Archive | Christian Education

Are Sermons Too Few or Too Many?

Preachers

Say the word “sermon” and the average person doesn’t get too thrilled. In fact for a lot of people the word is only used as a pejorative (as in, “You can spare me the sermon, OK?”). But consider the sermon in its true sense – the message or homily or whatever you choose to call that which is taught aloud on a regular basis to a corporate church gathering. It’s not a popular word, and it’s not a popular concept. Maybe that’s not entirely bad. If it were, then by now we’d have had to witness a nauseating reality show competition in which young preachers go one at a time & America texts in its vote for the best sermon.

 

But to the degree that the sermon has a bad rap, whose fault is it? The sermon is one thing that is definitely not in short supply. America in particular is a land of 10,000 sermons, in just about any given week, and with a vast array of differences between them. A 72 hour trip around the internet would show you an endless matrix of church and other websites with all the sermons you could sample in every bit of free time you have. If I were Dr. Seuss my title for this would be “Oh the Sermons You’ll Hear.”

 

While a number of people in the present secularized society have only heard snippets of sermons, or have only a distant memory of sermons they heard as children, those with particular interest in the thinking and doing of churches realize that there are more species of sermon than of insect living in your backyard. Below is my own catalog of many (maybe most?) of the different kinds or types of sermons preached on a regular basis somewhere not too far from any of us. It is a homiletical parade of the good, the bad, and the ugly. As you move down the list you will see that I begin with more standard fare but then later I get to some of the more bizarre and even obnoxious kinds of sermons, where I include some links to examples that you will find entertaining and/or disturbing.

 

On to the Carnival of Sermons …

 

The Expository Sermon: Verse-by-Verse

I begin with the ancient standard, the time honored, the historically preeminent, and the unfortunately not nearly as popular as it once was: verse-by-verse exposition. It is still the sermon of choice for a great many of the most serious and devout. It’s a harder sell, though, for the masses today, since it demands more of the listener, moves more slowly and carefully, seeming to the short attention spans of today like a boring and tedious study of words and ideas that requires too much detailed concentration on the text and its meaning.

 

The Expository Sermon: Passages & Narratives

Not every expository sermon is necessarily of the verse-by-verse variety, so I thought this deserving of its own category. Sermons can still be very text-based but with a wider view. Some of the “books within the book” do not lend themselves as much to verse-by-verse, like Old Testament narratives, wisdom literature and exotic apocalyptic visions. Much as in the case of the difference between literal word-for-word translations vs. thought for thought (“dynamic equivalence”) translations, sometimes an exegesis and exposition that is not merely one-word-at-a-time (or even one-verse-at-a-time) is more appropriate and effective in communication of what is in those words (and verses).

 

The Theological / Doctrinal Sermon

Sure to shrink a crowd these days, sermons of this kind would hardly even be understood by a lot of modern church-goers. The language would at best seem vaguely familiar while arcane, and at worst completely foreign. A friend of mine said he once used the word “supralapsarian” in a sermon on salvation and the Fall, and afterward someone asked him, “What was that ‘super-cali-fragilistic’ thing you talked about?” The fact is you’ll be hard pressed to hear a sermon that even includes much overt theology, let alone one that emphasizes or prioritizes it.

 
Continue Reading →

Twelve Ways to Prepare Your Children for Times of Doubt

1. Let them know that it is not abnormal to experience doubt. This does not mean that your children will experience significant doubt, it just means that doubt is a common issue they will experience, to varying degrees, in a fallen world. Typically, your child’s struggles with doubt will not start until he reaches adulthood and begins to stand on his own two feet in many ways, including in his faith walk. But if you have helped your child understand that doubt is something common to all Christians, he won’t be scared to share his struggles when they arise later in life.

2. Share with them some of the doubts you struggle with. Of course, this is assuming you have brought your children up in the faith, showing them the strength of your faith as well. However, from time to time you should feel free to let them see you wrestling with God. This lets them know you are real, especially when they are older and more reflective. Showing them your doubts may embarrass you somewhat, but it can also go far in demonstrating that your faith is not shallow, but rather is marked by thoughtfulness. Sharing your doubts from time to time legitimizes the faith you do have, so they will be less tempted to think you are just a naive follower when they are older.

3. Help them prioritize their faith now. Make sure they don’t believe all issues are equal. Help them see the difference between negotiables and non-negotiables, essentials and non-essentials, cardinal and non-cardidal issues. Ensuring they understand the distinction between doctrine and dogma prevents the “house of cards” problem so that, even if they come to question one particular issue (i.e., creationism, inerrancy, premillenialism, Calvinism, etc.), they do not find it necessary to reject their faith completely.

4. Facilitate a love of Christian heroes. With all the exposure to cultural heroes (actors, musicians, models, etc.) so typical today, it is important that your children see the characteristics of godliness exemplified by real-life Christians. These examples should come from inside and outside the Bible. Reading about the heroism of Perpetua and her servant in their martyrdom is very difficult (and may be “R” rated), but your children need to know about people who actually lived out their faith with the same resources available to them today. Learning about Augustine’s life of sin before he was converted may be something you think you need to protect your children from, but perhaps they will remember the common struggle with sin when they are older and not feel so alone (which is the most fearful thing when one is doubting). Continue Reading →

How to Preach a Sermon Even When You Are Not Sure What the Passage Means

Convictionless churches are empty churches. Sure, it may be cool these days to be noncommittal. Sure, backing off and saying that you “could be wrong” is transparent and will gain you some respect among a skeptical audience. Of course, giving all the possible interpretations of a passage of Scripture or a theological position is educational and disarming. But there is something different about preaching that requires the preacher to present a more anchoring hope. Standing behind the pulpit meant something to the Reformers. It mean much more than, “I am going to stand behind this block of wood and give you some options about what to believe.” Simply put, that lacks conviction. And even if you are a diehard pragmatist who is only about getting the numbers in your pews to go up, this is not the way to go about it. Because, frankly, if you have little or  no definite convictions, then you are neither a preacher nor a pastor.

“Give them something to believe.” I am told that every time Lewis Sperry Chafer, founder of Dallas Theological Seminary, ended his theology classes, he would say, “Men, give them something to believe.” People are looking for something to believe. They want to rest the weight of their anxiety upon something stable. They have enough instability in their lives. They don’t want to go to church to hear the preacher teach. They want him to preach. What do I mean by that? Well, teaching and preaching are not the same thing. They share quite a bit in the semantic domain of discipleship, but they also are very distinct and need to be used very intentionally. How are they distinct? Let me give you a few ways:

Preaching is exhortation; teaching is education.

Preaching is the discharge of the Gospel of hope; teaching is discipleship of the Gospel of hope.

Preaching puts wind in the sails; teaching put an anchor in the ground.

Preaching raises our eyes to the things we know with great conviction; teaching helps us to understand what things we can have legitimate conviction about.

Preaching tells you which option is correct; teaching gives you all the options.

Of course, there is overlap, but it is important to see the distinction so that you can follow what I am about to say.

If this is true and preaching is about giving people something to believe, rather than giving them the options of what they can believe, what do you do when you come to a passage of Scripture and you are unsure about what it means? And, let’s be honest here – this happens quite often. You are preaching through a book of the Bible and you come to a place where the commentaries are not in agreement, there seem to be multiple legitimate options concerning its interpretation, and you are left scratching your head.  You don’t know how to preach this passage. You don’t want to be dishonest and just choose an option. And you don’t want to turn this into a drawn-out sermon on, “This is what the Calvinists believe, and why”…”This is what the Methodists believe, and why”… “This is what Lutherans believe, and why.” “In the end folks, you are going to have to make up your own minds. Now let us pray. Dear God thanks for this lesson, whatever it was . . .” This does not really make for a good sermon and it does not give your hearers anything to believe. Continue Reading →

Why So Many Preachers Annoy So Many Christians

[Please welcome with me Clinton C. Roberts. Clint is becoming a good friend of mine. He lives here in Edmond Oklahoma is a member of the Credo House. He has a Ph.D. from the University of South Africa, he is a professor of Philosophy at the University of Oklahoma and Liberty, and he served as a missionary in Utah to the Mormons for some time. While in Utah, they set up a coffee shop to serve their cause (sound familiar?). Clinton has an increadible personality and have a life with many deep and sometimes complex issues that will benefit our readers here on the blog. You can find him on Facebook here. I am very excited to introduce him to you. The following is his first blog. Give him some trouble but welcome him with me!]

Maybe this is due in part to having simply grown older and having heard so many sermons from so many preachers over the years – in person, online, by television, etc. – but I find myself increasingly annoyed by things preachers say and how they say it.  Maybe it’s the repetition of all of those preacherly terms & phrases, or the pulpit personas that preachers adopt. Maybe I’m just cynical & unfair in my overall perspective on the subject.

Or maybe T. David Gordon was onto something when he wrote a book a few years ago arguing that “preaching today is ordinarily poor”[1] as a result, more or less, of our culture.  His book, Why Johnny Can’t Preach (the title being an intentional knockoff of the widely read Why Johnny Can’t Read of the mid-1960s), points out that society has shifted dramatically and speedily from being text-based to being image-based. That, and a few other elements of the media and entertainment dominated landscape, has made everyone, including ministers, less able to deal with an ancient text, less adept at language in general & careful exegesis in particular, less skilled rhetorically, & frankly too distracted to spend much time caring about these shortcomings.

Since I spend a lot of my time trying to get people to grasp the principles of critical thinking, to follow the steps of logical argument, and to gain some level of appreciation for things well expressed, I fully understand and agree with Gordon’s observations. You can’t read the papers that college students submit these days and conclude anything else. But when it comes to the specified communication known as preaching, there is something more than this that seems to bother me.

This far into the American experiment it is no surprise that unfettered freedom of religion has spurned a thousand varieties of Christian preaching. And while there is unquestionably a very impressive and praiseworthy subgroup among that vast lot, there is another tragically large and perhaps growing subgroup of preachers who have a knack for wasting precious breath & either boring us with the banal or butchering the airwaves with a Benny-Hinnish clown act. Whether they ambush me on TV or online, too many painful pulpit atrocities make my ears bleed, even as they cause me to realize afresh the double-edged perversity of the situation, which is that some of the worst examples attract the largest crowds. Why is that? Why do the biggest throngs clamor for the most inane sermonic drivel? I can think of possible avenues of explanation, but I’ll leave that part of the discussion to one side. Continue Reading →

Finding Trustworthy Scholars

Right now, in my home office, I have material about the Crusades all over the place. It is a paradise to me. I have notes and random thoughts scribbled on various pieces of paper, DVDs, self-made maps, and my precious notebooks which, in theory, contain the most articulate expression of my teachings – before it all gets transferred to PowerPoint for the didactic finale. It is a mess, but I love it.

As with most of my studies, I have a lot of people I rely on to get the information I need. After all, I was not present at the Crusades, so my job is to find the best sources to tell me exactly what happened. My favorite source has been Thomas Madden. He is a modern writer on the Crusades and he is easy to follow. He also seems to write objectively. But I have other sources as well. Of course there is Jonathan Riley-Smith, who is a standard-bearer in this field. As well, Thomas Asbridge provides great work that reads like a novel. Then there is Maalouf’s work which helps me see things through Muslim eyes. And there are others. But all of these are modern writers. We call these “secondary sources.” In order to be more objective, one should also consult “primary sources.” These are works from writers who were actually there. For this, I have an excellent work called The Crusades: A Reader. This is a compilation of dozens of first-hand accounts of the Crusades from Jewish, Catholic, Orthodox, and Muslim sources. I even have on my Kindle is a biography of Alexios I, written by his daughter, called The Alexiad.

Here is a picture of some of my sources (please note: I do not endorse all of these works, but most are very good):

books-on-the-crusades

I have been at this study since I started teaching on the Crusades a few months ago. Yet, I am far from an expert on the Crusades. In fact, were I to keep this up for the next few years, expert status would still be far off. I will never be an “authority” in this area. I don’t have the brain power or the time. Therefore, I will always rely heavily on others for an understanding of the Christian Crusades, and I am content with this. Continue Reading →

10 Myths about God: #5 – The Trinity was Invented

The word Trinity does not appear in the Bible. That is a fact. Is the Trinity, as some would suggest, invented in 325BC at the Council of Nicea? Join C. Michael Patton, Th.M. and Tim Kimberley, Th.M. as we discuss this important aspect of Christianity.

Experience It for Yourself To get the rest of the myths for the next five days (along with other great stuff from Credo House Ministries), subscribe now! (You can unsubscribe at any time.)

If you want to keep growing along these lines our new Discipleship Program continues to equip you in the foundational thoughts and practices of a Christian. Just click the “Experience It: Watch Now” link on this page to continue giving yourself a strong foundation

Here are the previous four myths in case you missed them:

Myth #1 – Christianity is Blind Faith

This is just one of the many myths about God that millions of people have bought into. Does God desire for us to close our eyes and take a step into the dark to believe in Jesus?

Myth #2 – The Bible is a Magic Book

This is just one of the many myths about God that millions of people have bought into. It is common today to look at the Bible as a magic book. Close your eyes, open it up, put down your finger and do what it says. Is this how we should treat the Bible?

Myth #3 – God wants us Healthy and Wealthy

Jesus healed people all over the place when He walked the earth…God owns a cattle on a thousand hills…shouldn’t we expect health and wealth in this life?

Myth #4 – Jesus is not God

Is it crucial for Jesus to be 100% God? Is He fully God in the same way as the Father?

 

Theological Nudity

Last night I was talking to a hungry young “seeker” who has been coming to “Coffee and Theology” for four weeks now. After class each week he patiently waits for everyone from the study to leave so that he can sit down and drill me with questions. He is not antagonistic and has no intention of showing how much he knows. I appreciate his quiet, patient demeanor. However, make no mistake about it, this guy, who cannot be over twenty-three, has thought through the issues with vigor. He will catch you off guard. This is not him trying to be a wise guy. He really knows what needs to be asked. I get the sense that he can spot a phony from ten miles away. Really, he is just a postmodern seeker who has no time for naiveté. I get the sense that if he gets any more cliché, trite answers-that-rhyme, he will just seek truth elsewhere (think “it’s training time for reigning time” or “the Bible is Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth” and you will be in my boat). I get the sense that he will only seek truth in a place where he can tell that people have truly wrestled with the issues.

Chuck Swindoll taught me to do everything I could to be real. Now, sometimes I don’t know which end is up in my own life, so I cannot always define what “real” is in every circumstance. However, the point is that the time for polished answers is gone. The time when every point in the sermon starts with the same letter is history (although, I admit, I still do this sometimes!). The time for feeling the pressure to answer every question is no longer on the calendar. People want you to be real. They can spot a fake. In fact, if you have too many answers, they may get up and leave. Isn’t that odd? We don’t like people who know it all. We don’t like those who immediately respond to sincere questions – those we have wrestled with for years – with a response with a red bow on it. We like things to be a little messy. We like things to be cracked. We like things to be bare, raw, unfinished, and imperfect. Kind of a “nude” theology.

Notice, I changed from the third person (“those postmoderns”) to the first person (“we”) mid-paragraph. Why? Because I am the same. I have quite a bit of postmodern blood flowing through my system. No, not in the sense that truth cannot be found. No, not in the sense that all roads eventually lead to God. No, not in the sense that hell is not a bad place to go. But in the sense that I get quite suspicious when people think they have all the answers. Know-it-alls need Jesus too, I know. However, it is harder for me to carry on conversations with pretty-boy know-it-all fresh-out-of-seminary theologians, even when it does actually seem like they know it all! Continue Reading →