A while ago I was asked a very perceptive question:
Since our culture is shaped by the communication of implicit and pervasive ideas, and much of the Scriptures use a narrative communication with ideas implicitly conveyed, are we communicating effectively when we state explicit ideas in preaching?
I think a question of that depth requires a better answer than I am about to give, but perhaps this post and the next can challenge both our theory and practice. A couple of thoughts in lieu of a full-orbed answer:
Preaching is different since listeners cannot soak in it. I would suggest that the pervasive influence of our culture is a soaking influence. People are constantly and gradually bombarded with messages about life, reality, meaning, self, beauty, satisfaction, money, sex and so on. This “implicit” pounding continues moment by moment, day after day. Then we stand on a Sunday morning and hope to counter with truth from God’s Word. From one perspective, it is hardly a fair fight!
Culture, Bible and Preaching all influence both implicitly and explicitly. While the question recognizes the implicit nature of communication in both culture and the Scriptures, it fails to recognize that all three use both implicit and explicit communication. Culture is implicit in the communication of the general main ideas of the world, but when “soaking” is not possible, it can become very overt. An ad campaign that will be seen many times can be subtle, but witness also the numerous explicit “big ideas” communicated daily in advertizing, film, music, etc. According to Robinson, the Bible communicates eight or ten big “big ideas” repeatedly throughout the canon. Spend a life soaking in the Word of God and those ideas will mark you deeply. Yet each passage also conveys its idea more directly – with language, propositional statements, images painted with words, even narratives that leave a mark on the reader (whether or not the reader bothers to try and put exact words to the idea that has been presented therein). Preaching also communicates both implicitly and explicitly. Over the years, listeners who soak in your preaching will be marked by implicit messages and attitudes conveyed in your preaching – attitudes toward God, toward truth, toward the Bible, toward people, etc. Yet we also make explicit that which the listener should not miss – the idea of this passage, presented to us today.
Tomorrow I will add a couple more thoughts in response to this question.