Saturday, December 24, 2016

Preaching Is *A* Way To Present The Gospel, But Not *The* Way

Regretfully, many are bored with church. The numbers tell the story.  On one website it is reported:
On the evening of March 4, 1982, ....TV's popular "Family Feud" program posed to the contestant this question: "What is the most boring place you go to?" Her ready answer? "Church." And it turned out to be the number one answer, based on 100 people surveyed! [1]

Though, Family Feud surveys are hardly scientific, there seems to be a trend mainly among men. Stephen Arterburn hired a professional firm to run a poll of different questions for men.  Out of the 3600 men in the survey:
34.1 percent said they were either often (29 percent) or always (5 percent) “bored by the idea of church and church activities.’ Among the Christian men, 27.9 percent responded that way….Only 12 percent of those surveyed said they were ‘never’ or ‘rarely’ bored with church.[2]

(Pastors Mark Dever and Michael Lawerence also note the potentiality of boring sermons, especially mishandled approaches to expository preaching.[2b])
              In my own observation during the sermon time (after about 10-20 mins of trying to pay attention), I have noticed that men are much more fidgety than women, more prone to look at their watches, fall asleep, look at the sky, and what have you to pass the time till the end of what essentially is a teaching lecture. This is cross-denominational and multi-generational.  David Murrow reports that only, “35 percent of the men in the United States say they attend church weekly.”[3]
Of course, there are exceptional churches that do not have this problem. Some men are satisfied with what their church has to offer. The preaching time is just right, the music is inspirational, and the long prayers are convicting. This is good and many are thankful.
However, as you can see from the numbers, Christian men, many at least in our Western context, are bored with church.  Some stay home, mow the lawn, work on the car, or occupationally work as an excuse to not attend Sunday morning service.  Others go, out of obligation to their wives/nail-biting obedience to biblical passages like Hebrews 10:25.[4]  However, is this really how it should be? I will argue that this is not how the NT shows that preaching is one way to present the gospel, not the way.
--Times when Jesus is said to have “taught”, “teach” “teaching” and “preaching.”
          Along with healing, Jesus is reported “teaching in the synagogues” (Matt 4:23). There are multiple occurrences in the gospel where Jesus goes to teach in the synagogues or temples (Matt 26:55, Mark 1:21, John 7:14). There were times when Jesus would teach his disciples at one point and then “teach and preach in their cities” (Matt 11:1). He went to his hometown of Nazareth to teach (Matt 13:54). He taught near the sea shore (Mark 2:13). All in all, the word for teaching or the Greek word didaskō (διδάσκω) is attributed directly to Jesus 32 times in the NT.[5] The same word that is used in Matthew 5:2 when he begins the sermon of sermons (sermon on the mount) when Matthew writes “He opened His mouth and began to teach them, saying” (emphasis added).
          Yet, there is still another verb to consider which we have already eluded too. In Matthew 11:1, “After Jesus had finished instructing his twelve disciples, he went on from there to teach [didaskō (διδάσκω)] and preach [kērussō κηρύσσω]in the towns of Galilee.” (NASB emphasis added). Kērussō is also translated as Jesus “proclaiming” the gospel in the synagogues (Matt 4:23, Luke 8:1). Jesus also says “Let us go somewhere else to the towns nearby, so that I may preach [kērussō κηρύσσω] the gospel…” (Mark 1:38).
           Moreover, kērussō is also used in the epistles. In Paul’s letters he says, “Now if Christ is preached, that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? (NASB emphasis added).[6]  
---However, is this how Jesus taught a majority of the time? Through one way communication?
           When Jesus responds to someone else the word recorded to describe his action is apokrinomai (ἀποκρίνομαι) which means to respond or answer a inquiry.  [7]
In Matthews gospel, Jesus a number of times is replying or responding (apokrinomai) to someone else asking him a question (teaching or rebuking). (Matt 3:15, 4:4, 11:4, 12:39, 12:48, 13:11, 13:37, 15:3, 15:13, 15:24, 15:26, 16:2, 16:17, 17:11, 17:17, 19:4, 20:22, 21:21, 21:24, 22:29, 24:2, 24:4, 25:40, 25:45, 26:23, 26:62)
            John Mark records the same trend (keeping in mind some of these events are the same within the synopics): (Mk 3:33, 6:37, 9:19, 10:3, 10:24, 10:51, 11:22, 12:29, 15:2, 15:4, 15:5)
           Likewise in Luke: (Lk 4:4, 4:8, 4:12) Jesus was “aware of their reasoning” then provided an response (Lk 5:22 NASB). There are more times Jesus provided a statement to a question and “said to them” (Lk 5:31 NASB). More straight answers (Lk 6:3, 7:22, 7:40, 8:21, 8:50, 9:41, 10:41, 13:2, 13:15, 14:3, 17:17, 17:20, 19:40, 20:3, 22:51, 23:3, 23:9).
           Lastly, in John’s gospel, Nathanael asked Jesus “How do You know me?” Jesus answered and said to him, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.” (John 1:48). In the next verse Nathanial states Christ divinity, then Jesus responds in point-counterpoint type of teaching in John 1:50-51. There are more questions/statements posed to Jesus in the gospel of John with him responding (John 2:19, 3:3, 3:5, 3:10, 4:10, 4:13, 5:17, 5:19, 6:26, 6:29, 6:43, 70, 7:16, 21, 8:14, 19, 34, 49, 54, 9:3, 10:25,  34, 11:9, 12:23, 30, 13:7, 26, 36, 38, 14:23, 16:31, 18:8, 20, 23, 34, 36, 37, 19:11).
          As you can see, Jesus a majority of the time taught through responding to questions posed to him. It seems to me that we are on safe grounds to conclude that while preaching was one way Christ taught, it was not the main way.  This is really no surprise, as question and answer was one of the main ways Jews would educate their pupils. [7b]
         Now, I understand not everyone will agree with my assessment. This is expected and I gracefully welcome it. However, one has to provide evidence for their position and not play the liberal trump card. NT scholars Grant Osborne and Matthew Williams comment on this saying:
 In truth, one may win a theological debate in conservative circles in one of two manners: (1) provide the best evidence, thus overwhelming the opposing point of view, or (2) play the liberal trump card, claiming that one's own position is orthodox and the opposing position is liberal. Thus, if the opposing position is liberal, one's own position automatically wins.[8]
The correct route one would have to take is road number (1) and stir clear of road (2). One would have to show that the text’s that I have cited of how Jesus conveyed different truth claims is at best slightly misguided or at worst an misinterpretation. More specifically, my claim that sermons are a way to send the message of the different aspects of the gospel, but not the main way – the way it seems is through dialogue, questions, and replying to inquires as our Lord did. 
            Conservative scholars such as D.A. Carson has shown to be able to change their minds on different interpretive conclusions.[9]I encourage you to consider the above and maybe change your mind on if sermons are the way vs. a way to proclaim the good news. I would contend dialogue or debate is at least a way, if not the main way Jesus taught. We should consider doing the same engaging the audience on Sunday mornings with QA sessions after sermons or even, at times, during them. In my limited, but not insignificant amount of experience, this is how I think that, in part, is the answer to transform the church to bring back Christians who have been done with church for a long time. Moreover, to engage non-believers who desire something different. This, it seems to me, would be getting back to a first-century roots. Consider the above and I welcome respectful cogent feedback on the matter. Thank you for considering the reasons.

[2] Arterburn, Stephen (2006-10-01). The Secrets Men Keep: How Men Make Life & Love Tougher Than It Has to Be (p. 110). Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition.
[2b] They write, "As soon as we say expositional preaching, many immediately think of verse-by-verse, commentary-style preaching through the Pauline epistles. Edifying, yes; boring, probably. " (emphasis added) J. Ligon Duncan et al., Perspectives on Christian Worship : 5 Views : Ligon Duncan, Dan Kimball, Michael Lawrence & Mark Dever, Timothy Quill, Dan Wilt (Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, 2009), 224.
[3] David Murrow. Why Men Hate Going to Church (p. 7). Kindle Edition.  Although I disagree with Murrow labeling men that do go to church as “wimps.” This amounts to no more than an ad hominium fallacy or a personal attack. However, he has done his research on men and their presents at church. 
[4] Though how we fulfill Hebrews 10:25 there is freedom in that. Though Sunday is a very important day, one day cannot be put another (Rom 14:4) for we have autonomy in the Lord on this issue (Rom 14:5). Some may regard this as those adhering to OT ritual days within the Roman church. I grant that, so we currently go to Sunday School on Sunday mornings to fulfill Hebrews 10:25, but exercising our freedom in Christ on how we learn the convicting truths of the gospel other than through sermons. For sermons are a way, not the way. I would argue that Jesus did mainly through discussion.
[5] According to Logos Bible Software
[6] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update (LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995), 1 Co 15:12.
[7] Robert L. Thomas, New American Standard Hebrew-Aramaic and Greek Dictionaries : Updated Edition (Anaheim: Foundation Publications, Inc., 1998).

[7b]  Duane F. Watson, “Education: Jewish and Greco-Roman,” Dictionary of New Testament Background: A Compendium of Contemporary Biblical Scholarship (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000), 312.
[8] Thomas L Robert. Three Views on the Origins of the Synoptic Gospels (Kindle Locations 3510-3513). Kindle Edition
[9] D.A. Carson writes, “They are also teaching me, slowly, to change my mind and acknowledge when I am shown to be in error. There is no virtue in a Maginot Line of emotional defense around a position that is palpably weak.” D. A. Carson, Exegetical Fallacies, 2nd ed. (Carlisle, U.K.; Grand Rapids, MI: Paternoster; Baker Books, 1996), 43.

(Updated 01/2020)

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