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The Problem With Preaching Updated: Updated, but No More Light

Back on January 9, I commented on an article by Kiwi David Allis, "The Problem with Preaching."  I commented that I found several problems with the article, particularly in that it is the common form of proclamation in the New Testament. 

Because of my post, David commented with a quote from an updated article he wrote.  I scanned what he said, printed out his response and have been carrying it around in my "to be read" folder ever since.  I finally got around to it and was disappointed that he didn’t really make any new points in his case. 

David comments that he finds no "evidence of this form of monologue preaching to a church congregation visible in the New Testament"–hence his statement that this form of preaching is extra-biblical."  I raised the objection that the Bible I read has plenty of examples of preaching. 

While I have no problem counting Peter’s sermon to the Jews on the Day of Pentecost, Peter’s speeches to the people and the Sanhedrin in Acts 4 & 5,  or Stephen’s sermon to those who are about to kill him in Acts 7 as legitimate sermons to God’s people, (it appears he would) I would point to Paul’s exhortation to the elders at Ephesus.  (Acts 20) or Paul’s speech before the gathered leaders at the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15 as prototypes of Christian sermon. 

David concludes that paragraph by saying, "Even if examples of this form of preaching are perceived in the New Testament (eg. 2 Tim. 4), these examples don’t make preaching prescriptive or essential for all churches at all times."  I wonder what else in the church he would throw away?  There are those who do see the Lord’s Supper/Communion/Eucharist as optional and there are those who see baptism as optional, but they have always stood at the fringes of orthodox Christianity. I doubt if David would see belief in Christ as optional, but why would that be normative, but preaching not?  Why would he not see the preaching found in the scriptures as normative?  Because he disagrees with it?  There has to be a better reason than that!

I remember back in the 60’s & 70’s the debate over preaching-vs-teaching.  The end result seemed to be that it was a false dichotomy.  There was preaching that was teaching and there was teaching that was preaching but they were not identical actions.  If my understanding of David is correct, he would ideally see preaching as the same as teaching. 

Fortunately David does acknowledge that preaching has been the predominant form of communication throughout church history.  But he then blames preaching for the ignorance, biblical illiteracy and disempowerment he sees in the church. Maybe he has only sat under poor preachers, but my experience is just the opposite.  The wealth of learning, inspiration and conviction I have received from preaching is as great or greater than other form of learning in my experience.

He would propose that if people can’t feed themselves, "we should stop spoon feeding them, let them get hungry and then they will become motivated to learn to feed themselves. They might even learn to how to cook, plan their own menu, and begin teaching others to feed themselves." 

Or they might die.  I am very much in favor of teaching people how to feed themselves, (Willow Creek recently found this to be an area in which they needed to grow).  And teaching people to feed themselves is (of course) an essential part of what we must teach (and preach).  But to just stop cold turkey or to say that people should feed themselves INSTEAD of  being fed through preaching is a false dichotomy. It is not either-or, it is both-and. I do not believe that the majority of believers will spend the time necessary to understand the Greek text, to read theological works to get the finer points of biblical theology or will know what is happening across the body to be able to teach towards that.  I have also commented on this blog (about preaching and house churches) that preaching by a well-trained and educated preacher helps to avoid the excesses and heresies that have arisen regularly in the church. 

While I can disagree with his degradation of preaching as an exercise in together seeking the truth, I take offense at his excluding any criticism that comes from preachers.  At the end of the article his argument descends to personal attacks:  "Its no surprise to hear ministers defending preaching. Professional ministers usually love preaching and are paid to do it. Preaching is typically part of the ‘package’ of this form of church leadership. A minister questioning preaching and other aspects of professional ministry is like the proverbial person who saws off the branch they are sitting on. It is as rare as beef farmers promoting vegetarianism." That type of ad hominum argument discredits his entire proposition. 

Anyway, I was hoping that an update would have more to it.  It did not.  His argument continues to be unconvincing.  Too bad. 

Preaching

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