Class Review, part 1

Well, the semester is finally over. As a matter of fact, it’s been over for more than a month now. It’s nice to not have to study every night! But it was a fantastic semester, and I learned a lot. Now that I have time to stop and think about it, I figure it’s time to do a kind of “internal review” of the high points. And, since I have this wonderful platform called a blog, I thought maybe I’d make my “internal review” external. Smile

At the time of this writing, I only have a few minutes, so I’ll probably just cover one class for now, and will post my thoughts on a few of the others as time allows.

History and Philosophy of Preaching
This class may qualify for one of the top 10 classes of my academic career. That’s a tough call, b/c I’ve had lots of great classes, and 2 of them are from this one semester! But, it’s certainly a contender. Why? Read on.

We spent perhaps the first 3/4 of the class studying the history of preaching, from pre-apostolic times to the present. We studied preachers and their preaching, reading various biographical sketches and a lot of sermons. One thing I think it did for me was to open my eyes to a host of preaching “styles” outside of my previous experience. It was probably good for me to see that God has blessed a number of different “styles” down through the centuries. That’s not to condone comprimised truth, mind you! But sometimes I think we grow attached to a particular method or style of preaching, and tend to disdain preaching that doesn’t fit our preference.

But that was all tertiary. The real point of the class was to inductively study a right philosophy of preaching. That is, we looked at numerous noteable preachers and sought to distinguish characteristics of those ministries which endured vs. those which did not. For example, Martin Luther and John Calvin were theologians, yes, but perhaps more than that they were preachers. And, their ministries certainly have endured. That’s not to say that they were perfect, or that everything they said or taught or preached was correct. But God clearly blessed the ministries of both men. Why? (And others, too – I just choose those two as examples.)

We really didn’t draw any conclusions until the very end of the semester, when Dr. Minnick finally presented his philosophy of preaching and then attempted to verify it by looking backwards at all of the history we’d just studied.

I can’t hope to reproduce the fruit of an entire semester’s study here in only a few paragraphs, but I’ll try to capture at least a few choice concepts. (These are in no particular order).

1. A preacher speaks for God only to the extent that he presents God’s Word – the Bible. That leaves very little room for most of what passes for preaching today. (Which is often little more than religous speech-making, or commentary on the latest movies or current events, or morality lessons ostensibly based on the Bible.)

2. There are essentially two kinds of preachers: The expository preacher and the non-expository preacher. The non-expositor sits down in his study with his Bible and at the beginning of his sermon preparation and askes the question, “What can I say about this text?” (A subsequent question might be, “How can I fill up all my time?” depending on his personality and experience.)

This is in contrast to the expositor, who reads the passage and asks: “What does this text say?”

The questions, the differences of which may appear to be only subtle at first glance, actually stand in stark contrast to each other.

3. If one were to put all preaching on a continuum of sorts, you would come up with at least 4 primary philosophies:

  • Starting on the left end, you’d have preaching with the aim of making people feel good. I would classify many “mega churches” and “seeker churches” in this category. Don’t expect to have sin confronted, don’t expect to hear anything too controversial, just settle in for a good psychological soup to make your insides feel better.
  • Moving one position to the right, but still on the left end, you have preaching that purposes to make people do good. Many mainline churches fall into this category. This kind of Christianity is all about social causes, feeding the poor, teaching disadvantaged kids to read, etc. (Don’t get me wrong – Christianity is about those things, and a Christian will seek to love his neighbor, but that’s not the purpose and end of Christianity.)
  • Move right one more position, and now you come to preaching that challenges you to be good. This may seem like a subtle step, and perhaps it is, but it certainly is distinct from just doing good things. It’s more focused on the inner man than it is external actions. This, I suspect is where many “fundamental” churches fall today.
  • On the far right of the continuum, you come to a category that doesn’t neatly fall into parallel wording. So far, we’ve seen “feel good,” “do good,” and “be good,” but this one doesn’t fit in a “_____ good” form. Perhaps the best way to express it would be to “know Scripture well.” The goal of this kind of preaching isn’t just to make people feel good, not just to make people do good things, not even to make them be good. Rather, it recognizes that man is regenerated by the Living Word of God, sanctified by the “washing of water by the Word.” This kind of preaching, then, is first of all teaching, though it is more than just teaching. The aim is to “declare… the whole counsel of God.”  Here we follow Ezra’s pattern: He “read in the book in the law of God distinctly, and gave the sense, and caused them to understand the reading” (Neh 8:8).

This last philosophy seems to me the proper means, though the other ends will frequently flow out from a right exposition of Scripture. Certainly, the Word will transform the inner man, helping him to be good. One who is becoming good, will naturally want to do good. And, though not a guarantee, one who is doing good will often feel good, because he will be in right relationship with God and man.

Well, there was a lot more to this class, but I need to wrap this up. Stay tuned for additional highlights from this and other classes.

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