

A review of Doug Pagitt, Preaching Re-Imagined: The Role of the Sermon in Communities of Faith, Zondervan, 2005. purchase from Amazon UK purchase from Amazon US

Yesterday I reviewed The Art and Craft of Biblical Preaching, edited by Haddon Robinson and Craig Brian Larson. In reality The Art and Craft of Biblical Preaching is a book on sermons which just one chapter on dialogue (chapter 34).  So today we look at a book which questions the central role of sermons in the life of the church – Preaching Re-Imagined by Doug Pagitt, pastor of Solomon’s Porch in Minneapolis and part of the leadership of Emergent.

‘There was a time when I felt my ability to deliver sermons was a high calling that I sought to refine but didn’t need to redefine. Those days are gone. Now I find myself regularly redefining my role and the role of preaching. I find myself wanting to live life with the people of my community where I can preach  – along with the other preachers of our community – but not allow that to become an act of speech making’ (10).

That’s the essential message of Preaching Re-Imagined. Pagitt is keen to emphasise that ‘I believe preaching to be a crucial act of the church’ (18). He doesn’t wish to question the necessity of preaching, but to release it ‘from the bondage of the speech making act’ (18). Instead he wants to reframe preaching as a ‘progressional dialogue’ (11) Continue reading

Thursday Review: almost everyone on The Art and Craft of Biblical Preaching

Today and tomorrow I’m reviewing two books on preaching. Tomorrow I’ll look at Preaching Re-Imagined by Doug Pagitt purchase from Amazon UK purchase from Amazon US. Today it’s …

A review of Haddon Robinson and Craig Brian Larson (eds.), The Art and Craft of Biblical Preaching: A Comprehensive Resource for Today’s Communicators, Zondervan, 2005. purchase from Amazon UK purchase from Amazon US

I was going to call this book a ‘treasure trove’ on preaching and then I noticed that’s exactly how it’s described in the opening line of blurb. Ah well. It is a treasure trove.

The Art and Craft of Biblical Preaching is a collection of over 200 articles from Leadership journal and PreachingToday.com supplemented by articles written specially for the book. I was a bit sceptical that this might mean some ephemeral content, but not so. Instead it means that, despite the book’s 700 plus pages, all the content is tightly written and to the point. It also means we’re treated to a veritable who’s who of evangelical preaching including Jay Adams, Alistair Begg, Rob Bell, Stuart Briscoe, Don Carson, Tim Keller, Gordon MacDonald, John Ortberg, Ben Patterson, John Piper, Haddon Robinson, Rick Warren, Warren Wiersbe and Dallas Willard. The authors are mostly north American, but there are contributions from John Stott, Dick Lucas and David Jackman. There’s also a CD with sermon extracts linked to specific articles in the book so you can hear examples of principles taught in the text.

I started listing chapters I particularly wanted to highlight, but after listing the first four chapters in a row I gave up

So instead here are some things I love about this Continue reading

Dialogue on Sermons #7

The following are my final 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 also think that the words used to describe preaching and teaching seem to carry some sense of formality, which fits better with a sermon model, than a relaxed discursive model. I haven’t felt that you’ve really engaged that – but again because you don’t ‘feel’ there’s any weight behind the argument …

My reply:
I have never disputed the presence of monologue in the Bible. What I question is the privileged status that it accorded. I see no evidence for this …

Again, there is no reason to suppose preaching and proclamation have formal connotations. That is an anachronistic reading in to the text. They have formal connotations for us so we suppose they did then. As I said, Acts 8 says the people preaching the gospel as they were scattered and these were not the leaders. I think Stott says they ‘gossiped’ the gospel. But the word Greek word used is ‘preached’. The problem is we assume preaching = sermons. In the only church gathering in Acts (that I can think of off the top of my head!!) the word used in the Greek is ‘dialogue’ (Acts 20:7).

Dialogue on Sermons #6

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.
Here I’ve assembled together extracts from one particular line of argument than ran through our dialogue. It concerns the precedent set by Moses in Deuteronomy.

Questioner:
What did Moses actually do, on the edge of the land, to best prepare the Israelites for active immediate obedience to God’s Word? Surely if there was a better method of doing it than giving three monologues, he would have employed that method? Why did he preach then, when he so desperately wanted the Word to sink into their hearts and produce heart-obedience? …

Why is it significant that Moses preached on the edge of the land? …

1) He was the paradigmatic prophet (I think that’s one of Peter Adam’s points).

2) It’s a crucial moment in Israel’s history when Moses really wanted God’s Word to make an impact – so why didn’t they have three days of Bible study instead if that would have been a better method of helping people to internalise the Word.

3) He’s not just a paradigmatic prophet. From what evidence we can construct about what is consequently the norm in Israel, it seemed to be what the priests did (certainly in Nehemiah 8) and was the norm in synagogues (e.g. Luke 4, Acts 13).

My reply:
You say Moses could have instituted a nation-wide programme of Bible study. But that’s what he did do in Deuteronomy 6:4-9! He instituted a nation-wide programme of life-on-life, ad hoc Bible conversation …
What Moses does in Deuteronomy is monologue, but it is not anything like modern day sermons. It is primarily a mixture of story-telling and law recitation.

But those issues aside, you cannot pick out the example of Moses, say that was the way to ‘best preparation’ then and is the ‘best way’ to prepare God’s people today. I could pick hundreds of other biblical examples (including Jesus himself) where people taught through dialogue, stories, Q&A, songs, aphorism and say those people thought that was the ‘best way’ to teach and it is the best way now. You cannot reason from one example to universal prescriptions …

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Dialogue on Sermons #5

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:
… My position is this: monologue is the normative form of primary teaching throughout the history of the church (across the dispensations), the monologue is co-existent with, supported by, and equips a rich tapestry of other forms of Word ministry.

So: I expect to find examples of other forms of Word ministry, and commands/exhortations to perform other forms of Word ministry – particularly from sermons.

My reply:
… I wonder if we can identify the nub of the issue. You say: ‘My position is this: monologue is the normative form of primary teaching throughout the history of the church.’ I agree the sermon has had a privileged position throughout much of church history. But this is only true post-Constantine. Up until
Constantine, the church was a gathered community of Christians meeting in homes to discuss and apply God’s word. It was only after Christianity became the official religion of the empire that monologue developed as a way of communicating to larger audiences, including many nominal Christians, seated in rows in purpose built buildings modelled on Roman auditoria and temples. Monologue will inevitably have a central place in a Christendom model of Christianity. But it will not have a privileged position in a non-Christendom (apostolic!?) model of Christianity. I wonder if the reason people react against any questioning of the sermon is that it has symbolic status. Questioning the sermon actually means questioning a Christendom model of Christianity and that is a seismic shift that many people are not yet ready to take. But it is being thrust upon us in the West whether we like or not as we become a post-Christian society.

Dialogue on Sermons #4

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:
You say: ‘Given that no teaching method of prescribed in the NT (though some are described), we are free to use whatever method we deem appropriate to the context.’ Do you, however, agree that there are details of practice that are binding upon us as New Testament churches, even though they’re never prescribed – or even described – in the NT in a church context? For example, women taking communion is never prescribed or described… yet we’d all say that it must happen.

My point here is that you are the one arguing from silence about the sermon. You’re saying the Bible never commands us to, therefore we don’t need to. However the case I’d build for it stands on different grounds than what is explicitly described or prescribed in a NT church context (which are quite narrow grounds for establishing whether we should, shouldn’t or have flexibility to do something).

Just like my case for women taking communion stands on different grounds too… applying the same standard of proof to that as you’re applying to the sermon would mean we should say that we are free to allow, or not allow, women to take communion based on the context.

My reply:
… I’m not sure the women taking communion is relevant. Women are told to take communion – not in so many words, but 1 Cor 10:16-17 says communion is a symbol of our unity. The word ‘all’ makes it explicit that ‘all’ are included.

‘All are told to participate in communion therefore women should participate in communion’ is a very different piece of reasoning from ‘sermons are not mentioned in NT church gatherings therefore sermons should be a key and central part of church gatherings today’.

Dialogue on Sermons #3

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:
We seem to be talking past each other quite a bit here. I feel like I’m slipping between your subtleties and caveats, and having to write a lot of text to avoid that. But from your response I don’t see us engaging properly with each other …

My reply:
I had no idea I was employing subtleties and caveats. I thought I was being rather un-subtle! Let me do an un-subtle version.

1. There is no evidence that monologue was a key or central feature of church life in the NT. Indeed there is no evidence it played any role at all in church life. There is some evidence it was used in public contexts like synagogues, courtrooms, debating fora – though these monologues would not have been like our modern sermons. What is clear is that Jesus and Paul taught believers using stories, discussion, Q&A.

2. Given that no teaching method of prescribed in the NT (though some are described), we are free to use whatever method we deem appropriate to the context. In our context we believe that is primarily discussion and story-telling with some monologue/presentational elements. We believe this method best enables the word to be learnt and practiced.

3. Some people argue that the form of sermons matches the authoritative nature of the message. This is a spurious argument. It equates authority with no being interrupted whereas a better understanding of authority would be that which is to be obeyed. Using a variety of teaching styles – including some like discussion which include direct feedback – enables us to work the word into the details of people lives. This is true authority in action.

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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.

Dialogue on Sermons #1

The following are 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. I hope my editing does justice to both sides of the argument. I’ve edited out a lot of the introductory niceties to make it more interesting for the reader, but the whole discussion was conducted in a cordial and gracious manner.

Questioner:
I was wondering if I could come back to you on one issue you mentioned: the sermon. I couldn’t tell how much you were deliberately being provocative – to promote thinking – and how much you were actually personally persuaded by what you said.

If I’ve understood you correctly, you said:
a) The sermon does not necessarily equate with Word ministry. So arguments for Word ministry aren’t arguments for the sermon per se.
b) That there is no real theological case for the sermon (as we traditionally have understood it) being a necessary part of the life of the church. Word ministry is a part, but not necessarily in the form of the sermon. Evidenced by the fact that the sermon has not always been a regular part of the life of the church historically.
c) That the sermon is not necessarily the best way to communicate truth in a way that will be thoroughly learnt/digested/applied. Certainly culturally among the people you work with. Probably true of our wider culture – at least that’s what various research tells us.
d) That you’re not ruling out the sermon. It’s just one of many possible methods of doing Word ministry. You’re just not convinced it’s always the best one. It’s not sacrosanct.

… I would personally rate the sermon much lower on my list of teaching methods. If I was persuaded by a), b) and c), then I would probably fashion the way I do Word ministry very differently …

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