I found this article on preaching to be pretty interesting, and a struggle that we all face, whether we are the ones doing the preaching, or whether we are the ones listening. The author makes a distinction between two types of fallacies in preaching: the “bottom line” and “practical” fallacy. One says, “just give me the answer…cut to the chase…what do I need to know?” The other asks, “What does this mean to my life…how does it apply…is it practical.” These are questions and comments that I hear all the time, and if you are preaching, or if you attend church, I’m sure you have heard them as well.
It seems that we have little time to immerse ourselves in God’s Word unless we have an immediate reaction or understanding of it that somehow has a profound practical impact on our life. I tell my students that sometimes I think they would be more happy if I just handed them an answer book with all the right moves and plays in it when they walk into the college group on Wednesday night, rather than them having to work, pray, wait and struggle spiritually in their lives. We all fall into this temptation.
I don’t necessarily agree with the author on the point that:
“Christians are, from the moment of their new birth, wired for spiritual, biblical information. We ‘have a mind for it.’
Thus, when a preacher stands and opens before them the logic of the Scripturesâthe contemplations of a psalmist or the doctrinal logic of an epistleâthey understand it, like a gifted child. And the logic of that text gradually becomes the logic of their own minds.”
Rather, I think no matter where you are in your Christian faith, it still takes hard work to understand and contemplate, and pray through God’s Word. There will be days where the light switch turns on quickly, and truths come rushing forward making everything comprehendable. And there are many days where things do not make sense, or may never make sense to our finite minds, but we keep returning to it, because that is what we are asked to do. “But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night” (Psalm 1:2)
The great philosopher Soren Kierkegaard in one of his parables tells a story of a boy who tries to secure the answers to a math test. But in securing the answers, and therefore having all the solutions to the problems, Kierkegaard points out the fruitlessness of this endeavor. The boy may have all the answers, but he does not know how to get those answers, or to solve them himself. So what good are answers, when you do not know how to solve the problem? What good are answers when you do not know how you got there?
I think this is often the problem in preaching, and what the author of this article is getting at. We may be giving people the right answers in our practical and bottom line preaching at times, but they don’t know how they arrived there. We have brought them to the destination without taking them on the journey. When I sit in the pew on Sunday I often want the pastor to get to the gist of the message, but in doing so, I’m asking for shortcuts, and am being shortchanged in my understanding of God’s Word, and its application to my life.
I had a wondeful time on my honeymoon in Tahiti, but there was something weird about being able to get on a plane in Los Angeles, and arrive eight hours later in this exotic place. Some of you who travel overseas a lot know what I mean. I loved this exotic place, and was thankful for the technology of air travel, but somewhere deep inside I wondered what the first explorers must have felt to be on a long journey, and then to come to the beautiful islands of Tahiti. How fulfilling that must have been after months and years at sea in grueling conditions. But their journey, made their arrival in Tahiti all the more enjoyable and fulfilling. Somehow I felt a little shortchanged to have missed out on the journey, and to be instantly transportable to a new land. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not whining about being in Tahiti, or on my honeymoon, but do you understand what I’m saying. That sometimes in our spiritual life when we ask God to take us from one place to the next, hoping to bypass the journey, we shortchange ourselves, and the fulfillment that the journey brings to our souls. There is no such thing as instant traveling from one place spiritually to the next…for the most part…there are no shortcuts. It is a journey that we travel along, and preaching that does not take shortcuts is a partner on this journey with us.
I have a lot to learn about preaching myself, and I know I have made a lot of mistakes. But may God teach me more and more what it means to bring His Word to His people, and may He teach me what it means for me to wait patiently in the pews as the preacher doesn’t take the shortcuts that I want.