I think we should beware of token gestures of triumphalism in our preaching. I suppose we could go to the example of Michael in Jude in the Assumption of Moses moment, but I’m thinking slightly lower on the scale than the direct rebuking of Satan (although I have seen it done and don’t see the value of it).
Take, for instance, the direct rebuking of atheists. This can sound especially bizarre when the pointed comments about particular individuals are made in a manner that surely would be different were the individual in the room. I think the people in our churches need to be protected from the false teaching of atheists old and new. Especially when the media seem to fawn at the sight of a new book from Richard Dawkins, et al. But helping people see the problem with the teaching of a man is different than rebuking and attacking the man himself. The same holds for the teaching of extreme liberals like the Jesus seminar or Bart Ehrmann or historically flamboyant writers like Dan Brown. Help people see the error if appropriate, but don’t go celebrating the future demise of a man with fireworks or attacking him as if he is the devil.
Then there is another bizarre twist, when the preacher decides to attack Christians who are engaging with such folks. Whether it be a John Lennox for debating the new atheists, or a Darrell Bock for writing about the Da Vinci Code, or whoever. Somehow a small-minded preacher critiquing brothers who are serving the church by engaging and critiquing such works as The God Delusion or whatever, somehow it just seems a bit pathetic. I have no aspiration to enter the mainstream debate scene or write to uncover the errors in new atheistic argumentation. But I am thankful for those that do. Different parts of the body of Christ at work for the good of us all. If I, as a preacher, decide to ridicule or reject the efforts of men like Lennox and Bock, I don’t show a superior or even a biblical form of Christianity. What I show is small-minded, uninformed and paper-thin Christianity.
We could think about other religions too. Again, it is important for our people to be informed about the uniqueness of Christ and the dangers in the cults or religions vying for their attention. Let’s do so accurately and graciously, rather than sounding off in the safety of our own company.
There’s one more category, but I won’t develop the thought. Some preachers seem very quick to mock, critique, ridicule and put down other churches and denominations. Again, there may be a place for gracious contrasting or critiquing, but cheap shots and token triumphalism somehow tends to undermine a person’s preaching, making them look small and sometimes quite silly.