Our Goal is Transformation not Recollection

It seems obvious that we preach with a goal of transforming lives with God’s Word. Yet I see so much focus given to the very different issue of ensuring recollection. This is why people take notes or preachers produce fill-in-the-blank handouts (so listeners will have a record of the points); this is why some preachers would rather die than not alliterate or perfectly parallel or absolutely assonate the main points of a message; this is why outlines are publicly projected by powerpoint. All to achieve the goal of recollection. The logic is clear – if people don’t remember the points, then they will not be able to carefully apply what they have heard in the realities of life.

Three comments:

1. Is it right to assume that people with a record of the points (either written or memorized) will seek to apply the lessons learned in normal life? We hope so, but as preachers we must admit this is quite removed from the preaching event. We might be able to influence the thinking of our listeners, but what about their will? It is wrong to assume that information alone will later move the will.

2. A life is transformed at a deeper level than the mind or the will. Both the mind and the will are subject to the motive centre of the human being – the heart. It is the values of the heart that allow a mind to weigh information, and the values of the heart determine the decisions of the will. If people are not applying what we preach, the problem is probably not their memory. The problem is the heart. So instead of preaching so the mind can remember, we must preach so the heart is changed.

3. Much preaching targets primarily the mind (intellectual or informational preaching), or the will (exhortational or guilt-inducing preaching). Truly biblical preaching must target the heart. How terrible would it be to produce a fruit of right-thinking and right-living people whose hearts remain cold toward Christ?

D.M. Lloyd-Jones stated the following in reference to Jonathan Edwards:

“The first and primary object of preaching is not just to give information, it is, as Edwards says, to produce an impression. It is the impression at the time that matters, even more than what you can remember subsequently. In this respect, Edwards is, in a sense, critical of what was a prominent puritan custom and practice. The puritan father would catechize and question the children as to what the preacher had said. Edwards, in my opinion, has the true notion of preaching. It is not primarily to impart information, and while you are writing your notes you may be missing something of the impact of the Spirit.”

(Quoted by Tim Keller in lectures given at GCTS, 2006.)

3 thoughts on “Our Goal is Transformation not Recollection

  1. Good stuff. I believe I also heard Keller say at the Gospel Coalition that if his people are taking notes at the beginning of his sermon, that was ok–but if they were still taking notes at the end he felt like he had failed? That really stuck with me. Thanks for the great posts on this blog.

  2. This is a fundamental of preaching that every preacher should take to heart…you are not trying to primarily give information but to be a vehicle for the transforming power of God.

    One interesting byproduct of such thinking is a realization of how much we need the Spirit of God to complete the task that we attempt as preachers…

    God bless and thanks for the post…

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