We Don’t Need To De-Affect The Text

On June 30th I wrote a post on preaching as a matter of life and death.  For that post click here.  In the good discussion that followed I made this comment – God has communicated in His Word (and calls us to preach that Word), in such a way as to move the heart/affections, as well as informing the mind, urging the will and so on. Beyond Bluestockings asked the helpful question – If the moving of hearts and affections is the work of man (the preacher) then the results will surely be temporary?

Such an important question deserves more than a quick answer . . . so hopefully this is helpful:

Thanks for the comment and my apologies for the delay in approving it.  You are right that the moving of hearts and affections is the work of the Holy Spirit.  If we make that our task we can easily fall into manipulation and the achieving of temporary results.  What I am saying is that God’s Word is not simply an information transfer from God’s mind to ours.  Rather, God’s Word is that and so much more.  It was designed and written to move the affections, to captivate the heart, to instill values, to draw people to God, etc.  Since the Bible is not mere information transfer, but carefully written communication that functions on various levels (i.e. through word choices, sentence structure, genre decisions, etc.), our task is to faithfully preach the Bible text as it stands.  That means not flattening it into mere information.  (My parenthetical statement in the previous comment “and calls us to preach that Word” should probably be moved to the end of the sentence for clarity!)

For instance, a Psalm may be highly emotive, full of moving imagery, authorial passion, etc.  If we simply dissect that information and talk about it, then I think we are failing to faithfully represent the text.  Rather we should present the Psalm in such a way that listeners feel the full force of the communication that is there – the images, the emotion, the passion, the truth, etc.  Certainly there is explanation, but also more than that, there is something of experiencing the text as well.  Thus we are to say what it says and appropriately do what it does.  This does not take on the burden of transforming listeners, for that should always remain the work of the Spirit of God.  However, since God is not an “information only” being (as some seem to suggest by denying any genuine affections in God), then there is no reason why we should “de-affect” the text and make it information only.  Did God inspire the information in the Bible, or did His inspiration go much further?  That is, did God inspire every word, every genre choice, every tone, etc.?

I believe our task in preaching is to be genuinely and deeply faithful to the preaching text, “re-presenting” it to the best of our ability (study ability, message formation ability, delivery ability), while always resting fully on God to achieve any life change in the listeners.

Monday Musings on Manipulation

Thought I’d follow up on Saturday’s post by sharing a quote I appreciated in the book I will name this week:

You must not fear to have affective goals for the sermon as well as cognitive goals.  There is nothing wrong with trying to move the listener.  It is not manipulative to seek to engage their entire being with the truth.  Manipulation is when the preacher overwhelms the emotions (or the mind for that matter), and creates a disorientation that actually takes the power of will away from the listener. (p.106)

I like that definition in some ways.  I like the recognition that manipulation occurs when disorientation is prompted by overwhelming.  I like the recognition that such overwhelming can be of the emotions and also of the mind.  When this occurs, something is taken away from the listener – somehow their decision making is controlled by an outside force, rather than by the appropriately shaped motives of their own heart.

Is the will ever truly free?  Perhaps not, but the heart must be free to supply the values that the mind and will rely on to make decisions.  Supplanting the heart with emotional hype, or with overwhelming intellectual astonishment, or even excessive pressure on the will itself (guilt-trip preaching) . . . are all a problem, all can be manipulation.

As a preacher convinced that my role is to speak to the heart, and not just the head, I must regularly wrestle with the issue of manipulation.  I must ponder the interaction of the soul’s faculties.  I must spurn any rhetorical technique designed to manipulate the listener.  I must consider what is biblically, ethically, theologically appropriate as one who has the privilege of speaking the Word of God into the lives of others.