Monday, May 21, 2018

Preaching checklists

The other day I was re-reading Peter Adam's book Hearing God's Words, and came across this which struck me as an insightful critique of much of evangelicalism:
Their question is often 'What is the irreducible minimum of the gospel the unbeliever needs to hear?' rather than 'What is the fullness of the Gospel God has revealed?'
Yes, we do that: we try very hard to boil the good news down into one, easily deliverable slurp of salvation, and in the process we lose so much of the richness.

With that in the back of my mind, I've been thinking about some of the criticism I've heard of the sermon at the Royal Wedding on Saturday.  Quite a lot of it was along the lines of 'he left a load of stuff out!'  Which is true.  The Bishop said very few of the things which might have been said.  He left a lot out.  Specifically, some evangelicals were unhappy that he left out substitutionary atonement, the wrath of God, and the call to repentance and faith.  (Some of those, of course, he would have been unlikely to include, given his doctrinal background.  See below.)

I feel like there is a connection between the two things.  I think many of us evangelicals work so hard at coming up with 'our irreducible minimum of the gospel' that what we end up with is a checklist of things that must be said.  And then sermon critique is easy: he mentioned 6 out of the 10 things on the checklist, so this was 60% of a good sermon.

If the gospel is richer than that - if there's more going on here than our depressingly thin gospel outline - then of course any sermon will leave a whole lot out!  That should be okay.  Our checklist approach to preaching and gospel presentation so easily leaves us just listening out for the shibboleths, just repeating the same words over and over.  We should be able to recognise that the riches of the gospel mean that it is possible to dwell on one particular aspect of divine truth in a sermon or address.  In fact, if we understand even a tiny bit of those riches, we will see that it is inevitable that we should leave stuff out - there is more than we could possibly include!

If you wanted to critique the sermon on Saturday, what you should have spotted was that all of the truth spoken - about the love of God, about our being created in his image for love, about the redemptive quality of a life lived in love - was cast within the framework of an old-school liberal theology, in which the emphasis falls squarely on human ability to build the kingdom of heaven in the here and now through divinely guided and inspired effort.  And I did hear some of that critique too, and it was valid and important.  But that these things were said about the love of God, on live television, to so many people: if you can't find a little bit of joy in that, I would be concerned.

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