Friday, March 2, 2018

What is truth?

Remember when Pilate says "What is truth?"  It might seem to be a simple question with a simple answer.  Truth is, well, truth -- actual, accurate, historical, factual, etc.  Or maybe not.

There are those who approach the Scriptures as mostly myth, legend, and fairy tale.  You hear them all the time in the media.  Usually it comes with the caveat that it does not matter if they are true or not because what is important is the teaching point, the so-called moral of the story.  These critics begin with the assumption that the preaching point or teaching point comes first and the story is manufactured, maybe from a kernel of truth, to illustrate the point or moral of the story. 

At a circuit winkel recently we watched the second module on preaching put out by the Synod and it is on preaching textually.  One of the fallacies of preaching is the treatment of text as mere starting point for the sermon.  Some prepare the sermon and then try to find a text to support it all -- instead of living within the text and forming the sermon to the text.  In other words, some treat the text as mere illustration of the preaching point. may not have to be a higher critic to treat the text in the same way.

Perhaps the problem lies with the approach -- namely with the idea that the moral or preaching point or lesson is the most important thing.  What you end up with is the search for an answer to the question of why evil befalls decent and good people instead of dealing with Job. . . to give but one example.

I am not sure why we are so tempting to reduce history to lessons for instruction or preaching points or morals of the story.  I am not sure why we think that the whole point of the Gospel is to improve us or our behavior.  I am not sure why we think the words and works of God have to make sense to us so we can understand them.  In all of these the outcome is ultimately the same.  We use the Scriptures as a jumping off point and, in doing so, fail to preach Christ and Him crucified. 

If all God was interested in was improving our behavior, He would have stuck with the law.  Every parent knows the shortest distance from command to obedience is threat.  But apparently God was not simply interested in behavior.  It should not come as a surprise to us but it does.  It surprises the preachers who think of the text as mere stepping stone to their proclamation or the people in the pew who think that the relevance or understanding or some DIY project on their life is the goal.

We continually make God small when we think we are making Him large.


John Joseph Flanagan said...

If a preacher of the word of God would stick to the Bible, reinforcing expository teaching with cross refenced verses, writing a sermon would become easier. Why? Simply because the word of God tells what we need to know about the Gospel of salvation and practical biblical truth. Too many pastors try hard to be socially relevant, incorporating silly anecdotes, even using sports and movies to explain some aspect of scripture which the want to explore. I once attended a non denominational Bible church with an elderly pastor. His sermons were about 30-40 minutes, not a fast 10 minute monologue, and it was filled with verses which compliment the theme. He used to say, "When a preacher gives a sermon, he best have his left hand resting on an open Bible as he teaches!" I have heard some wonderful messages from LCMS pastors as well, but I believe too many preach superficially and allow too short a time allocated for exposition. The LCMS must work on improving sermons by starting at the seminaries with better training and preparation.

Dan Pharr said...

Is the homily the place for exposition or proclamation? Is there a difference?

Anonymous said...

Thank you. That needed to be said. Most often Scripture is about Who God is, not about us, and the Gospel is what our Lord did and continues to do for us, not about how we feel about it.
Thank you again, and thanks be to God.
Peace and Joy!
George A. Marquart

jwskud said...

Dan makes a great point. My own LCMS pastor repeatedly says the sermon is for the express purpose of proclamation. Exposition is to be held for Sunday School. In the course of proclamation, of course, there will naturally be some exposition, but it is secondary to proclaiming Law and Gospel.

That's why your typical LCMS sermon is 15-20 minutes and not a verse-by-verse scriptural exposition, like what you hear at Calvary Chapel.

Anonymous said...

The problem as I see it with revitalization-church growth pastors in the LCMS is exhortation. The sheep need to be led through green pastures by the still waters and not told they are not doing enough to increase the Kingdom. We need the rest and comfort of the Gospel and not marching orders. We need an easy yoke for those moments when we recline at the table of our Lord’s word and supper. lMHO, a little exhortation goes a long way and should be more than offset by the comfort of the Gospel. There is a sign posted as you’re leaving the church parking lot which reads, “You are now entering the mission field. Do something.” No pressure there.

Anonymous said...

Speaking of anecdotes, I once mentioned to my pastor that I didn’t appreciate sermons with loads of anecdotes, jokes, ice breakers, and gimmicks. I told him that people don’t want to be prompted to put on their thinking caps or given a pop quiz and they certainly don’t want a homework assignment. His reply? “Jesus used anecdotes. They’re called parables.” I was nonplussed.

Anonymous said...

You should not have been. The parables are called "Parables of the Kingdom". Their purpose is to illustrate the nature of the Kingdom of God. The "anecdotes, jokes, ice breakers, and gimmicks" are attention getters recommended by "speech experts", and more often than not focus attention on the speaker, rather than the subject. The Word of God has its own power, the will of God, that will accomplish its purpose. But all things in moderation. A sermon should does not have to be lifeless and humorless.
Peace and Joy!
George A. Marquart

James Kellerman said...

Dan and jwskud,

I am not so sure that we should put a hard divide between exposition and proclamation. Granted, a sermon shouldn't be confused for an exegetical lecture. There is pastoral application of the text, as the pastor exhorts sinners to repent and to trust in Christ. But if you look at most preaching before the 18th century, you'll see that sermons tended to be verse by verse exposition. Not only was this the practice of Calvinists and their heirs, but this is how the early church fathers tended to preach (pick up any volume of ANF or NPNF with sermons in it and you'll see). Luther and the Orthodox Lutherans followed the same practice. At some point—and I'm not entirely sure how or why—we got away from that procedure. Straight up biblical exposition became passé. Instead we had to slice and dice the text and put it back together to fit a pre-determined mold.

What that mold should look like has been debated in recent decades. Should it be 5 minutes law, 11 minutes gospel, and 4 minutes third use of the law—the "law-gospel-law sandwich"? Or should it be 9 minutes law, 11 minutes gospel, and sit down? What is lost in this debate is that the Scripture does not come arranged consistently in either manner, whether you are talking about entire books or individual pericopes. My advice would be to let the structure of the text determine the outline of the sermon—whether it is law-gospel or law-gospel-law or something else. After all, the law/gospel distinction is a hermeneutical principle for understanding the text more clearly. It is not a Procrustean bed on which sermon outlines are to be placed, even though the sermon content must reflect that distinction.

jwskud said...

No hard line here, James. Neither does my pastor identify/stick to such a line. His point was simply that bringing in additional material to that week's gospel/epistle reading was ideally only to be done when necessary to explain that week's text. In other words, omitting cross-references and OT shadows unless fundamental to the text. He will bring in those kinds of references from the OT and epistle reading for that particular Sunday, however, and often does, helping to tie the three readings together.