Troublingly Distant

I enjoyed a conversation with a church planter recently.  He made a comment that I’m hearing more and more.  There is a trend, not new, but seemingly on an upswing, toward distant preaching.  That is, preaching that is safely removed from any hint of emotional appeal or accusations of manipulation.  It is a manner that reveres the intellectual, but makes little or no attempt to touch the heart.  It is cold, distant, removed, disaffected.

Somehow proponents seem to think that this kind of preaching leaves room for the Holy Spirit to work out the impact in listeners’ lives.  It protects the speaker from accusation of manipulation.  It keeps the main thing the main thing and allows the truth to stand unsullied by any emotional appeal.

On the other hand, perhaps it abdicates the preacher’s responsibility to fully engage either the text or the listener.  Perhaps it provides for a prideful presentation of knowledge.  Perhaps it protects the preacher from any responsibility when listeners do not respond, since that, of course, is the Spirit’s concern, not theirs.

I find it concerning that this kind of preaching is coming up more and more in conversation.  It is a sort of expository preaching corrupted.  Expository preaching is not simply about presenting the truth.  It is about presenting the truth of the Scripture in an effective communication manner that emphasizes the relevance to the contemporary situation of listener and seeks response.  Every element of the preaching preparation and presentation should lean fully into God’s work by His Spirit, but that offers no excuse for abdication on the part of the preacher.

Am I faithfully representing the text when I neuter it and remove all affective appeal?  Am I really showing pastoral care for the flock when I turn the multi-dimensional appeal of Scripture into an intellectual exercise?  Am I really honouring God when I act as if I, as His representative, am doing my job by simply informing?  Am I really avoiding manipulation when I give the impression that Christianity is primarily about the commodity of knowledge and I am the dispenser of it?

There’s more to say, but I don’t want to lose the focus on that last sentence . . .

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3 thoughts on “Troublingly Distant

  1. Couldn’t agree more. I’m still a beginner when it comes to preaching but part of my preparation in prayer is that God would speak to me first through the passage I am to preach on.

    It is difficult to express in a few words how this is a challenging experience as God speaks and moulds me through this process.

    It is only natural then that this personal engagement with the text and with God overflows into my preaching. I preach from a text which has personally, and often profoundly, touched my own life.

  2. Each sermon must reflect every element of loving the Lord with all your heart, soul and mind. This three-way balance ensures avoiding over-emphasis on the sort of distant or heady approach that concerns you.

    Similarly, preaching that is all about heart does run the risk of emotional manipulation. Balancing that kind of approach with thoughtful material avoids the other extreme.

    Part of the rise of knowledge packed sermons is the data saturated nature of our society. Part might be a reaction against the charge that Christians (particularly pastors) check their brains at the door. Part of it is a way to avoid the messiness of the emotional impact of Scripture.

    We should remember to touch our audience at every level with sincerity, energy, spiritual truth, and scholarship. Anything less is imbalanced and short of the mark.

  3. It’s hard to convey the Joy Paul had while in prison while speaking in mono tone and with no zeal. It would be hard for me to hear a Preacher not get excited while speaking about the death burial and resurrection. There are some scriptures that seem to benefit when you read them in different tones. For example the 3 Hebrew boys when they stood up and said they will not bow down. I can almost feel them saying it just clear and confidently not just ho hum.

    I just feel that a preacher should try to find the voice in which the writter wrote, Moses seems down right up set in some areas and that should come accross when preached just my 2 cents.

    This was very helpful though, thanks for sharing.

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