In different church settings there are different theological issues. The kind of issues that may polarize a group of believers, or at least some within the group. It may be the Calvinism/Arminian debate. It may be some aspect of eternal security. Or perhaps differing positions on the millennium. Maybe there are both dispensational and covenantal proponents present. Or conservatives and charismatics. There are many such issues that see Christians diverge from each other. What do you do when you are preaching a passage that could spark division among those listening?
Know your listeners. As best you can, know the people to whom you are preaching. If you are a visiting speaker and consequently don’t know them so well, let that be a red flag before you wade into some theological controversy.
Evaluate the choice of passage. It is not automatically wrong to preach a potentially controversial passage, but it is worth thinking it through. If you are preaching a stand-alone message, perhaps it would be better to preach another passage. But if it is part of a series, do not avoid the tough passages. People need to ear the whole counsel, including the parts that may make them uncomfortable . . . but it is fair to say that it is worth evaluating whether you, the passage and this particular occasion are a good combination for this to occur. If it seems appropriate to preach the passage, then:
Preach the passage. If we preach the passage before us, we remain on relatively safe ground. It is once we start adding theological labels and make a presentation of a position that we veer off into a mine field. If you preach the passage and say what it says, then people can see it for themselves and are less likely to become contentious.
Preach wisely. Even sticking in the passage does not guarantee unity. Be wise in your choice of words. There may be a whole string of possible words to state a point in your particular passage, but some will definitely ignite a reaction, others might be just too much, others are safe. Again, sticking with the terms of the text is usually better than importing terms from theological tomes (for various reasons). We are not afraid of theology, but sometimes it is wiser to do theology without people realizing it.
Tomorrow I will complete this post with three more suggestions. Feel free to comment now or after the next post.