Sunday, March 29, 2009

PowerPoint is Evil

Edward Tufte entitled his Sept 2003 article in Wired magazine, "PowerPoint is Evil." Tufte should know. He is professor emeritus of political science, computer science and statistics, and graphic design at Yale. I think pastors would benefit from reading his article. He begins it with this paragraph:

"Imagine a widely used and expensive prescription drug that promised to make us beautiful but didn't. Instead the drug had frequent, serious side effects: It induced stupidity, turned everyone into bores, wasted time, and degraded the quality and credibility of communication. These side effects would rightly lead to a worldwide product recall."

In case you missed it due to his subtletly, he's referring to PowerPoint. His primary contention is that the program elevates form over content. The dependency upon this form of communication is decreasing our ability to communicate effectively. In schools, children are learning not how to research and communicate content but instead learning how to animate graphics in a slideshow. The typical PowerPoint presentation "disrupts, dominates, and trivializes content."

I think Tufte is at least partly right, which is why I struggled with whether or not to personally implement PowerPoint in my preaching ministry. The difficulty was especially profound for me because I personally don't benefit when others use PowerPoint. In high school, PowerPoint wasn't really big yet, but by the time I was finishing seminary, it had saturated the classroom. Whenever I went to a seminary class and had a professor turn on the projector, I inwardly groaned. But others I know find it extremely useful, which indicates diversity of learning styles, I think.

The pastor, in my opinion, must be careful to preserve the unique genre of the sermon. The form must not overshadow the content. Ultimately, I decided to utilize PowerPoint but very sparingly. The slides are not designed to be the vehicle of communication but merely help people track with where I am in the progress of the message. My goal is that it would be very rare that a person would need to look at the PowerPoint at all to get the full impact of the message.

Further Schooling Thoughts

This is a paragraph from a recent George Will column in Newsweek.

"But in 1966, the Coleman Report concluded: 'Schools are remarkably similar in the effect they have on the achievement of their pupils when the socioeconomic background of the students is taken into account.' That was a delicate way of not quite saying that the quality of schools usually reflects the quality of the families from which the students come. One scholar estimated that about 90 percent of the differences among schools in average proficiency can be explained by five factors—number of days absent from school, amount of television watched in the home, number of pages read for homework, quantity and quality of reading matter in the home and, much the most important, the presence of two parents in the home. Government cannot do much to make those variables vary, but Duncan correctly thinks that we actually know how to make schools effective anyway. The keys are time and talent."

I agree that those five factors the unamed scholar in Will's are crucial. It's why I'm convinced that there are a lot of valid choices for parents to make when deciding how to school their children. But parents must be careful not to view any option as "the" thing that will bring about the education of their child. In some sense, every child is ultimately homeschooled. The question is: how well is the quality of their home education?

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Sound Financial Advice

No One Can Rid Himself of the Preaching Clergyman

"Bore of the Age"...I'm thinking about getting that put on my business cards....

From John Stott's Between Two Worlds...

"In Barchester Towers, Anthony Trollop rants eloquently:

"There is, perhaps, no greater hardship at present inflicted on mankind in civilized and free countries, than the necessity of listening to sermons. No-one but a preaching clergyman has, in these realms, the power of compelling an audience to sit silent, and be tormented…..

"A member of Parliament can be coughed down or counted out. Town councilors can be tabooed. But no-one can rid himself of the preaching clergyman. He is the bore of the age, …the nightmare that disturbs our Sunday’s rest, the incubus that overloads our religion and makes God’s service distasteful" (53-54).

Types of Preaching

I don't know how useful others will find these posts, but I'm continuing a series of posts highlighting some of my thoughts on preaching based upon some of the books I read for my DMin program. In this lengthy post, I'm trying to process some of the different styles of preaching and my thoughts regarding their validity.

Textual Preaching. Textual preaching generally refers to a type of preaching that draws from a single text as its source. Al Fasol considers the nature of textual preaching in Handbook of Contemporary Preaching. He quotes Clarence Roddy who offers the following definition of textual preaching: “A textual sermon is one in which both the topic and divisions of development are derived from and follow the order of the text…the text controls and dominates both topic and development in this type.”[1]

The question I've wrestled with is how this type of preaching is distinguishable from expository preaching. Fasol contends that some distinguish textual preaching on the basis of the length of the text being considered. He considers this distinction “superficial” and concurs with Greidanus who believes that “expository preaching cannot truly be contrasted with textual preaching or preaching on a single verse…. All textual preaching is therefore understood as expository preaching.”[2]

Steven Matthewson agrees on the value of textual preaching, but sees a distinction with expository preaching. Relying upon Broadus’ understanding of textual preaching, he concludes that the main difference lies in the structure of the sermon. “While the [textual] sermon must of course be faithful to Scripture, its structure does not take its cue from the biblical texts(s) on which it is based.”[3]

It seems to me, then, that while the line between expository preaching and textual preaching may at times be thin, it still exists.

I agree with Matthewson’s understanding, and would still argue that the primary focus of the pastor should be on delivering expository sermons that as closely as possible follow both the content and the structure of the text.

But what expositional pastor has not at one time or another come to the conclusion that the structure of the text will not be the most effective way to communicate to the congregation? Or what expositional pastor has not at times felt the need to spend an additional week on a smaller portion of a larger thought? Considering the nature of textual preaching has made me more open to utilizing this method in my preaching ministry.

Doctrinal Preaching. Timothy George contends that “the recovery of doctrinal preaching is essential to the renewal of the church.”[4] Doctrinal preaching is that form of preaching which helps the congregation understand the subject being covered in the sermon in light of its entire redemptive context. The sermon can be only tangentially related to the primary text but should at least be “biblical.”

I have concluded that the problem is not that doctrinal preaching is a bad way of preaching, it is simply that it is not as strong as expositional preaching. As a rule, a steady diet of expository preaching will address the same concerns that doctrinal sermons will cover, but be more tied to the biblical text and therefore is more likely to be “God’s Word.”

That being said, there are times within an expositional sermon series that a doctrinal sermon may be appropriate. For example, while preaching through Ephesians 1, a pastor may decide to spend a week discussing the doctrine of divine sovereignty.

Narrative Preaching. Narrative preaching “is not a simple matter of using stories and illustrations to make the sermon interesting, instructive, or challenging. The narrative sermon, rather than containing stories, is a story which, from outset to conclusion, binds the entire sermon to a single plot as theme.”[5]

Euguene Lowry’s conception of the narrative form is one in which ambiguity is the driving force. He eschews any method that destroys the tension in a sermon. He claims that “nothing can be more fatal” than the philosophy of “tell them what you’re going to tell them, tell them, and then tell them what you told them.”[6]

The drive for narrative preaching is often fueled by an unbiblical understanding of the purpose of preaching. While I think that narrative proponents are on to something when they encourage pastors to build tension and communicate in “natural” ways, the passion for ambiguity and the call to allow listeners to discover the truth for themselves cuts against the Scriptural understanding of the preaching task.

Craddock laments that in traditional deductive preaching “the conclusion precedes the development, a most unnatural mode of communication, unless, of course, one presupposes passive listeners who accept the right or authority of the speaker to state conclusions that he then applies to their faith and life.”[8] But Scripture presupposes just such a scenario—though it words it less cynically.

I believe that the sermon must be constructed in such a way that propositional truth is going to be communicated clearly. Furthermore, while I cannot categorically say that the narrative sermon is never the best way to accomplish this, I would contend that it is at least rare that it is the best form through which to communicate content. I will discuss this more below.

Topical Preaching. This is perhaps the most widely disputed form of preaching, at least in terms of its definition. It is hard to even begin to establish a definition of this type of preaching. Most of the authors I read attempted to defend topical preaching against those who would consider it unbiblical. Don Sunukjian contends, “Topical preaching that is truly biblical is the communication of a biblical concept, derived from several different passages related to one another through a common subject and through either parallel or progressive assertions about that subject.”[9] Francis Rossow argues that in “the textual sermon, the text determines the choice of the topic; but in the topical sermon, the topic determines the choice of the text.”[10]

How I feel about topical preaching depends upon the definition being used. In Rassow’s definition, I see a form of preaching that is occasionally beneficial. The message is still being guided by the text, the only difference is that the pastor has determined the topic in advance.

Summary. There are elements of expository preaching in each of the above methods, when defined in a certain way. I currently feel a great deal of freedom to preach as the text dictates and the Holy Spirit leads.

For instance, I have decided to take two weeks as we have gone through chapter 4 of Ephesians, and consider more closely the role of the pastor-teacher, I do not feel constrained by the fact that this subject is not be the main idea of the paragraph. I preached a sermon on the paragraph, and now I'm taking two weeks to talk about the role of an elder, yet I still believe I have preached expositionally.

What type of sermon is this? Such a deviation could be considered textual because it is dealing with just one verse and not based upon the structure of the text. It could be called doctrinal because of its focus on ecclesiology. It could be called topical because passages from various other texts are utilized. Such a dilemma shows the difficulty of sermon categorization, and reveals an element common to all preaching that is truly biblical: a desire to be faithful to proclaim God’s Word accurately to God’s people based upon their need. This is what is at the heart of expository preaching.

[1] Al Fasol, “Textual Preaching,” Handbook of Contemporary Preaching, Michael Duduitt, ed., (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1992), 77.
[2] Ibid., 82
[3] Steven Matthewson, “What Makes Textual Preaching Unique,” The Art and Craft of Biblical Preaching, Haddon Robinson and Craig Brian Larson, eds., (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005), 413.
[4] Timothy George, “Doctrinal Preaching,” Handbook of Contemporary Preaching, Michael Duduitt, ed., (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1992), 93.
[5] Calvin Miller, “Narrative Preaching,” Handbook of Contemporary Preaching, Michael Duduitt, ed., (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1992), 103.
[6] Lowry, 21.
[7] Craddock, 46.
[8] Ibid.
[9] Don Sunukjian, “Topical Preaching Can Be Truly Biblical,” The Art and Craft of Biblical Preaching, Haddon Robinson and Craig Brian Larson, eds., (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005), 421.
[10] Francis Rossow, “Topical Preaching,” Handbook of Contemporary Preaching, Michael Duduitt, ed., (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1992), 85.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Expository Preaching: Meaning and Purpose

I thought I would share a few thoughts regarding expository preaching over the next few days. I am in the process of completing the first phase of my DMin in Expository Preaching at Southern Seminary and have had some time to reflect on some of the material I have been reading over the past year and a half. Here are some scattered thoughts.

What is Expository Preaching

At the beginning of the program, I wrote a paper in which I attempted to define and defend expository preaching. My beginning definition, intentionally broad, was that expository preaching is "bringing out the meaning of Scripture for a congregation."

I surveyed various approaches to expository preaching and considered how each approach offers a different nuance to what could be considered expository preaching. Some authors, such as Martyn Lloyd-Jones, advocate preaching exclusively expository sermons, but are very broad in what they define as expository preaching.[1]

Others, such as Peter Adam offer a more narrow definition of expository preaching but are more open to other forms: “This does not necessarily mean that we engage all the time in expository preaching (that is, preaching our way through a book of the Bible verse by verse or chapter by chapter).”[2]

I concur with Richard Mayhue who suggests the following elements as the essential components of the expository sermon:

1. The message finds its sole source in Scripture.
2. The message is extracted from Scripture through careful exegesis.
3. The message preparation correctly interprets Scripture in its normal sense and its context.
4. The message clearly explains the original God-intended meaning of Scripture.
5. The message applies the Scriptural meaning for today.[3]

To these, I would amend the first characteristic to say that the message finds its sole source in a single, primary text.

[1] D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Preaching and Preachers (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1972), 72.
[2] Peter Adam, Speaking God’s Words (Vancouver: Regent, 2004 [1996]), 128.
[3] Richard L. Mayhue, “Rediscovering Expository Preaching,” Rediscovering Expository Preaching, Richard L. Mayhue, ed. (Dallas: Word, 1992), 12-13.

The Purpose of Preaching

I am convinced that many pastors have forgotten the purpose of preaching. As astounding as that sounds, I believe it is true.

The final chapter of David Buttrick’s Homiletic is entitled “A Brief Theology of Preaching.” Here Buttrick asks a salient question:

From a social perspective, preaching may be superfluous…. Reasons for preaching can only be found in faith. So, though we may enjoy the sweet freedoms of a superfluous vocation, in faith let us struggle with the question: Why do preachers preach?”[1]

Most of the works I read suffer from failing to answer this question correctly, if at all. It is difficult to overstate the importance of knowing what the purpose of preaching is. The widespread lack of understanding of or attention to the purpose of preaching in the evangelical community is perhaps the most disturbing trend I have observed during my coursework. It was frustrating to read various authors develop and defend methods that clearly did not share the passions of Scripture.

Failure to Consider Purpose. On one end of the Protestant homiletical spectrum are those works that fail to even consider why Scripture tells us we are to preach. Fred Craddock rebels against the idea of the authoritative proclamation of truth. He advocates that the preacher “re-create with the congregation the inductive experience of coming to an understanding of the message of the text.”[2]

Eugene Lowry advocates the narrative form of the sermon based upon our intuitive sense of how to preach: “Transforming our intuitions into articulate form [the narrative] is precisely the purpose of this book.”[3] Their works never even address what God would have the preacher do.

Purpose and Proof-Texting. But even works written by sound bible expositors sometimes betray a lack of proper concern with purpose. A biblical theology of preaching is not one that can be simply defended with a few quick proof texts. Warren Wiersbe in Preaching and Teaching with Imagination develops an entire work around the thesis that preaching should be creative. His text to defend this argument is 2 Samuel 17 where Ahithophel’s counsel is thwarted due to Hushai’s speech.

It is not that Wiersbe is wrong to urge creativity in preaching. His practical suggestions are excellent. The problem lies in the fact that his work is driven by a text that is simply not about creativity. The primary purpose of the text is to show how the sovereign hand of God uses Hushai to protect David. Not to unfairly target Wiersbe, but the absence of passion about God’s purpose for preaching in his work left me hungry for something more. What is needed in homiletical instruction is to develop within the preacher a heart that burns for the things of the Lord.

A passage that seems to creep up frequently in sections of preaching books that are presumably dealing with purpose is 2 Samuel 12 where David is confronted by Nathan through the telling of a story. For example, York and Decker introduce their chapter entitled “The Goal of Preaching” with this story. They conclude their introductory remarks, “Making the emotional connection with David was instrumental in getting David to act on Nathan’s rebuke rather than just to hear it.”[4]

But, once again, this text is not about preaching. And, what is more concerning, nowhere in this chapter on the goal of preaching are any biblical texts that deal with preaching in the church even mentioned, much less explored.

The problem is that there is a lack of a clarion call to the church regarding the true purpose of preaching. This problem is not universal, but it is wide-spread.

Some works may feel that such a question is beyond the scope of their work, but it seems to be so essential to anything else one might say about preaching that it is a question that should at least be addressed at some level.

Preoccupation with Pragmatics. Finding something that “works” is the goal of many homiletical books. Craddock’s call for change is not based on the fact that the church is failing to fulfill God’s design for preaching but rather that “in countless courts of opinion the verdict on preaching has been rendered and the sentence passed.”[5] Graham Johnston assumes our primary task is to “reach the present age without selling out to it.”[6] Even Michael Fabarez contends that the proper evaluation of a successful sermon is “the biblical change it brings about in the lives of our congregants.” [7]

Failure to Apply Purpose. Some of the works I've read recently have a solid evangelical theology of preaching but fail to consider the implications of that theology. Dennis Cahill in The Shape of Preaching provides an overview of the tools available to the homiletician of the contemporary church. He does this while maintaining an appreciation for and a defense of traditional evangelicalism’s understanding of the purpose of the sermon. Unfortunately, he fails to have his theology truly interact with his method. The purpose of the sermon is never really applied to the methods he surveys.

Focus on the Sacred Task. It should come as no surprise to anyone at Southern that Dr. Mohler gets it right. In the introductory chapter to Handbook of Contemporary Preaching, he identifies the true reason we preach: “True preaching begins with this confession: we preach because God has spoken.”[10] This simple statement is surprisingly profound, even within evangelical circles. Mohler’s conclusion to the article should be required reading for some of the people who advocated various methods in our material:

The preacher is a commissioned agent whose task is to speak because God has spoken, because the preacher has been entrusted with the telling of the gospel of the Son who saved, and because God has promised the power of the Spirit as the seal and efficacy of the preacher’s calling.

The ground of preaching is none other than the revelation which God has addressed to us in Scripture. The goal of preaching is no more and no less than faithfulness to this calling. The glory of preaching is that God has promised to use preachers and preaching to accomplish His purpose and bring glory unto Himself.

Therefore, a theology of preaching is essentially doxology. The ultimate purpose of the sermon is to glorify God and to reveal a glimpse of His glory to His creation. This is the sum and substance of the preaching task. That God would choose such a means to express His own glory is beyond our understanding; it is rooted in the mystery of the will and wisdom of God.Yet, God has called out preachers and commanded them to preach.

Preaching is not an act the church is called to defend but a ministry preachers are called to perform. Thus, whatever the season, the imperative stands: Preach the Word![11]

[1] David Buttrick, Homiletic (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress Press, 1987), 449.
[2] Fred Craddock, As One Without Authority (St. Louis: Chalice Books), 99.
[3] Eugene Lowry, The Homiletical Plot: The Sermon as Narrative Art Form (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2001), xix.
[4] Hershael York and Bert Decker, Preaching with Bold Assurance (Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 2003), 11.
[5] Craddock, 3.
[6] Graham Johnston, Preaching to a Postmodern World (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2001), 10.
[7] Michael Fabarez, Preaching that Changes Lives (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2002), 9-10.
[8] “Postmodernism Handout,” Expository Preaching 80314.
[9] Dennis M. Cahill, The Shape of Preaching: Theory and Practice in Sermon Design (Grand
Rapids: Baker Books, 2007),93.
[10] R. Albert Mohler, Jr., “A Theology of Preaching ,” Handbook of Contemporary Preaching, Michael Duduitt, ed., (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1992), 14.
[11] Ibid., 19-20.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

If you can't make fun of yourself...

I have mixed emotions about homeschooling. Currently, we homeschool and I'm glad we do. But I think some people homeschool for the wrong reasons (e.g., fear). I might have more to post on this later.