Cultures shift. In the west we are living in an age when people no longer respect authority, including the authority of a preacher. People may like the preacher, and listen to the preacher, but there is some resistance to the concept of a preacher speaking with authority. Consequently, many preachers will try to use “we” throughout the sermon. In effect, preaching as a fellow observer and recipient of the text. This may be a good idea, but there are limits.
The notion of preaching without authority came to the fore in the 1970’s, with books like As One Without Authority by Fred Craddock. This hugely influential book placed the “New Homiletic” into the consciousness of many. Much of what Craddock wrote is well worth taking onboard, but there is an underlying issue we need to recognize. The New Homiletic, even in its more conservative forms, is strongly influenced by the New Hermeneutic. Here we find strong emphasis on a reader-response approach to the text, but the author seems to have been lost along the way.
If we hold to the importance of authorial intent in our hermeneutics, then a total “we” approach seems inappropriate. As preachers, we study the text, hopefully with some degree of skill, in order to determine the author’s meaning. Consequently, there should be a humble but authoritative explanation of the meaning of the text for the benefit of our listeners. This “humble but authoritative explanation” may not require a “you” approach in contrast to “we,” but it does carry some authority.
Meaning is not determined by a primarily subjective response to the text in us all as readers. In one sense there is a mutuality as we, God’s people, discover the meaning of the text. However, that discovery must be the meaning of the text, not a meaning we discover subjectively in experiencing the text.
Nevertheless, in the applicational features of a sermon, and there should be many, perhaps “we” should be prevalent. We all stand under the authority of the text. We all should be responding to what we read. Let the “we” feature in the shared need for the message of the text (introduce appropriate vulnerability and connection early). Let the “we” feature carefully in application throughout the message. However, let us be careful what we might imply with “we” in the explanation of the text. Let us strive to understand and communicate the meaning of the text as those with humble authority, but let us take our position amongst the ranks of God’s people responding to His Word.