Sunday, December 28, 2008

I Finished "Preaching To A Shifting Culture

Earlier this month I read the last two chapters of "Preaching To A Shifting Culture: 12 Perspectives On Communicating That Connects" edited by Scott M. Gibson.

In "Evangelical Preaching In A Global Context" by Timothy C. Tennent, Tennent points out that today only 10% of Protestant Christians live in the Western world. 67% live in Asia, Africa and Latin America. For the first time Christianity is flourishing mainly where western culture and ethnicity are not predominant. This situation brings to the Universal Church the challenge of bringing the universal Christian message into many different local contexts. As these non-western regions are becoming preservers of orthodoxy within their many cultures, we cannot view these regions only as the "mission field." They must be viewed as equal partners with the western Church. The Church will be strengthened as non-western views and practices are utilized to shore up the weakness of the western Church. Particularly, the West needs to break its bad habit of engaging in purely theological debate without taking into account the missional context of the Church. Tennent quotes a theologian on African theology: "African theology does all the things which theology in general does, but in African theology all these other functions are embraced in a missionary or communicative function. It is not primarily an inter-ecclesiastical exercise, but a discipline driven evangelization."

The final chapter, "Biblical Preaching in an Anti-Authority Age", editor Gibson encourages pastors not to abandon the practice of grounding their messages in the authority of scripture, as the Bible, through the Holy Spirit, is self-authenticating. To preach to a culture adrift, Gibson states four things preachers must do:
1. Reclaim an unmitigated adherence to the authority of the Bible.
2. Cultivate theological discernment.
3. Understand the culture.
4. Reclaim a Biblical base for the theology of preaching.

Now that I have finished this book, which is now falling apart, I will again continue reading Wesley's work on Original Sin and Baukham's book on the Gospels as eyewitness testimony.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Two More Chapters read In "Preaching To A Shifting Culture"

I have read two more chapters in "Preaching To A Shifting Culture: 12 Perspectives On Communicating That Connects", edited by Scott Gibson. (For a link to purchase this book online, see earlier entries on this blog.)

The author of "The Psychology of Preaching", Rodney L. Cooper, does not seem to be a devoted fan of psychology, yet he believes that pastors completely ignore it at their, and their congregations peril. Like it or not, our society has become a therapeutic society, a society that increasingly looks to insights and experts from secular psychology to sort out all its personal issues and anxieties. This being the fact, Cooper states that ministers must educate their congregations as to the proper place of physchology in one's life. Failure to do so could cause confusion as individuals try to sort out the contradictions they encounter in the endless therapeutic voices they hear that claim to have all the answers. Failure to do so could lead to church members concluding that the sermon is nothing more than one of those competing voices with no more value than the rest. A failure in this area would lead to allowing the harmful effects of secular psychological counseling to cause untold damage to the Church as a whole. Cooper reminds his readers that the goal is not merely to encourage mental health but to glorify God in educating the Church on what Biblical mental health looks like.

Cooper quotes an article "The Blessings of Mental Anguish" by C. Stephan Evans in which Evans lists eight key thoughts on mental health that will guide the preacher in his use of psychology:
1. A well adjusted person may merely be a well adjusted sinner. Better to be a neurotic saint than a well adjusted sinner far from God.
2. Healthy mindedness may be a hindrance that keeps one from thinking they need God.
3. Mental illness can be a blessing if it causes one to realize ones need for God and to consider their eternal destiny.
4. Thus, in a choice between spiritual renewal and psychological recovery, the Christian must put first priority upon the spiritual dimensions of their beings.
5. Mental illness/psychological issues may drive a believer into a deeper commitment to Christ, becoming a blessing rather than a curse.
6. Tension, conflict and anxiety, even to the point of psychological angst, may be crosses we have to bear as we engage in service for God.
7. No healing of any sort is complete unless God is given the glory as the responsible agent.
8. Health of mind or body is of supreme value in the service of Christ.

Cooper lists five reasons why a pastor's use of psychology can be effective:
1. The preacher addresses all kinds of people grappling with psychological issues they would never seek counseling for.
2. A direct approach by the preacher on an issue may be the catalyst to make someone acknowledge and deal decisively with their problems.
3.The preacher can apply God's Word to particular issues and can emphasize the hope the Word contains in dealing with psychological issues. Hope is a necessary ingredient in therapeutic change.
4. A preacher can be a preventive agent, one who equips those under his care to deal with and head off maladaptive behavior.
5. The preacher can accomplish four needed functions. One, healing (helping people to a new deminsion of spiritual wholeness, not just a return to the staus quo). Two, sustaining (helping people endure current hardship and suffering). Third, guidance (helping those make choices or to live according to Biblical counsel). Four, reconciliation (helping people become restored to God and others in addition to dealing with past regrets, current worries, or anxiety about the future.)

One last point from Cooper: "The preacher must also have a realistic view as to what psychological issues can reasonably and effectively be addressed from the pulpit. This view depends on the preacher's philosophy of counseling."

Chapter Ten, "The Postmodern Mind and Preaching" by Jeffery D. Arthurs, points out that the changes among the mindsets of baby boomers and generation X is not anything drastically new. In fact, the spiritual outlook of many today resemble the outlook of many in Paul's day. Man's spiritual needs have not changed, nor has the Word's power to convict declined. Demographic studies of generation X reveals those as not reborn hippie flower children. While they may seek to be good Americans, they are still sinners primarily concerned with making money. In a word of encouragement to preachers, Arthurs states that Biblical Anthropology is often more important than being up to date about philosophical trends; knowledge of one's flock is often the most important factor in determining what must be preached.

This being said, Arthurs does believe that it is important for pastors to be knowledgeable concerning trends. Pastors need to be aware of certain postmodern outlooks that frame the minds of even committed Church members:
1. Truth is believed to be the result of individual perspective. This creates an ethical relativism in the common culture.
2. A sense of right and wrong is a tool to make us safe, happy and well adjusted. "How shall we preach an authoritative word to this culture?" Arthurs asks.
3. In the classical sense, rhetoric denoted the art of persuasion. To the postmodern mind, rhetoric denotes manipulation. Preaching is seen in this light today; and attempt to bend the hearer to the preacher's will.

Arthurs is in agreement with those who believe that to disclose ones limited perspectives and admit that one person does not have all the answers goes a long way to regain personal credibility and a fair hearing for one's message. Often a series, rather than one sermon, is the way to communicate Biblical truth. Arthur's points out that church members with a traditional mindset do not always mind repetition. Not only that, but as the preacher seeks to instruct those ignorant of God, those who are already disciples have their beliefs reinforced by its continual retelling. Transparency among preachers also lends credibility to the message in the postmodern mind. "Preachers should consider using self-disclosure in their sermons not only because audiences value it but also because the form helps communicate the theology of incarnation. Truth should not merely be abstract and propositional. It should be personal and operative...Personal communication adapts to the postmodern mind by framing authority in the context of humility, emphasizing experience and fostering dialogue." Arthur's also believes that the same participatory mindset must be a part of worship. Testimony is given a new importance in this regard. If Arthur's is right, this would contradict modern day traditionalists who believe testimony to be too prominent in Church worship today.

There are only two short chapters left in "Preaching To A Shifting Culture." After I have finished it, I will go back to my reading of Wesley on Original Sin.