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?


Matt said...

Looking at the pictures again, I think #9 should be "How much does good use of hands matter?"

Rob Dilfer said...

Yeah, these pictures make me think of the Happy Hands Club from Napoleon Dynamite.

I'd add a #10: "How much does voice level matter?" Is shouting, a thoughtful whisper, or talking with an "inside voice" the best? Or in Piper's case, flipping back and forth between two extremes.