Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Downplaying the practical in Preaching

Jared Wilson writes on why he downplays the "practical" in his preaching. It's a very thoughtful post and I commend it to you. You might not like it, but hear what he is and isn't saying and consider what difference it might make to what happens in those 20-45minutes on Sunday, and beyond.

As I wrestle with Proverbs I'm finding the same - it's so easy to rush to the implications of Proverbs for our living wisely as Christians (which the New Testament does at times), but if we rush to cast ourselves as the son we might just miss the true son. Solomon knows he's not the true ultimate king of Israel so he passes on the baton to the next generation, and on and on until the true son - the one who is Wisdom. Only after we get to Him dare we think about how we're to live...


  1. Well, that's interesting. He has a good point or so. My initial thoughts are

    1. He lives in a very different context to mine. The problem I see around me is not getting evangelicals to stop filling their sermons with so much application, it's getting them to do any. That must be a US-UK thing.

    2. His fourth point (if you downplay application it shows trust in the HS to effect change or something like that) is a non-starter and sounds to me like it's based on a version of the classic mistake of playing divine responsibility and human responsibility. God either uses means (which he does) or he doesn't. If he does then it's fine to exhort, if he doesn't then it's not fine to exhort ever and we should let go and let God.

    3. I'm mystified that he thinks people know what they should be doing. Again, this must be a US-UK thing I can only assume. Or he has a fairly minimalistic understanding of godly living and the challenges life presents to us.

    4. I'd want to distinguish belief and behaviour application. Much of what he's saying about downplaying application is actually about behaviour application. I take it there's always belief application going on in the scriptures and in a sermon. There are some places where behaviour application isn't so necessary and an emphasis on trying to get some 'dos' would be a little worksy.

    5. I think we need to get back to seeing the entire sermon as application. It is all applied all the time. The living God doesn't speak to us to satisfy our curiosity, but only and always so we might believe and obey him. Every second of our bible teaching is therefore application. This is, of course, different to the kind of sermonising that is a 'how to' list, which I suspect he is kicking against. It is also very different to the 'bible lectures' that are given in lots of con-evo pulpits around the place.


  2. Sorry, 2. should say 'playing divine sovereignty and human responsibility off against each other'

  3. Depends what we mean by application probably - so I do think that we should apply/connect to people the whole way but at the same time that we need to talk more about Jesus and less about us... How would be tricky.

  4. Yeah, more Jesus, less us. I just wouldn't frame that as being 'less application' - but that comes back to how we define 'applied.'

    I do think his piece is an illustration of how different contexts call for different correctives. I just don't see the kind of over-practical how to do-goodery that much that he obviously sees often. Whereas I see a lot of very weakly applied 'lecture-sermons' with vague and generic application being made that utterly fails to challenge the mind to believe or the heart to change. And unfortunately I've heard some of the kinds of things Wilson is saying used to defend that practice (which I'm sure is miles from his own practice). Different context, so different corrective needed. We need a dose of good old puritan-style 'screwing the truth' into people's heads and 'working Christ into the affections.' We probably don't need to be told that it's ok not to get too specific cos the Holy Spirit'll do it anyway and people already know how to be godly anyway. At least round our way anyway. :)

  5. Agreed - and hence much anti-lecture sermons talk here in the past. I think I see both problems, but depends where you are. Probably, I don't hang with as many of the conservative-lecture crowd as you might...

  6. Yeah. And to be honest, ten minutes watching any of the christian channels on Sky makes me see a lot more what Wilson is kicking against.