Monday, August 31, 2009

What Is Good Preaching?

I’ve been forced to reflect lately on what “good preaching” is. It’s funny how two people can talk to me after a sermon—one saying, “that sermon was your best ever” and the other saying, “that sermon was fruitless.” What is good preaching? What makes a sermon good? Here are some things to consider: (by the way, don't read into the picture placement)

  1. How much does delivery matter? Most people prefer a good speaker to a bad one. Can we justify this? Jonathan Edwards read most of his sermons, and he is considered by many to be the greatest American preacher of all time. Paul contrasted himself to Apollos and said that his inferior oratory skills meant that his sermons depended on the power of God for success (1 Cor 2:1–5). On the other hand, Paul may have been speaking tongue-in-cheek in 1 Corinthians. It is highly doubtful that Paul was a poor rhetorician. His speeches in Acts are fantastic, and his epistles are well thought-out and argued.

  2. How much does interpretation matter? Can a good sermon misinterpret a text? If you speak truth, but from the wrong text, can your sermon be good? If you’re a Calvinist, are all Arminian sermons therefore bad preaching? If you’re post-mil, are all Dispensationalists bad preachers? Can a non-trinitarian sermon be good? (I’ll answer that last one—“no.”)

  3. How much does the preacher matter? We see high-profile preachers fall all of the time. The inconsistency of their lifestyles and their message destroys the credibility of their sermons. Are all of their sermons, therefore, bad preaching? I heard John Piper give a sermon on evangelism in which he admitted up front that he was not a good evangelist and therefore this sermon was hard for him to give. He said he was convicted by his own words but that he just wanted to be faithful to what the Bible said. If he wasn’t living his message, was that a bad sermon?

  4. How much does style matter Does a sermon have to be expository (going through the Bible verse-by-verse), or is there room for topical preaching (say, on parenting, or worship, or evangelism, or money)? Do we have biblical examples of either of these? Does a sermon have to be christocentric (i.e. about Jesus), or can we preach on behavior? Do we have examples from the Bible? If I am preaching on Paul’s command to “Flee sexual immorality,” do I have to preach about Jesus, or can I preach about sexual immorality and the reasons we should flee it (as long as my reasons are theological)?

  5. How much does the audience’s response matter? The purpose of a sermon is to change lives. If lives aren’t changed, was the sermon a dud? If the audience hated your sermon, was it bad? If they loved it, was it good?

  6. How much does context matter? Does a good sermon have to happen in church? Can you get good preaching in a chapel or at a conference? Were the Billy Graham crusades good preaching?

  7. How much does relevance matter? Does a sermon have to be contextually relevant? Isn't the Bible timeless?

  8. What does it mean to “Preach the Word”?

  9. What other factors should be taken into account?

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Allen Yeh's Review of The Next Evangelicalism by Soong-Chan Rah

Allen Yeh has written a great review of The Next Evangelicalism by Soong-Chan Rah. He says everything I thought when I read the book but was afraid to say because I am white.

Dr. Soong-Chan's book is important, but I agree with Dr. Yeh's critiques.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

War and Peace--I Chickened Out

I brought War and Peace with me on my vacation, but I never worked up the nerve to start it. I have a thing about starting books and not finishing them, and I knew that was going to be a long road to go down. Maybe next year . . .

Monday, August 10, 2009

Second Skin

This is a fascinating documentary on MMORPGs (massively multiplayer online roleplaying games). HT: BHT

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

iMonk on Letting the Church Be Wrong

Great thoughts by Michael Spencer on churches that are too right for their own good.


I saw a great quote somewhere, and sadly I can't remember the exact wording or who said it. But it was something along the lines of "If your preaching isn't drawing criticism, you aren't preaching the truth." It's easy to fall into the trap of preaching what people want to hear--not what they need to hear.

That being said, I received my first letter of hate mail (from an internet listener who does not attend my church) about one of my sermons.

I almost posted the letter on the blog, but it is long. Essentially, the guy didn't like my sermon on the Parable of the Good Samaritan (which, not coincidentally, I think may have been my best-written sermon ever). The issue was my comparing a Samaritan to a homosexual. He said that the Samaritan was an unlikely hero because of his race, not because of his behavior. In my story, the homosexual is the unlikely hero because of his lifestyle. The analogy "at its best was poor and at its worst, heresy."

Now, I graciously responded to the guy. I thanked him for listening and contacting me, and I showed him that the Samaritan in Jesus' parable was an unlikely hero because of his lifestyle, not just because of his race. The Samaritans were syncretists--blending worship of YHWH with worship of pagan gods. The point of the parable is: "The pagan got it right and the holy men got it wrong." I think my modern analogy was spot on.

But I bring up the issue because I want to say something: It hurts to be called a heretic, regardless of the substance of the accusation. Certain people need to be called heretics--those who teach against the deity of Christ, the trinity, the resurrection, and the other "big" issues. But heretic is a strong word. People get burned at the stake for heresy. Let's not rob it of its power by calling everyone we disagree with a heretic. Let's not call people heretics because they have differing millennial views, or because they teach Calvinism (or Arminianism), or because they question a doctrine like imputation, or because they are postmodern. There is a difference between being wrong and being a heretic. A heretic is grossly wrong.

Then again, maybe language is changing and I just need to get with the times. Chuck Swindoll used to say "God is awesome in the way the word meant before pizza was awesome." Maybe I need to say "Arius was a heretic in the way the word meant before Brian McLaren was a heretic."

The Parable of the Great Banquet

Gary and I are in the midst of a sermon series on the parables of Jesus. On July 26th, I taught on the Parable of the Great Banquet.

My approach to the parables has been different than what you typically hear in church. Instead of preaching a sermon about the meaning of the parables, I have rewritten them in contemporary settings. I'm not going to use this approach forever (it takes a lot longer than writing a sermon), but it has been a lot of fun to do for the parables.

You can listen to the Parable of the Great Banquet here.