Preaching to a Postmodern Culture

In his book, He is Not Silent, Al Mohler offers a no-holds barred chapter on postmodernity and preaching.  After listing a series of negative observations of the postmodern “mood” (and probably failing to recognize the positive opportunities now presented to us as preachers), he presents a series of principles for proper proclamation in a postmodern culture.  He earths his thoughts in Acts 17:

1. Christian proclamation in a postmodern culture begins in a provoked spirit (v16)
2. Christian proclamation in a postmodern culture is focused on Gospel proclamation (v17)
3. Christian proclamation in a postmodern culture assumes a context of spiritual confusion (vv18-21)
4. Christian proclamation in a postmodern cultureis directed to a spiritual hunger. (vv22-23)
5. Christian proclamation in a postmodern culture begins with the fundamental issue of God’s nature, character, power, and authority. (vv24-28)
6. Christian proclamation in a postmodern culture confronts error. (v29)
7. Christian proclamation in a postmodern culture affirms the totality of God’s saving purpose. (vv30-31)

Principles worth pondering.

Preachers are Theologians not Therapists

Following on from yesterday’s post, I found the following quote quite insightful:

The rise of therapeutic concerns within the culture means that many pastors, and many of heir church members, believe that the pastoral calling is best understood as a “helping profession.”  As such, the pastor is seen as someone who functions in a therapeutic role in which theology is often seen as more of a problem than a solution.

This is from Al Mohler’s book, He is Not Silent, p108.  This is a helpful distinction.  Have we fallen into thinking of our function as primarily therapeutic?  Cambridge Dictionary defines therapeutic as “causing someone to feel happier and more relaxed or to be more healthy.”  Yes, in the final element our task does involve promoting spiritual health.  However, not every sermon will make listeners feel happier or relaxed.  Sometimes our task is a discomforting one.

I notice particularly Mohler’s observation about theology.  If preaching and pastoral work is about therapy, then theology is often seen as more problem than solution.  Is this why so many churches promote unity at all costs, avoiding key biblical and theological areas in order to keep everyone happy?  If you were to take the theological pulse of your congregation, what teaching of Scripture would be deficient?  If that were less than comfortable to address, would you still do it?  Later Mohler states that “when truth is denied, therapy remains.” (p121)  May it never be true of us that we pander to the yearnings of our age and only offer therapy to a self-centric people.

Preaching – What Kind of Authority Is This?

In recent decades many churches have moved from having the Scripture preached with authority to a watered down “talk” so committed to connection and amateurism that it completely lacks authority.  While the “watery talk” may have proved ineffective in achieving anything other than a voluntary social club under the name of church, we need to think carefully about the authority that we have as a preacher.  Again, reading Al Mohler’s, He Is Not Silent, I see a brief list worth mentioning for your thoughts.

Three forms of false authority of which we should beware:

1. Professional Authority. The task of preaching and teaching the Bible is not a professional task identifiable by degrees and letters after the name.  While I would encourage many people to pursue the benefits of formal training, I never suggest that an academic qualification qualifies someone for ministry – the biblical standards are clearly spelled out, for example, in the Pastoral Epistles.  Some churches despise formal training (often out of bad past experiences with apparently arrogant graduates, and often because of insecurity among the present leaders).  Other churches simply ignore any higher qualification earned (which still seems a bit unfortunate considering what it takes to get through it!)  On the other hand, some churches honor the degree as if it confers authority for ministry, which is missing the point of formal training.  We don’t need to ignore or despise academic qualifications, but let’s not grant authority based on them either.

2. Positional Authority. Do you lead in the church based on your title?  This is also a false authority.  Positional titles in church hierarchies are not the source of authority in preaching.  This can come from the leader, or from the people in the church overstating the importance of a position.  Somehow some people derive security and even identity from revering the pastor, the minister, the vicar, the whatever.  But this is not the source of authority in our preaching.  Mohler points to Acts 17:11 and the noble Bereans’ response to the Apostle Paul – good example.

3. Personal Authority. This is the “small c” charismatic leader who influences by sheer force of personality.  Many churches fall for this, or create it for themselves.  Again, beware.  This should not be the source of authority in preaching.

We should preach with authority.  Not an authority based on professional qualifications, nor positional titles, nor personal charisma.  We should preach with the authority of God’s Word well understood, well explained, and well applied.  The authority is not in us, but it should shine through in our lives and our words.

Why Preaching is Weaker Now – Cont.

Continuing the list begun yesterday from the preface to Al Mohler’s 2008 book, He Is Not Silent: Preaching in a Postmodern World.  Six reasons why preaching has been undermined in the contemporary church and is weakened at this point in time.  Here we go:

4. Contemporary preaching suffers from an emptying of biblical content. When preachers do preach a text, they often empty it of its content, choosing not to wrestle with the meaning of the text, but rather to use it as a point of departure for their list of pithy points.  Not only does this fail the text itself, but it also fails to present the text in its broader context, thereby not presenting the broader scope of God’s message.

5. Contemporary preaching suffers from a focus on felt needs. Following the course charted by Harry Emerson Fosdick, many contemporary preachers seek to counsel the perceived needs of contemporary patients in the pew, rather than addressing the real needs of sinners.  So, consequently, much preaching is concerned more with career advancement or financial security, than it is with the real need of sinners before God.

6. Contemporary preaching suffers from an absence of the gospel. Too much preaching fails to stand up as Christian preaching.

While Mohler does recognize and affirm a contemporary resurgence in expository preaching, both in younger generation preachers, and in some seminary programs, he remains deeply concerned about the general trends in contemporary pulpit ministry.  Is his evaluation accurate?  Is it complete?

Biblical Preaching – Crisis and Recovery

We’re coming toward the end of terms and semesters. Just a few weeks to go until many will walk the stage, shake the hands, get the paper, etc. Here are some great thoughts from Al Mohler’s commencement address at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary last December. It’s worth reading the whole address, here’s the link.

“Our authority is not our own. We are called to the task of preaching the Bible, in season and out of season. We are rightly to divide the Word of truth, and to teach the infinite riches of the Word of God. There are no certainties without the authority of the Scripture. We have nothing but commas and question marks to offer if we lose confidence in the inerrant and infallible Word of God. There are no thunderbolts where the Word of God is subverted, mistrusted or ignored.

“The crowds were astonished when they heard Jesus, ‘for he was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes.’ Congregations are starving for the astonishment of hearing the preacher teach and preach on the authority of the Word of God. If there is a crisis in preaching, it is a crisis of confidence in the Word. If there is a road to recovery, it will be mapped by a return to biblical preaching.”

Lest any of us feel buoyed by degrees earned, titles held, respect given, etc., let’s remember this – the authority in our preaching comes from the Bible, not us.