What is Your Center?

Haddon Robinson says this of preaching:  “If preaching is not your center, then you will not preach. You will give all of your time, all of your energy, and all of your heart to other areas of ministry. However, if you are called by God to preach, if you burn to preach, if preaching is your center, then you will do whatever is necessary to make preaching central to your week of ministry.”

As you prepare to preach today, pray for God to work in power.  As you finish your pulpit ministry today and start to prepare for another week, prayerfully consider these words.  Perhaps you will find a renewed passion to make preaching central this week.  If preaching is your center, then you will find yourself doing just that.

Getting to Grips with the Genres: Poetry (2)

Yesterday’s post was concerned with how poetry works.  Now let’s consider the implications for our preaching.

Implications for Preaching Poetry

-If preaching narrative connects listeners to plot and discourse connects listeners to ideas, then poetry connects listeners to feelings attached to ideas.

-This means that preaching poetry is slow. It’s less like going on a run than it is like sitting before a painting in an art gallery. The preacher is to draw out colors, themes, nuance, and ideas, line by line, in a way that gives time and space for listeners to connect not just cognitively but affectively to the poem.

-Consider using music, paintings, pictures, movie clips, etc., to draw-out an idea.

-Consider allowing for testimony that affirms the points in poetry. Consider attaching biblical narrative to the points too.

-Poetry speaks to truths and feelings that we have felt, will feel, and need to feel. They are not fiction but fact. We need to be shaped by them. Allow your preaching of poetry the time, space, tone, posture, and space to accomplish this. It’s worth it!

Getting to Grips with the Genres: Poetry (1)

Poetry is different from narrative and it is very different from discourse. How though is our preaching of poetry different from our preaching of narrative and discourse? To answer this question, today we will consider how poetry works and functions. Then tomorrow we’ll consider some implications for preaching poetry.

How Poetry Works – Besides employing literary devices such as imagery, metaphor, allegory, simile, wordplay, irony, hyperbole, etc., the prevalent literary device in Hebrew poetry is parallelism. There are many ways to describe parallelism. One common way is to discern between four kinds of parallelism – antithetical parallelism, synonymous parallelism, synthetic parallelism, and emblematic parallelism. In antithetical parallelism, the first line of a sentence is in contrast to the second line (Ps 34:19). In synonymous parallelism, the first line of a sentence is similar to the second line (Ps 49:3). In synthetic parallelism, the second line of a sentence builds upon the idea of the first line (Ps. 49:5). In emblematic parallelism, the two parts of a sentence connect through simile or metaphor (Ps 49:20).

How Poetry Functions – Parallelism insists that the reader slow down, mull over, and consider how each sentence functions. More than that, because each sentence is laced with metaphor, allegory, simile, wordplay, irony, hyperbole, etc., poetry insists that its content be felt. Rhetorically, poetry connects affect to ideas.

Struggling With Your Spouse?

Sunday morning is often an easy time to get into conflict with your spouse.  Somewhere between waking up and pulling up to the church parking lot, sparks can fly.

Haddon Robinson was asked by a seminary student, “How do you preach following a blow-out with your spouse?” Haddon answered, “Everyone wants to know you struggle, they just don’t want to smell the gun smoke. You have to make things right before you preach.”

Describe Preaching In Two Words

When Haddon Robinson was asked to describe preaching in two words he said, “Glorious burden.” Isn’t this the truth? Preaching is glorious. We stand before the people of God with words from God that shape and mold Christ in us. Wow, I’m so thankful to be able to preach. But as glorious as preaching is, it’s also a burden. We stand before the people of God with words from God that shape and mold Christ in us. Wow, I’m not sure I’m cut out to do this.

Preaching in two words?  What do you think?

Getting to Grips with the Genres: Narrative (2)

So if narratives function through plot, how does that look in 2 Samuel 11 and following? What is the rhetorical impact of the story of David and Bathsheba?

Narrative affects the reader/hearer through association or disassociation with/from the main characters. The story contains five parts. Background/Introduction: David should be at war like the other kings, but instead is in the palace lounging around on a sofa. He sees Bathsheba, lusts, fornicates, and sends her away. Inciting incident: David finds out that Bathsheba is pregnant. Rising action: David attempts to save face by bringing the noble Uriah home from war (Interesting to note that Uriah is one of David’s 30 mighty men – 2 Samuel 23:39). Uriah refuses to sleep with his wife after two attempts by David. Uriah is sent back to war with a letter sealing his own death. Uriah is killed. David receives news and comforts his commander. David marries Bathsheba and the baby is born – months go by. Climax: David is confronted by Nathan the prophet. Resolution: David repents and finds forgiveness for his sin… but forgiveness does not annul loss and pain. His son through Bathsheba dies. A son (Solomon) is promised to Bathsheba.

As this story moves along, listeners/hearers inherently associate with/from pre-Nathan David, Bathsheba, Uriah, Nathan, and post-Nathan David. The rhetorical impact is different for each person. For some there is comfort, for others there is conviction, etc. Like David, the story urges some to confess sin. Like Uriah, it encourages some to remain faithful to the Lord despite the wickedness and sin of others. Like Nathan, it urges some to confront sin in others. Like Bathsheba, it comforts the weak.

Getting to Grips with the Genres: Narrative (1)

Following-up on my 11/20 post, I will describe how biblical narrative functions and make some simple suggestions today. Tomorrow I will demonstrate its intended rhetorical impact using the story of David and Bathsheba.

Narrative is distinct in the way that it works as a type of literature. It employs plot to make its points. There are five parts to plot. “Introduction” is the first part. Introduction, introduces time and setting as well as the main characters. The stage is set in the introduction for the second part of plot to begin. “Inciting incident” is the second part of plot. In the inciting incident, some kind of problem or tension is set into motion that requires resolution. This problem or tension draws in the hearer and drives the plot forward. “Rising action” is the third part of plot. Rising action is usually the longest section of a plot. In this section, characters develop and tension builds. Rising action always leads to “climax.” Climax is the culminating point in the story. Here tension reaches its apex. “Resolution” is the final part of plot. In resolution, the result is harmony and happiness if it is comedy. The result is disharmony and sadness if it is tragedy.

Preaching suggestions for narrative:

– Tell the entire story. This ensures that you tell the story’s point, not your own.

– Faithfully develop the main characters. By this, I do not mean avoid any kind of imagination. Rather, I mean spend time imaging the main characters in ways that faithfully develop and highlight their parts in the plot.

– Allow the story itself to speak conviction, encouragement, exhortation, and comfort.

– Be careful not to kill the story by explaining it away. This is so easy to do in narrative! We treat it like an epistle and feel the need to explain every little thing. Let plot do the talking.

Getting to Grips with the Genres

Imagine a history teacher that teaches history like it is fiction. Imagine a poetry teacher that teaches poetry like it is math. To do this would be absurd. History is not fiction and poetry is not math. Each subject functions differently. History functions through names, dates, and other facts whereas fiction functions through plot. Poetry functions through imagery, meter, and rhyme whereas math functions through logic, rules, and order. Principle: to appropriately teach these subjects the teacher must let each subject speak.

This principle applies to homiletics. Different genres fill the pages of Scripture. In the Lord’s sovereignty, he chose to use narrative, prophecy, gospel, epistle, apocalyptic, etc. to communicate specific truths. If we use the same sermon form without considering the genre then we mash unique kinds of literature into foreign forms. As preachers, we must allow Biblical genres to speak and even form our sermons.

In following posts over the next few weeks, I will attempt to accomplish two things. First, I will highlight how different Biblical genres function. Second, I will highlight the distinct rhetorical impact different Biblical genres intend.

Pulpit Prayer

In Awed to Heaven, Rooted in Earth, Walter Brueggemann writes, “Alongside that substantive act of submission and petition, prayer at the opening of class is a heavily symbol-laden act, for it situates knowledge in the context of faith. It articulates a proper ratio of reason to faith and quite practically asserts that learning takes place with a cloud of witnesses who have believed and trusted before the present company and who believe and trust presently alongside the immediate body of teachers and learners. Thus prayer at the beginning of class in a seminary is not a mere convention – though it is that. It is an act of rightly framing the instruction of the day among a body of believers or would-be believers who are unafraid of the task of learning (xv).”

Though Brueggemann’s context is one between professor and student, I cannot help but think a similar dynamic exists between preacher and congregant. Preaching exists within the context of faith. It is both an expression of and call to faith. Therefore, in both the teaching of theology and the preaching of God’s word, prayer must rightly orient the moment. With this said, I wonder to what extent we prepare for prayer as preachers vs. ad-hoc? I must admit that prayer in my sermons need more advanced thought so that I might rightly introduce and conclude my sermons – in a cloud of witnesses, in the presence of the Lord. Perhaps then, a body of believers or would-be believers would be better prepared to courageously engage the Word of Life face to face.

Internal Chaos? Be Encouraged.

In R.E.C. Browne’s classic work on homiletics The Ministry of the Word, he writes, “Creative work always brings creative workers to the edge of an abyss. It is there that the most creative work is done and it is there that conditions exist which may be the undoing of the worker: passionate faith gives rise to profound doubt; love of truth dreads error, bringing one to the verge of falsehood; depth of love increases ability to hate in the name of love; zeal drives the zealous towards fanaticism; desire to influence others brings one into the danger of being enslaved by those whom he would free. Great preaching, like great art, cannot be the work of those who know no chaos within them and it cannot be the work of those who are unable to master the chaos within them (p. 17).”

For those who preach regularly, this place of chaos is known all too well – and it can be paralyzing. I pray the Lord strengthens you to continue His work proclaiming this Word that brings life. May the apostle Peter’s words be of encouragement to you today: “Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God. If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen (1 Peter 4:10-11).”

Mike and Peter have responded to a comment on this post.