How Much is Too Much? — Part Three

The last few days have seen my blog traffic increase quite rapidly.  I guess the issues on my heart speak to others also.  I appreciate the good comments and emails I’ve received.  As I proceed here I do want to say that I’m not necessarily “knocking” the issues that I’m writing about (i.e. Video Venue churches for example).  Rather, I’m asking for the “why” behind it all and trying to make sense of its necessity.  Perhaps there’s good reason for it.  A church like LifeChurch in Oklahoma has allowed itself to be a help to other churches and I’ve used some of their technology myself.  They are incredible.   Still, I wonder about their multi-site vision and taking over churches elsewhere while piping in their video teaching.  Is it wrong?  I don’t know.  I’m not trying to be critical here.  What I want is dialog about why it’s good or why it’s not good for reaching others.  This isn’t something I can just bring up in conversation in my local coffee shop which is why I chose to discuss it here.  It seems that if you play “devil’s advocate” in questioning ideas then you’re labeled as a stuffy, stodgy critic and dismissed.  That’s not good for discovery.

Today, let’s take the message we preach under consideration (if only briefly since this is a blog!).  My blogging friend Peter Mead from London, England recently wrote a guest column on the “A Spreading Goodness” blog titled “Preaching and Affective Hermeneutics” which I felt was one of the best blog posts on the issue I’ve read in years.  I’ll not rewrite everything from his post but a couple of great quotes stick out that bear repeating..

…many churches have moved to purely practical how-to messages giving helpful tips for life.  The fruit of this change may be bulging pews, but shriveling souls, as biblical illiteracy sweeps the contemporary church scene.

…Do we indeed have a deep dissatisfaction with our own ministry?  We try to compete with the world, but often do not sense that hearts are truly won, nor that genuine peace and joy result in the spirits of those listening.  We give much, but do we really give much of God or a genuine confidence in Christ?

There’s more but you can read the rest of it yourself.  I italicized the two issues that I think are central to discovering what it is preaching must accomplish in the sermon.  Correcting biblical illiteracy for one.  How many churches require their members (or at least give the expectation) to bring a bible to worship?  I’ve purposely STOPPED putting my biblical text on my “Impress” presentations (Impress is the open source clone of PowerPoint) because I want my congregation to “open their bibles” as I say each week.  They may have a different translation but the books are in the same order and they can follow along.  Why do I do this?  As a way to combat biblical illiteracy.

The second part deals with the preacher’s heart.  As one who speaks each weekend, I take this to heart seriously.  Is my confidence in God such that my passionate presentation of His Word one that will project that confidence and assurance, or am I tiptoeing around the hard bits to keep my head above water?  It sounds silly but I know a lot of pastors who do this because they worry about the backlash.  Remember my passage yesterday from 2 Timothy 4 when Paul instructions were to “patiently correct, rebuke and encourage” when speaking.  The correcting and rebuking part sometimes hurts so many times, we focus on just the encouragement.  That, I’m afraid, is where biblical illiteracy comes from.  Mead speaks of this in his “bulging pews” remark.

I’m not saying that some good can’t come from encouraging messages.  We should provide encouragment even when we’ve stepped on toes.  In recent visits to churches striving to be more “current” or “relevant”, I’ve sadly seen very little preaching that focuses on sin and the eternal redemption of the believer.  Again, don’t take this as criticism but more as an observation.  These churches market themselves well with great sermon series titles, stunning graphics, and catchy individual message titles.  Some perhaps are truly preaching the Word but, like Mead, I see many more that are not.  In some cases (not all), less than 15 minutes was given to the actual preaching of God’s Word.   No wonder biblical illiteracy is climbing in our culture.

So while I think that focusing on providing a 5-star worship is overall a good thing, how much of the peripheral items we worry about is too much?  Do we spend as much time studying the Word of God as we do worring about the airpots that deliver the coffee?

Some final thoughts tomorrow…

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How Much is Too Much? — Part Three

8 thoughts on “How Much is Too Much? — Part Three

  1. Thanks for your kind words about my post, Scott. One minor thing, but the title of the post is “Preaching and Affective Hermeneutics” . . . “effective hermeneutics” is certainly a concern, but the focus on spreadinggoodness.org is “affective theology” (see the Introduction on that site for more on this label). I’m glad your traffic is increasing, keep up the good work!

  2. Stacy J Ross says:

    I agree that Biblical illiteracy is a major problem in the church today. However i would say that just as big–bigger maybe–a problem is the Biblical illivability rate in the church. I’ve been in plenty of churches filled with people who could quote the 10 Commandments, the beatitudes, the 12 tribes of Israel, the 12 disciples and name the minor prophets in order, but would never let the mind be in them that Paul described in Philippians 2. While their knowledge of the Bible was incredible, their living of the Bible was pathetic.

    I feel that Biblical illiteracy is more a problem with the people than with the preacher. Most people that are Biblically illiterate are Biblically illiterate because they are too, um, energetically challenged to read the Bible on their own.

    Our church has 3 services a week and most only come on Sunday am. Let’s say the folks are never sick, have a sick kid, don’t take a vacation and come every Sunday. IF they don’t read their Bible on their own from Sunday to Sunday it won’t matter if I preach a practical how-to message or on the tripartite nature of man, they won’t be Biblically literate. This is especially true if I only preach for 20-25 minutes per message. I don’t, but we’re pretending here.

    Like you, I’ve heard some practical how-to messages that were very loosely grounded in Scripture. At the same time I’ve heard some deeply theological messages that left me wondering, “so what?”. I’m of the opinion that one is just as much a problem of the other. The authority of the how-to has got to come from Scripture or it’s just the preachers opinion. At the same time preaching has got to do more than impart knowledge, it must urge listeners to be “doers of the Word and not hearers only.” When we fail at either point we fail as preachers.

  3. Scott Cheatham says:

    Thanks for pointing out the typo Peter. I have it fixed now.

    Stacy, I’m with you on the fact that the preaching can be too dry and not worth much on the other end of the spectrum. I made reference to this yesterday in talking about whole life ministry. Michael Quicke’s book on preaching essentially says the same thing. Quicke calls it “thin blooded” preaching when we don’t take the time to research and connect the biblical imperatives with the world today.

  4. verticalchurch says:

    Well said Stacy. I think one great possibility is to finally teach the people to become “self-feeders”. Like Stacy alluded to, people have to learn to read on their own, and not rely every week on a man giving the Word. We all know that men fall. The Word will not.

    I also think that if people are not self feeders then they eventually become “church-hoppers” because they are grounded in methodology, style, and feelings instead of the Word.

  5. Scott — per my comment on the previous post, I just want to reiterate that I share your belief that simply being a VV, or a megachurch, doesn’t mean you’re ‘of the devil!’ 🙂

    I do think that the churches that are reaching toward the unchurched and therefore remaining highly topical do run a dangerous risk – becoming ‘self help seminars’ – which often masquerades as “life applciation”. This is where our church finds itself much of the time, and honestly it’s a hard line to walk. But taking Biblical principles and leaning heavily on the application side I don’t think is necessarily bad. Again, none of this happens in a vacuum. If your preaching leans hard on application, what else is happening in the life of the church to balance it? Small Groups? Discussion times?

    To be honest, I have never seen church as a place of theological education, at least for me. Before I was ‘occupationally tied’ to the church, I attended for much more than that. See I can get self-help anywhere – Dr. Phil, the book racks at Barnes and Noble, a therapist, etc. Likewise I can get the best theological education in the world by doing a bit of self-directed research. But what I can’t get anywhere else is the community. Walking with others, and learning how to put this journey to the street. That involves some theological grounding, yes. It also involves a lot of here and now.

    So all that to say – straight theology teaching absent of real life and community = not very helpful. self-help absent of the transforming power of the word of God = dangerous. Good balanced teaching, but absent of community = weak.

  6. I too have a great concern for the illiteracy in our churches. One problem is simply illiteracy in the ordinary sense–many people do not read. Since I am a retired English teacher and reading specialist, I am always alert to this problem. It is nationwide. And I obviously have written the solution that works for this problem.

    But worse is the Biblical illiteracy of the people in our churches (and, I regret to mention, the Biblical illiteracy amongst our dear pastors who often think they are Biblically literate, but are seriously lacking).

    As one poster said above, our concern should be to produce and/or encourage “self feeding” Christians. We can do that with the proper Biblical teaching through several different venues of our churches. I would start with 1 Peter 2:2 and its very clear ramifications: if an infant doesn’t feed on its available milk with regularity, the infant will die physically; if the Christian doesn’t feed regularly on the written Word of God found in the Bible, spiritual death will result. Acts 17:11 mentions searching the Scriptures daily. Joshua 1:8 has reference to daily reading of Scripture too, day and night.

    Now my point is not to stir up an Arminian versus Calvinist debate on this subject (if you challenge me though on either side, hands down, I will win in any debate!), but to point out that spiritual growth is the goal (2 Peter 3:18), and a primary component of that is feeding regularly, preferably daily, on the Word of God written in the Bible.

    That may sound too old fashioned. Well, it is time to seriously get back to the Bible itself. Notice I did not say study Bible or commentary! You go to those after you have learned to dig all there is out of the Bible that you possibly can and have done so first. We need to get back to what I call “real Bible study.”

    In my teaching I stress hermeneutics, theology, cult apologetics, apologetics (the historical evidences that demonstrate the Bible is true and Christianity is true), how to study the Bible, all together and all at once.

    As for hermeneutics, I got my grounding in the subject by buying and reading as a teenager the 700 page work by Milton S. Terry reprinted by Zondervan. I read the book through three times before I attended college. I have three feet of books on that subject at least now, and I’ve studied them all.

    Theology is a tough nut to crack. I stress Bible doctrine taken directly from Scripture: I teach the doctrine of the Trinity; I teach heavily on Bible prophecy (young people are very interested in that), a subject most writers and pastors have very unsatisfactory background knowledge of. Until you have read thoroughly the three volume work by George N. H. Peters on the Theocratic Kingdom of our Lord (reprinted by Kregel) you don’t know enough about the subject, though if you knew how to study your Bible thoroughly and accurately you could pick up most of the Bible truth Peters presents on your own straight from Scripture. I teach the rest of the departments of theology too, but can’t make this post too long. I teach these things most often directly in answer to my students’ questions.

    Cult apologetics is most important. Our people in our churches are approached by cult members that come to the door. As Christians, we should consider such visitors as heaven-sent opportunities to effectively witness for Christ (1 Peter 3:15), particularly since the Lord sent them right to our door! But the average JW, for example, can run circles around the average pastor and stymie them in about twenty minutes of discussion (unless the pastor grew up in a church where I taught Sunday school and was in my Sunday school class!). There are readily available Bible answers to every cult out there sitting between the covers of your Bible, and the people in our churches and their pastors need to be taught how to provide the Biblical answer that will not be a rejection of our visitor to the door, but an invitation to really know Christ as we do, presented in a manner that they want to come back for more.

    Historical evidences for Christianity form a fascinating and soul-strengthening study. I first learned of this subject when I bought and read thoroughly and repeatedly the book A Lawyer Examines the Bible by Irwin Linton. There are other newer books on the subject now, I’m sure, but I still regard his book as the best introduction to the great writers on the subject from the past. Linton argues, and this is most important, that an argument is not weakened by its age!

    Direct Bible study can lead to serious “life application” directly from the Bible itself. You’ll find more there than you will find in any edition of the Life Application Bible. Learn to study the cause/effect relationships mentioned in the Bible. That is a Bible study method in itself, and a good starting point is Psalm 9:10. Another Bible study method involves using Bible study tools. My books, The New Treasury of Scripture Knowledge or its more complete sequel, Nelson’s Cross Reference Guide to the Bible, have quite an introduction to the cause/effect Bible study method in a note at Psalm 9:10. That is where I have compiled a full list of all the cause/effect passages in the Bible that I have found.

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