Christian preaching is easily recognisable – you need a preacher with a Bible in a church. But what about less than Christian preaching? Can you have a preacher with a Bible in a church, but actually have something less than, something sub-gospel? Absolutely. Here are some warning signs:
1. Fail to identify the “God” being referenced.
In the West we have grown complacent with the term “god.” Perhaps due to a strong Christian heritage, or perhaps due to a lack of awareness of our Bibles, we can easily fall into an assumption that people know who we mean when we use the term. Consequently there is a generic set of truths that are assumed to be true about God before the biblical content is added on top for a fuller, richer presentation. This is nothing new, it has been happening for centuries at the highest level of theological scholarship as well as in the pulpit.
But in the Bible, which God is being referenced tends to be carefully clarified. Elijah was not satisfied that the false prophets on Mt Carmel also believed in a single powerful god figure. Paul on Mars Hill was not prepared to start from where the philosopher-theologians had already arrived in their conceptions of a single divine being.
Perhaps one of the following should be underlined when referencing God in preaching:
A. The Person(s) of the Trinity. Perhaps it is appropriate to clarify who is being referenced in the passage. For instance, in the New Testament, the label “God” typically will refer to God the Father, although there are places where the whole Trinity is in view, or even God the Son. Why not be sure to identify the persons of the Trinity in order to help clarify that the text is speaking of the Father-Son-Spirit God rather than some sort of generic OmniBeing (as I’ve heard Glen Scrivener label this alternative approach).
B. The Character of God. Another way to identify and distinguish the true God from all false gods is to make reference to His character. This was Paul’s approach when preaching to pagans in Lystra and pagan-philosophers in Athens – he described God’s character as the life-giving, generous, patient, kind God who providentially works in circumstance and in the sending of His Son so that people will seek for Him and find Him as they turn from the worthless fashioning of gods in their own image (and this invitation has a terminus). Within the context of the passage being preached, there will be something that can be offered to distinguish the God who is revealed there from the gods who need little revelation since we come up with them without any trouble on our own!
Next time we’ll pursue another less than Christian approach to preaching.