PREACHING: A SACRED TASK?
Rachel Stephens, Graduate Student, Fuller Theological Seminary
Presented at The Christian Scholars Conference 2008
In a time where church attendance is declining and the current younger “postmodern” generations are more and more disillusioned with the church and Christianity, faithful believers must start examining the effectivness of our Western churches and evaluate the current negative perceptions of the Church. David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons present some of the more recent research of the Barna Group in their book entitled Unchristian. This research shows that 24 million young adults from the Mosaic and Buster generation (ages 16 – 29) are considered “outsiders”, or those who do not have any church or faith association. This is currently forty percent of young adults. Of this significant population, two out of every five reported to have “bad impression of present-day Christianity”, and one out of every six reported to hold “very bad perceptions of the Christian faith". Sadly, this research showed two more invaluable but disconcerting facts about this generation. First, Kinnaman and Lyons discovered that “fewer than one out of ten young adults mention faith as their top priority, despite the fact that the vast majority of Busters and Mosaics attended a Christian church during their high school years”. Unfortunately, this tells us that not only forty percent of our young adults lack any church affiliation, but a majority of them actually attended and experienced a Christian church only to have left it and now consider themselves faithless. Additionally, the research done also shows that this is not just a problem with young adults outside the church, but young adults within the church are also finding the church ever lacking and “bringing up some of the same challenges, questions, and doubts facing those outside the church”.
Research and personal experience show the increasing ineffectiveness of our current Western, Protestant churches in reaching the un-churched and ministering to the faithful of the up and coming generations. While many aspects of the church could be critically analyzed in this evaluation of the effectiveness of the church, I chose to focus solely on the role of preaching because of its significant and overarching function in the modern church. It is my contention that the primary focus and overemphasis of the role of preaching in our local churches is one of the leading causes of the current disillusionment and ineffectiveness of the church today. I will argue that while the proclamation of the gospel is an indisputable task and calling of the church, preaching is not necessarily synonymous with proclamation, nor fulfilling the task of proclamation in our modern day. Preaching is rather a method of proclamation passed down from the fathers of our faith that was utilized not because of its sacred function, but rather its pragmatic necessity throughout centuries of oral tradition. Further, while teaching and educating congregants of believers regarding Scripture is also a role of the church, this should not be the sole or primary function of the church and this role in the church today has similarly proven ineffective.
Scripture makes it clear that proclamation of the gospel message is a necessary and commanded role of the church and Christ’s faithful disciples. The gospel of Mark records Jesus telling his disciples to “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation” (Mark 16:15). And similarly, in what has become known as the great commission, Matthew 28:18-20 reads:
And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, ‘All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always even to the end of the age.
A great majority of the New Testament in fact is a culmination and documentation of the disciples and apostles fulfillment of this command to proclaim the message of Jesus Christ. These two passages summarize what I view to be an indisputable task of the church and believers – to proclaim the message of a savior Jesus Christ who came to save and restore. In regards to this type of biblical evangelical proclamation I assert that by majority, preaching that takes place in western protestant churches on Sunday mornings is not fulfilling this type of mandated proclamation.
Preaching that is done on Sunday morning in many Protestant churches is given most regularly to faithful believers and does not have the evangelistic proclamation purpose of the aforementioned passages. Rather, many preached sermons are delivered with the purpose of exhortation or education to a faithful body of believers. While I do agree that scripture does also prescribe teaching and exhortation of the body of Christ, it is my contention that this role has been overemphasized in the protestant church and does not resemble the teaching and exhortation recommended to churches in the New Testament Epistles. David C. Norrington in his extensive work, “To Preach or Not to Preach” explains that the type of sermon we know today seen in western Protestant churches is not necessarily supported in scripture and would be “scarce” among the early churches. He notes further, “The sermons in the New Testament were usually directed to people outside the Christian community, on an irregular basis as need arose, rather than at regular intervals”. The teaching and exhortation of the protestant church today looks very different from that described in scripture. Preaching today is formal, uninterrupted one way communication, given by one person in the body of Christ, and given on a regular basis rather than as the Spirit or circumstances require. To look further into the scriptural idea of preaching, let us begin by examining the words used to describe preaching in the New Testament.
A quick word study of the word “preach” in the New Testament will show that there are approximately thirty different words in the Greek New Testament used to describe proclaiming the word of God and they are often translated “preach”. This simply begins to demonstrate the difficulty in gaining a completely accurate understanding of “preaching” in the New Testament as David C. Norrington adds, “No word used for verbal communication in the New Testament can give much of a clue concerning context, length, place of delivery, regularity or audience”. There are two Greek words however that are used most often to describe preaching. First, euagellizo, is translated to bring good news, or to announce good tidings, and the second most frequently used word used kerysso, is defined to act as a herald; to proclaim something that has been done. This is the type of proclamation that is the essence of the Matthew 28:18-20. The essential and sacred nature of preaching is often derived from passages commending or exemplifying “preaching” in the New Testament. From these two most frequent Greek words translated “preach” in English, it should be noted that the emphasis of the commonly used Greek words is not the same emphasis or purpose of what we consider preaching in the Western Protestant church. Along with the difficulty and weakness of the translated word “preach” David C. Norrington also rightfully warns, “It is absurd to quote a New Testament statement that someone ‘preached’, as though this clearly proved a regular Western-style preaching ministry”. Many western churches however make the assumption that because preaching occurred in scripture, specifically, the New Testament, this means the preaching done in our modern, western churches is biblically mandated. This unfortunately is a mistaken assumption. A historical examination of the time and culture in which “preaching” is commanded is necessary and may show that the preaching that occurred in the New Testament may have been very different from our modern, western tradition of preaching and even more importantly, could possibly have been so commanded and utilized for traditional, cultural and pragmatic purposes rather than reasons of the sacred and indispensable nature of preaching itself.
Let us explore the tradition of oral transmission that our current culture is so unfamiliar. In an era where print and technological transmission dominates, it is hard to imagine a time when these resources were not readily available. I assert that since oral transmission was the primary means of passing information and tradition, then this was a significant reason for the command and practice of preaching. The practice of oral transmission is a tradition that all first century Jews and Gentiles alike would have been very familiar with because it would have been the way that they had received their heritage, history and education for generations. For the Jews specifically we can trace the practice of oral tradition to the earliest roots of Judaism. It was through “oral performance on ceremonial or informal occasions” that the Jewish people would have preserved their history and traditions which were later recorded in the Torah or Pentateuch. Our scriptures in fact are the recordings of years of oral tradition which were eventually recorded by scribes. It is also assumed that even after these oral traditions were recorded “in court or priestly circles, the oral tradition persisted among the people”. Besides the fact that this would have occurred because the oral tradition was so ingrained in the culture, another probable reason for this was illiteracy and the inaccessibility of written manuscripts to the common man. A written manuscript and copy of a manuscript would require the funds to employ at least one scribe in addition to recording materials – and this would only be beneficial to the literate community. For all others, the oral tradition reigned and sufficed well. DeWitte Holland in The Preaching Tradition, explains that the historical roots of specifically formal preaching began during the Jewish exile. During the period of exile “the synagogues arose and developed as substitutes for the
and, since there was a considerable need for instruction in the basics of the faith, scriptural exposition became a strong part of the liturgy”. As the Jews were removed from their homes and communities, their national identity and cultural traditions were at risk. The introduction of a more formal style of oral transmission in order to communicate the history, faith and traditions of these people became a necessary function Temple
Centuries later when Jesus and the apostles lived and taught, oral transmission was still very dominant. Studies in first century Greco-Roman culture estimate generously that no more than ten to twenty percent of the population was literate. Religious traditions and ideologies were primarily passed down to the common people through oral recitation. The common person would know history and religious beliefs through the practice of recitation in the family, community and synagogue. The Old Testament Torah was contained in manuscripts recorded by scribes along with teachings of rabbi’s, but these would not be obtained by the common man, but would reside in the synagogues to be studied, read and taught to congregants by a priest or rabbi. Any reforms to the common religious ideology known through oral transmission would also have to be introduced through oral transmission. This was the task of Jesus and his apostles.
The faith of Judaism would have been known and understood through the oral tradition of many generations. To introduce new concepts that reformed this heritage and religious belief system, new teachers would have to initiate these reforms orally or through letter writing which by the first century had become a more readily accessible tool, to be passed down through continued oral transmission. One should not mistake the introduction of apostolic letters that are included in the New Testament to indicate the rise in literacy or decline of oral tradition. At this time letter writing would have been a huge expense and these recordings would still have been intended for oral presentation to a specific church or audience. Written manuscripts and letters at that time would still be scarce and primarily used as a “tool of oral culture”. Thus, because of the continued prevalence and necessity of oral transmission, Jesus was a preacher and a teacher and commanded his apostles to be teachers and preachers. Jesus introduced reforms and new insights to the religious tradition and for these reforms to be communicated to the masses, someone would have to preach his message. It may be concluded that Jesus was not a preacher because of an inherent sanctity or religiosity in preaching itself, but because this was the primary means in which his message could be communicated. The message of Jesus was not to preach, but preaching was merely the means by which his message of salvation was proclaimed. My contention is that it is the proclamation of good news that Jesus commanded, and preaching was merely the necessary cultural means for this good news to be proclaimed at that time. The emphasis is the message itself and the proclamation or communication of the message, not the means or mode of proclamation. Preaching and public speaking was a very cultural practice at that time both traditionally and pragmatically, so it was not only necessary but very logical for the message of Christ to be spread through this means in that particular culture.
In addition to the pragmatic and traditional forces which popularized preaching, some also argue the influence of rhetoric in the Greco-Roman world. Rhetoric became a significant and popular aspect of the Greco-Roman culture and the education of the upper class. Rhetoric “was the most prestigious of all forms of learning” and “acquiring the art of speaking was perceived as the route not only to culture but also to thinking and acting correctly”. Late scholar Edwin Hatch goes so far as to suggest that rhetoric “created the Christian sermon” that we know today in western protestant churches. Hatch draws these conclusions from the immense popularity and commonalty of the rhetoric in both the public square and education – specifically the education of some of our church fathers who then introduced and popularized this form of speech in the church setting.
It was this fusion of teaching and exhortation that constituted the essence of the homily: its form came from the sophists. For it was natural that when addresses, whether expository or hortatory, came to prevail in the Christian communities, they should be affected by the similar addresses which filled a large place in contemporary Greek life. It was not only natural but inevitable that when men who had been trained in rhetorical methods came to make such addresses, they should follow methods to which they were accustomed. It is probable that Origen is not only the earliest example whose writings have come down to us, but also one of the earliest who took into the Christian communities these methods of the schools. He lectured, as the contemporary teachers seem to have lectured, every day: his subject matter was the text of the Scriptures, as that of the rhetoricians and sophists by his side was Homer or Chrysippus: his addresses, like those of the best professors, were carefully prepared: he was sixty years of age, we are told, before he preached an extempore sermon...When the Christian communities emerge into the clearer light of the fourth century, the influence of the rhetorical schools upon them begins to be visible on a large scale and with permanent effects. The voice of the prophet had ceased, and the voice of the preacher had begun. The greatest Christian preachers of the fourth century had been trained to rhetorical methods, and had themselves taught rhetoric.
It seems probable that the strong tradition and necessity of an oral tradition was refined and perfected through the popularization and practice of rhetoric. It would be natural for a community based in an oral tradition to work at refining that oral tradition in such a way to attract a larger audience and more logically and persuasively communicate their ideologies. For the Greco-Roman rhetorist this may have been the sophist philosophies and great literature such as Homer, and for the Christian it would have been the scriptures and the teachings of Jesus. The influence of Greco-Roman rhetoric can be seen in the more regular practice of formal preaching at the church gathering and the change in style and form from being prophetic and circumstantial to polished and persuasive. Additionally, because of the influence of rhetoric the pulpit became relegated to those who had been educated and trained in the school of rhetoric. A successful preacher was evaluated on the same basis as a successful rhetorician – their ability to persuade, reason, evoke emotion and win the approval of their audience through skilled speech. Edwin Hatch gives a quote from Saint John Chrysostom that exemplifies the effect of rhetoric on the preacher and the church in that preaching became a skillful speech as that of rhetorical professors.
There are many preachers who make long sermons: if they are well applauded, they are as glad as if they had obtained a kingdom: if they bring their sermon to an end in silence, their despondency is worse, I may almost say, than hell. It is this that ruins churches, that you do not seek to hear sermons that touch the heart, but sermons that will delight your ears with intonation and the structure of their phrases, just as if you were listening to singers and lute-players.
Some modern scholars and authors such as David C. Norrington, George Barna, and Frank Viola have shown particular interest in this research and similarly concluded the emphasis of rhetoric on the preached sermon in modern day Western churches. It should be noted here however that I do not oppose the sermon because of its possible “pagan” roots. I similarly do not believe rhetoric to be an evil, secular and pagan practice that infiltrated and infected the church in a negative way. While the positive and negative influences of rhetoric on the Christian community can be argued, I simply desire to note that the church of the first few centuries was birthed through the oral tradition and refined that oral tradition through rhetoric. While rhetoric seems to have very likely influenced the style and regularity of the sermon in the church, preaching (while of a different style and far less regular) was a function within the church and the Jewish community through the oral tradition long before the influence of Greco-Roman rhetoric. It should be seen that the western style sermon and specifically, the homily, was very likely developed and institutionalized due to the popularity of rhetoric in the broader Greco-Roman society. Rhetoric was the popular and pertinent form of communication of the time and the church simply adapted their form of oral tradition to be more relevant and effective communicators to their culture. While other authors may disparage this use of pagan rhetoric, my intention is a simple recognition that Greco-Roman rhetoric is a cultural source for modern preaching and the church contextualized the oral tradition in order to be more relevant to the culture they were reaching.
The practice of oral transmission continued for some centuries and preaching continued to be a natural means of proclamation of the gospel message and teaching of believers within the church. As the church became more and more institutionalized and Greco-Roman culture popularized the formal speeches of rhetoricians, preaching became a more formal and regular staple within the church. While education and literacy were increasing, up through the Middle ages the clergy of the church had a monopoly on religious and scriptural literature and knowledge. It was the job of the clergy to transmit this knowledge to their flocks through sermon and homily. A significant and culturally transforming event began to weaken this control of the clergy and years of necessary oral transmission – this was the invention of the printing press.
Before the invention of the printing press the process of bookmaking had not changed significantly for over a thousand years. In 1424 the library at
contained only 122 books and a single book was valued at the price of a vineyard or farm. Due to the long process of bookmaking and the great expense, books were items often only attainable by wealthy citizens or churches. This was a privilege not readily accessible to the common man until the invention of the printing press. Guttenberg invented his printing press in 1450 and by 1500 printing presses were used in over 140 European towns. The speed and ability to mass produce literature increased, and the cost of books significantly decreased. The availability of literature and the ability to create and reproduce literature changed many aspects of society. Phillip Meggs in his History of Graphic Design, details some of these changes: Cambridge
Illiteracy, the inability to read and write, began a long, steady decline…Typography radically altered education. Learning became an increasingly private, rather than communal process. Human dialogue, extended by type, began to take place on a global scale that bridged time and space.
Not only did the invention and spread of the printing press reform secular society, Meggs explains the radical effect this invention also had on the church:
Publication of edition after edition of the Bible made increased study possible. People throughout
Europe formulated their own interpretations instead of relying on religious leaders as the locus of truth. This led directly to the Reformation, which shattered Christianity into hundreds of sects.
The invention of the printing press began to eliminate the necessity of oral transmission and took scriptural and religious knowledge out of the hands of the clergy and into the hands of the common man. The oral tradition slowly transformed into the print tradition. During the next centuries knowledge became more readily accessible through print transmission but the church did not change its mode of proclamation with this shift in culture. Now rather than transmitting scriptural and religious history and knowledge out of necessity, priests and preachers argued for their particular theological stance due to the rise of divisions within the church. Teaching and preaching was now used to correct theological teachings that spread to the masses and to defend one’s own theological position. The institution of preaching continued to be a pillar in the church because of centuries of tradition but now became corrective rather than prescriptive. The clergy and church fathers certainly did and do continue to make use of this new model of communication by making spiritual and theological literature available to the masses, but with the rise of a new mode of communication, the role and centrality of the preacher in the church did not shift or de-centralize, it simply continued to be a staple of tradition in an ever shifting culture.
Our current western society has entered into yet another huge cultural shift in communication. Over the centuries our culture has moved from an oral tradition to a print tradition and now to a technological tradition. The influences of the print tradition have been overwhelming. Today in
there are bookstores and libraries full of books, academic journals and magazines in every town and city. Magazines and news papers can be delivered to your doorstep. Available translations of the Bible are countless along with biblical commentaries, church history texts, spiritual self help books, translations of the philosophies and theologies of our church fathers, and very academic and scholarly religious surveys. Religious and biblical resources in whatever depth or opinion a person may desire are readily available and used by the masses. In addition to this, the rise of the technological age has significantly increased the availability of these resources and knowledge of any sort for that matter. America
Today an estimated 75% of all adult Americans and 92% of all 18 – 29 year olds have regular access to the internet. The internet can now provide instant access to just about whatever information a person may desire, religious or non-religious. The Bible can be read online as well as devotionals, commentaries and scholarly biblical articles. Encyclopedias can be accessed online along with books and newspapers. In addition to that, through the internet people can communicate and discourse with people from all over the world, gaining differing opinions and insights. The information that was once only available to the religious elite, and then made more readily available in print is now available to any person with internet accessibility. The question that remains for the church is will it passed up by this major cultural communication shift or will it change the emphasis of the preacher accordingly? In an era of unlimited access to information and education, and in a society that has had exposure (or at least the readily availability of exposure) to the ideas and traditions of Christianity, I must question the significance of the role of preaching as the main mode of proclamation, and function of the church, that was initially introduced to an oral culture out of necessity and pragmatism. It is time to evaluate the effectiveness of this mode of proclamation in a culture that has gone through two major shifts in modes of communication. It is time to de-sanctify the role of preaching and see it for what it is: a mode of proclamation that has been institutionalized through centuries of tradition and has become increasingly outdated in the current technological, information age.
The church has always had to walk a fine line of contextualization within the culture and society of their time; determining what issues can be re-interpreted to be better understood and influential to the culture, and what issues must remain constant due to their doctrinal foundation. Over the centuries the church has been willing to change the style, approach, delivery and even content of their preaching to be more attractive and impactful to society, but the effectiveness and necessity of the institution of preaching itself has not been significantly questioned and re-evaluated. The preaching role of the pastor remains one of the most important qualifications and functions of the pastoral office. The gathering of the typical western church and identity of individual churches revolves much around the pastor and the preached sermon. A typical church service is an hour to hour and a half in length and on average at least one third of that time is dedicated to the preached sermon. A worship time is usually a key part of the church service as well, but this time is typically used as a preparation or response to the content of the sermon. Most churches also promote small group meetings throughout the week as a time for congregants to find fellowship and community, but often these small groups are also focused around a discussion of the sermon that was preached on Sunday morning. In the next section of this discussion let us examine the role and effectiveness of preaching in the current church and postmodern culture and what I consider to be the extreme overemphasis of preaching in the role of the church.
I have argued for the lack of necessity of preaching in a culture that has a foundation of knowledge regarding Christianity and unlimited access to information regarding Biblical thought. This is not to say that teaching and instruction are not necessary, but the verbal communication of the gospel message is no longer a mandatory means of proclamation. Many other means of communication and knowledge now exist and are readily used. The role of preaching has become a sole function of the church and is actually contradictory to the community that should be found there. In the second chapter of the book of Acts Luke describes some of the functions of the early church. Only one of the activities mentioned was “devoting themselves to the apostles teaching”. Among this list are many other activates that revolved around community. The church is to be a gathering of people who share many of the same convictions and beliefs and gather to praise God, discuss “the apostles teaching”, share communion, share life and experiences of God, and serve one another and their community with the gifts each has been given. The church is primarily a “community” of believers. The fact that our weekly gathering as believers revolves around one person sharing their experience and understanding of God and scripture seems to be very contrary to the forming of any type of religious community and functioning body of believers as described in 1 Corinthians 12. One of the main problems with preaching is that it is a form of one-way communication and one-way communication does not promote community or personal involvement in the message being preached. It rather promotes consumers and passive listeners who believe only the pastor has the ability to correctly understand and communicate scripture.
Pastor and author Doug Pagitt has made considerable contributions to the understanding of the detrimental aspects of an overemphasized preacher in his book, Preaching Re-Imagined.
When you think about it, preaching is a cultural oddity. It’s a strange mix of public speaking and intimate soul care. Because we believe preaching to be one of the ways in which we minister to our congregation, nearly every preacher would rightly cringe at the notion that preaching is just giving a speech or a lecture. Yet most preaching is done in such a way that it’s hard to understand it as anything other than a speech that happens to have religious content. The “speacher” stands in front of the “audience”. The speacher is the only one with a microphone and therefore the only one with the power to speak on the subject at hand. The content of the speech ahs been decided on with little, if any, input from those who are hearing the speech, and the conclusions drawn are those drawn by the speacher and no one else. My contention is that this way of preaching hurts our communities. Because speaching is reinforced with religious significance, it sends the message to the hearers that not only are they invited to draw the same conclusions but that they also ought to out of religious conviction.
Pagitt clearly explains the problems that I see with modern preaching in the church, which he describes as “speaching”:
Speaching sets the story of God in a prefabricated context where it all makes sense from the perspective of the person speaking. The context of others is therefore inconsequential. Speaching also creates a belief that even in the presence of dozens, hundreds, even thousands of other Christians, there are a select few who know God’s truth and who get to tell others about God…Speaching takes the Bible away from the hearers- many of whom are already intimidated by the Bible – and reminds them they are not in a position to speak on how they are implicated by this story. Instead their relationship with the story of God and God’s work in the lives of God’s people – a story they are a part of, mind you – is controlled by the speacher’s choice of text and message.
It seems strange that a gathering that is supposed to promote unity within a group of people that have been grafted into a rich heritage of religious community, prohibits my involvement and expression, and is controlled by a “talking head” that is amplified by speakers. This seems more peculiar considering our current information and technological age where knowledge and truth are readily accessible to all people no matter their educational background. The Sunday morning service not only inhibits community, the exercising of the spiritual gifts of the body, eliminates personal involvement in scripture and the “story of God”, but it also insults the intelligence of individuals who may have much knowledge and insights, as well as questions and disputes with the information being presented.
To come back to the main point of this paper let us now examine how the problems just discussed with the nature of preaching are even more significant to the postmodern generation – the 16 – 29 year olds of our current culture who are readily disillusioned with the church. The method of preaching today is very influenced by the modern culture that the older generations of the church were raised in. Modernity had significant effects on society of which only a few will be mentioned here. Modernity can be described by a search for certainty which was accomplished through the rise of the scientific method and the natural sciences. Every aspect of the world and life was thought to be critically and objectively analyzed with absolute truth being found through this critical and scientific evaluation. Answers to all our questions were attainable and certainty could be achieved. With this, many aspects of the Bible and Christianity went under extreme and suspicious evaluation, but modern Christian thinkers and preachers rose to the challenge. The task of the preacher during the modern era was to give the answers to the questions of the time, explain the rationality, validity, authority and objective legitimacy of scripture and Christianity. God and the Bible were demythologized and rationalized, and the church was said to contain the answers to life and faith.
Today, the modern notion of certainty and complete objective evaluation are considered ignorant. The postmodern generation sees the failures of the modern age to adequately answer all the questions of the universe through the scientific method. Postmoderns doubt institutions and authorities who claim to have all the answers or a completely objective point of view. Postmoderns accept uncertainty and the lack of easy answers. Postmoderns are much more likely to accept the possibility of mythological explanations because they doubt everything can be explained through natural means. Postmoderns unlike moderns are comfortable living in the “grey” and paradoxical areas of life. They do not expect to have all the answers and are suspect of those that think they do. Because of these realities about the postmodern generation many churches and preachers who are still trying to defend the church, faith and the Bible in a “modern” perspective are increasingly ineffective and rejected by Postmoderns. The task of the modern preacher was to give all the answers and defend the objective and rational truth of the Bible. These very ideas run contrary to the foundational beliefs of Postmoderns. Dave Tomlinson in his book, The Post-Evangelical describes young believers of the postmodern generation as “post-evangelical”. This is not to mean anti or ex evangelical, but beyond what was known in modernity as “evangelicalism”. They are a new breed of believers who maintain a faith that looks different than the modern faith because they have grown up in a postmodern generation.
For the time being, we should note that during most of the twentieth century, evangelicals experienced and express their faith, and contended for the integrity and credibility of their faith, in the cultural environment of modernity. Post-evangelicals, on the other hand, live in an increasingly postmodern cultural environment. Consequently post modernity influences the way they think about and experience their faith. Post modernity has become the new context in which the integrity and credibility of their faith must be tested.
Those who disagree with the need to adapt our faith and our churches to be more influential in a postmodern culture need to face the reality that the church significantly adapted to become a valid and influential institution to the modern generation and it is the move from modernity to post modernity that they are fighting against, not the contextualization of the church for the church has always contextualized to remain legitimate and influential to culture.
So what does this cultural shift mean for the church and specifically preaching? Those belonging to the Mosaic and Buster generations we spoke of earlier see a valid and impactful institution as one that allows people to question, express doubt, disagree and share their experiences and insights. These are individuals who have access to endless knowledge and information and want to contribute and hear the contributions of others. Doug Pagitt presents a model of church that allows for this type of congregant involvement and a move away from the centralization of preaching in the church. In this model he calls for a move away from preaching or what he calls, “speaching” to “progressional dialogue”. Pagitt explains that progressional dialogue occurs “where the content of the presentation is established in the context of a healthy relationship between the presenter and the listeners, and substantive changes in the content are then created as a result of this relationship”. Pagitt explains that the implementation of progressional dialogue within the church is established around a number of assumptions: God’s truth resides in all people, it gives a fuller understanding of the story of God, it gives control to God and trusts the work of the Holy Spirit within the priesthood of believers, it alters the communities relationship with the Bible and with each other. Progessional dialogue is not unguided, random discussion, but a discussion guided by a pastor or group who has chosen the topic of discussion by the influence of the larger body, and now opens and responds actively to the discussion of all active participants. Pagitt explains that listening is a key factor of this method:
But it’s not enough just to pay attention to others. We have to be willing to be affected by what they say. There will be times when someone’s voice moves us from on position to another, but here will also be times when the input of another person helps us solidify our thinking on an issue. In other words, being affected by others doesn’t mean we are easily swayed; rather we understand that our perspectives are constantly in need of fine-tuning.
While this paper does not lend me the opportunity to describe Pagitt’s suggested method in detail, I believe that the method of progressional dialogue should be introduced as one alternative mode of proclamation to be utilized by the church in replacement of the institution of preaching. This mode of proclamation allows biblical truth to be heard and discussed in a postmodern context. It also allows for the postmodern desire to contribute, express doubt, questions and disagreements and gives opportunity for the Holy Spirit to live and work through all his body of believers, not just preachers.
To continue, I also assert that proclamation of the gospel to a postmodern generation cannot stop with a verbal proclamation. It is my contention that preaching is simply one mode of proclamation and it is not preaching that is sacred and mandated, but proclamation. Pagitt provides an alternative to preaching within the church, but proclamation should not stop here. Proclamation is the expression of the good news of the gospel which should be evident not only in our words and discussions, but in our actions and lives. One of the primary opinions of the Mosaics and Busters regarding Christians is they are hypocritical and judgmental. In a time of ever increasing doubt and uncertainty, the postmodern culture needs more than anything to see reality of Christ in the lives of Christians. The majority of young Americans today have heard the generic message of the Church, what they need is to see this message lived out in the dynamic and transformed lives of Christ followers. This may be the single greatest mode of proclamation in our current culture. Remaining a loyal friend, serving our community, fighting against injustice, correcting negative attitudes Christians have propagated towards those who do not follow the same lifestyle, admitting wrong and asking for forgiveness, loving our enemies and neighbors despite their actions – all of these are forms of proclamation of the gospel message that will demonstrate the reality of our words to our current culture. The Holy Spirit is living and active in the lives of believers and believers are called to be the living body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12). As his body, it is our responsibility to act as the body of Christ and through our actions demonstrate the reality of Christ living in us.
To close this discussion on the value and effectiveness of preaching, I will add to Pagitt’s progressional dialogue, two important roles I believe the church needs to continue to uphold. Within my research and evaluation of preaching I could not help but remember some of A.W. Tozer's very powerful words that have influenced me since the time I first read them in college.
The heaviest obligation lying upon the Christian Church today is to purify and elevate her concept of God until it is once more worthy of Him – and her. In all her prayers and labors this should have first place. We do the greatest service to the next generation of Christians by passing on to them undimmed and undiminished that noble concept of God which we received from our Hebrew and Christian fathers of generations past. This will prove of greater value to them than anything that art or science can devise.
While I believe the practice of progressional dialogue should replace the role of preaching on a regular basis, I do not believe that exegetical and theological teaching should be eliminated altogether. There has been significant biblical and theological study that has been accomplished by many fathers of the faith, and this work is both beneficial and foundational for the church. The information however, should not be exempt from critical evaluation and discussion, but neither its significance nor benefits be denied. The postmodern culture does readily reject the notion of objective certainty, but they do not reject the search for knowledge and truth. The young adults of this culture still seek knowledge and understanding from experts, and simply desire the freedom to question and contribute their own thoughts in the process of learning. Providing opportunities for young Postmoderns to take college and seminary level courses on scripture, Church history and theology I believe will be welcomed so long as discussion and disagreement are welcomed. I attend a church in
predominately filled with 19 – 29 year olds. Our church started offering classes called “intensives” once a week for one month that were seminary level theology classes taught by seminary professors for a minimal cost. These classes did not prove unsuccessful but were attended by over nine hundred, 19 – 29 year olds. There is still a place for deep biblical and theological teaching among the postmodern generation, this type of instruction should simply be open to doubts and discussion, and should be voluntary rather than a mandatory event within the regular gathering of believers. When the regular gathering of believers is focused around the mandatory instruction of a pastor, those who do not appreciate or desire this one way instruction are thus eliminated from the gathering of believers. This should not be the case. Costa Mesa, California
Lastly, I also see a place and a need for a prophetic voice and pastoral correction or instruction to specific bodies of believers in specific circumstances. David Norrington asserts that there is little evidence of regular teaching within the Jewish church, but the prophets were “pastors” of the early Jewish community. Prophets spoke on a number of occasions and locations but were always led by the Lord to speak a specific message and communicate a specific purpose of the living God who was active within them. Edwin Hatch speaks to the decrease in prophesy due to the rise of rhetoric which developed into preaching:
The prophet was not merely a preacher but a spontaneous preacher. He preached because he could not help it, because there was a divine breath breathing within him which must needs find an utterance. It is in this sense that the prophets of the early churches were preachers. They were not church officers appointed to discharge certain functions. They were the possessors of a charisma, a divine gift which was not official but personal…They did not practice beforehand how or what they should say; for “the Holy Ghost taught them in that very hour what they should say.” In the course of the second century, this original spontaneity of utterance died almost entirely away…Prophesying died when the Catholic Church was formed. In place of prophesying came preaching.
Paul gives us a great example of this type of prophetic pastoral function that I still deem as necessary within the church. The letters of Paul that are contained in the New Testament are letters written by Paul to specific churches addressing specific situations. Led by the spirit, Paul wrote to these churches to give them encouragement, admonition, clarification on doctrinal issues, or reprimand for inappropriate action and behavior. Paul did not teach or preach simply for the sake of preaching, but he preached for a specific purpose and need within the church. This is the type of prophetic teaching that I believe the church today may still need from time to time. There most likely will arise situations with in bodies of believers that a mature believer or group of believers will need to correct or reprimand. Similarly, other bodies of believers may need specific encouragement due to unfortunate times, or correctional teaching due to misunderstanding or false teaching. This role does not have to be specifically fulfilled by one pastor in particular, but should be the responsibility of the elders of a church, and any participant of the body of believers who through the Holy Spirit senses the need for this type of prophetic voice or instruction.
The proclamation of the good news of Jesus Christ is not only mandated in scripture but continues to be a passion of those who have experienced the grace and peace of a Savior. In this critical discussion of the role of preaching I hope I have emphasized the need to proclaim the gospel message and offered a few alternatives to replace what I view as an ineffective, overemphasized and outdated mode of proclamation. Through examining the history of preaching as utilized out of pragmatism due to the oral culture and then refined by the influence of Greco-Roman rhetoric, I hope to encourage pastors, churches and faithful believers to think outside the tradition of preaching and begin utilizing different modes of proclamation that may be more effective in a postmodern, information driven culture. To do this we must first remove the overemphasis and sacred notion of preaching and come back to the core mandate of scripture to proclaim the message of Christ. This task of proclamation is of such importance that faithful believers should be ever willing and seeking to utilize new modes of proclamation so that the message we seek to proclaim is more readily heard and understood to the culture in which we live.
List of Works Cited
Achtemeier, Paul J., Joel B. Green and Marianne Meye Thompson. Introducing the New Testament, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing co.,
: 2001. Grand Rapids, MI
Anderson, Bernhard W., Steven Bishop and Judith H. Newman. Understanding the Old Testament. Pearson Education Inc.,
: 2007. Upper Saddle River, NJ
Hatch, Edwin. The Influence of Greek Ideas and Usages upon the Christian Church. Willams and Norgate, Covent Garden,
: 1914 London
Holland, DeWitte T. The Preaching Tradition. Abingdon,
: 1980. Nashville, TN
Kinnaman, David and Gabe Lyons. Unchristian. BakerBooks,
: 2007. Grand Rapids, MI
Meggs, Philip B. A History of Graphic Design. John Wiley & Sons, Inc.,
: 1998. New York, NY
Norrington, David C. To Preach or Not to Preach? Paternoster Press,
Carlisle, Cumbria : 1996. UK
Pew Internet and American Life Project. Demographics of Internet Users. www.pewinternet.org, Oct. 2007 – December 2007.
Pagitt, Doug. Preaching Re-Imagined. Zondervan,
: 2005. Grand Rapids, MI
Thayer, Joseph H. Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament. Hendrickson Publishers, Inc.,
: 2007. Peabody, MA
Tomilson, Dave. The Post Evangelical. Zondervan,
: 2003. Grand Rapids, MI
Tozer, A.W. The Knowledge of the Holy. HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.,
: 1961. San Francisco, CA
Viola, Frank and George Barna. Pagan Christianity? Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.,
: 2008. Carol Stream, IL
Witherington, Ben III. The Paul Quest. InterVarsity Press,
: 1998. Downers Grove, IL
 David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons. Unchristian. (BakerBooks,
: 2007) 23. Grand Rapids, MI
 Ibid, 24.
 Ibid, 23.
 Ibid, 19.
 The role of teaching and educating for the purpose of building mature and faithful believers has not only become an overemphasized role of the church but the type of teaching that goes on in Western Protestant churches has not proven to effectively bring maturity and spiritual growth to the body of believers. See Frank Viola and George Barna, Pagan Christianity (
: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2002), 86, 99-100. Carol Stream, IL
 David C. Norrington. To Preach or Not to Preach. (Paternoster Press, Carlisle, Cumbria UK: 1996), 7.
 Ibid, 99-100.
 Ibid, 99-100.
 David C. Norrington. To Preach or Not to Preach. (Paternoster Press, Carlisle, Cumbria UK: 1996), 7-8.
 Ibid, 8.
 Joseph H. Thayer. Thayer’sGreek-English Lexicon of the New Testament. (Hendrickson Publishers Inc.,
: 2007) 256, 346. Peabody, MA
 David C. Norrington. To Preach or Not to Preach. (Paternoster Press, Carlisle, Cumbria UK: 1996), 8.
 “Granted, the Scriptures do record men and women preaching. However, there is a world of difference between the Spirit-inspired preaching and teaching described in the Bible and the contemporary sermon. This difference is virtually always overlooked because we have been unwittingly conditioned to read our modern-day practices back into the Scripture. So we mistakenly embrace today’s pulpiteerism as being biblical”. Viola and Barna, Pagan Christianity, 86.
 For more information about the preaching within the Old and New Testament see David Norrington, To Preach or Not to Preach, 1-14.
 Norrington, 1.
 Bernhard W. Anderson, Steven Bishop and Judith H. Newman. Understanding the Old Testament. (Pearson Education Inc.,
: 2007) 22. Upper Saddle River, NJ
 Ibid, 22.
 DeWitte T. Holland. The Preaching Tradition. (Abingdon, Nashville, TN: 1980) 15.
 Paul J. Achtemeier, Joel B. Green and Marianne Meye Thompson. Introducing the New Testament, (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing co.,
: 2001) 67-68. Grand Rapids, MI
 Ben Witherington III. The Paul Quest. (InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL: 1998) 92.
 Ibid, 93
 Ibid, 93
 Edwin Hatch. The Influence of Greek Ideas and Usages upon the Christian Church. (Williams and Norgate, Covent Garden, London: 1914) 86-100.
 Norrington, 21.
 Hatch, 113.
 Ibid, 108-109.
 Ibid, 111.
 As early as the fourth century the discourses of preachers and rhetorical professors were both called “homilies” (Hatch, The Influence of Greek Ideas and Usages upon the Christian Church, 109). “Today, one can take a seminary course called homiletics to learn how to preach. Homiletics is considered a ‘science, applying rules of rhetoric, which go back to
Greece and ’” (Viola and Barna, Pagan Christianity, 93. J.D. Douglas, New Twentieth Century Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge, (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1991), 405. Most seminaries (including Fuller Theological Seminary where I currently attend) require those seeking a Masters in Divinity degree, often for ministry preparation, to take Homiletics as a part of their required curriculum. Rome
 Philip B. Meggs. A History of Graphic Design. (John Wiley & Sons, Inc., New York, NY: 1998) 58.
 Ibid, 58
 Ibid, 71
 Ibid, 71
 Ibid, 71
 David Norrington identifies many detrimental aspects resulting from an overemphasis of the preached sermon: lack of a sense of being an integral part of community, inability to effectively share a personal faith with outsiders, over dependence upon the preacher, lack of spiritual and analytical growth resulting from the churches teaching, the “deskilling” of lay members who do not have the opportunity to exercise gifts, lack of growth as a body due to one way communication (David Norrington, To Preach or Not to Preach, 70-83).
Doug Pagitt. Preaching Re-Imagined. (Zondervan,
: 2005) 48. Grand Rapids, MI
 Ibid, 29-31
 For more information about 16 – 29 year olds reaction to the current Christian church in these specific regards see David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons, UnChristian, 121-140.
Dave Tomilson. The Post Evangelical. (Zondervan,
: 2003) 28. Grand Rapids, MI
 Pagitt, Preaching Re-Imagined. 23.
 Ibid, 41-45
 Ibid, 220
 Kinnaman and Lyons. Unchristian. 34.
 A.W. Tozer. The Knowledge of the Holy. (HarperCollins Publishers, Inc., San Francisco, CA: 1961) 4.
 Norrington, 2.
 Hatch, 106-107.