When information is crammed in, it is not just information that will be lost. For example, I used to have a laptop that allowed me to watch DVD’s in normal speed and 1.2x, 1.4x and 2x, and all without losing sound. This was great. It meant I could watch a 40 minute episode of some crime drama or other in less than 30 minutes. I saw everything. I heard everything. But something was different.
The faster transfer of information somehow meant that while I could follow the story and get the details, I didn’t feel it. That tense moment when the detective entered the abandoned warehouse, gun drawn, eyes wide . . . it wasn’t tense. That shocking moment when the body was found, well it wasn’t really shocking. All of the emotion seemed to be drained by amping up the content transfer density.
So back to preaching. What is our goal? Is it to transfer information as efficiently as possible? I was reading about Jonathan Edwards and his preaching style. He wasn’t flamboyant and flashy like his contemporary, George Whitefield. Edwards had a quiet intensity. His goal wasn’t just that people learn, or even that they act on what they heard. He wanted them to feel the truth of the doctrine being presented.
But does the Bible intend to be felt? Or is it just information transfer? It seems to me that every genre incarnates truth in the non-vacuum of reality. Narratives, poems, prophecies, letters, etc., are all theological truth wrapped up in human experience and story and description. It seems as if the Bible wasn’t given as an inspired collection of abstract truths, but as theology in concrete.
So how do we preach sermons to be felt? This is a question worth pondering. Here are some suggestions:
1. Recognize that cramming in information squeezes out feeling. I am not reducing the value of information. Hopefully our exegetical work generates great information. But putting too much information in the sermon will not only make it harder for people to take any of it in. It will also mean they don’t feel the truth of it. We are not in a race to speak all truth as exhaustively and as rapidly as possible. We need to grow in our ability to be selective. Every time we preach we will not be exhaustive. There will always be more good information that could be said. But there has to be a balancing of content density with other factors for maximum effectiveness.