Over the years I’ve taught preaching in university courses and mentored a number of preaching apprentices and preachers-in-training. This series summarizes some of the most basic yet most useful preaching points I’ve emphasized in these settings.
Preaching Point #11: The Compass Factor – The most fruitful preaching will point North toward God, not simply East to a Text, South to a Topic, or West to a Demand.
There are trends within contemporary culture which suggest that God-oriented sermons will connect well with listeners. In general, postmoderns are more open to the general idea of a deity who is part of life on earth. In rejecting modernism, postmoderns also reject the modern belief that a god has no part of the narrative of life. David Tacy suggests we are in the midst a “spirituality revolution” in which people have rejected the “values and assumptions of mechanistic science and humanism…” and in which young people especially “realize, often with some desperation, that society is in need of renewal, and that an awareness of spirit holds the key to our personal, social and ecological survival…”[i] Similarly, R. K. Brewer writes that a dominant quality of postmoderns is that they are “spiritually curious.”[ii]
But not only is interest in God a central part of contemporary culture, it is also a central, in fact the central focus of the Gospel. In the words of Paul, the central story of Scripture is that of a God who acts in human history so that humans “would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us (Acts 17:27).” Regarding the primary message of Jesus, Scot McKnight calls it the “Jesus Creed.” Jesus’ message could be summarized simply as a call to love others and love God.[iii]
Preaching can utilize this common ground between Gospel and culture. Paul Scott Wilson writes, “Preachers tend to think of the sermon as an object or a thing, like an essay or lecture, rather than a vehicle God uses to establish a relationship with God’s people. Salvation is communicated and authentic life bestowed. God’s advent in part is through preaching.”[iv] That is, God comes to us through the preaching. Thus, in general, the sermon should have as its theme an action of God’s. The “good news” of the sermon ought ultimately to be something about God.[v]
This theocentric preaching primarily seeks to answer the questions: “Who is God?” and “What has God done on our behalf?” Listeners walk away not having just encountered the text (bibliocentric preaching) or the demands placed on them by the text (anthropocentric preaching). They also walk away having encountered God through that text. Thus the ultimate good news of the text is “God News”—a word about who God is or what God has done.
How about you? What direction does your preaching point? How do we keep preaching pointed at God?
[i] David J. Tacy The Spirituality Revolution (Psychology Press, 2004), 2.
[ii] R. K. Brewer Postmodernism: What You Should Know and Do About It (iUniverse, 2002), 37.
[iii] Scot McKnight The Jesus Creed (Paraclete, 2004).
[iv] Wilson Practice, 37.
[v] Ibid., 51.