I’m reading a book called Faith Undone by Roger Oakland.  It is a critique of the emergent church movement.  I’ve been struggling with reading it.  While I have concerns about the emergent church movement I feel that Oakland is putting practice on the level of orthodoxy and that is a mistake. 

I think critical questions are good.  Just like a missionary wouldn’t go into a country and minister to the indigenous people like he or she would in the United States I feel the Church needs to address how to connect with upcoming generations.  There was a quote he referenced by Doug Pagitt, pastor of Solomon’s Porch in Minneapolis, MN, in his book Church Re-imaged regarding sermons that gave me pause.

At Solomon’s Porch, sermons are not primarily about my extracting truth from the Bible to apply to people’s lives.  In many ways the sermon is less a lecture or motivational speech than it is an act of poetry – of putting words around people’s experiences to allow them to find deeper connection in their lives… So our sermons are not lessons that precisely define belief so much as they are stories that welcome our hopes and ideas and participation.

Huh?  I’m not against telling stories – Jesus did all the time, but it was stories that connected to truth.  I’m also not against discussion or participation.  I think sermons should and can connect with people where they are at in life because the Word of God is living and active and it connects, (Hebrews 4:12).

Pagitt’s description of preaching doesn’t quite jive with scripture in my mind for instance as Paul charges Timothy his beloved child in Jesus:

I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.  For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.  As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry, (2 Timothy 4:1-5, ESV).

To me, and I fully admit I could be wrong as I can’t get into Pagitt’s head, it seems that with Emergent Village there is appealing to “itching ears.”  With “stories that welcome our hopes and ideas” what if those hopes and ideas are contrary to scriptural truth?  If Pagitt isn’t extracting truth, what is he extracting?  What authority does he have when he preaches?  How does he respond to Paul’s admonition to Titus to “teach what accords with sound doctrine,” (Titus 2:1, ESV)?

I know that some take Paul’s epistles through a cultural exegetical wringer.  So there is probably a counter-argument here.  The Apostle Peter warns of this as well:

… be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace.  And count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters.  There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures.  You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, take care that you are not carried away with the error of lawless people and lose your own stability.  But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, (2 Peter 3:14-18, ESV).

What do you think?  What is the  purpose of preaching?

8 comments
  1. Preaching needs to be about a connection to God. If we are just looking for deeper connection within ourselves, we are possibly missing the opportunity to connect in Jesus unless He is already at our center.

    People cannot just hear what they want and make it work in their life. We all need to hear what Jesus has to say to us.

  2. Preaching needs to be about a connection to God. If we are just looking for deeper connection within ourselves, we are possibly missing the opportunity to connect in Jesus unless He is already at our center.

    People cannot just hear what they want and make it work in their life. We all need to hear what Jesus has to say to us.

  3. in the american church the purpose of preaching seems to be that some preacher gets up in front of a group & shares how cool & put together his life is through his views, ideas & a funny little story about what happened to him this past week & how we should all try to be more like him.

    although i am not familiar with all the emergent church is trying to ” do” — i can see one thing the emergent church is trying to do is get people to quit their spectatorship of a man’s faith & make it their own faith…maybe that is the deeper connection within themself that Pagitt is referring to?

    just thoughts…

  4. in the american church the purpose of preaching seems to be that some preacher gets up in front of a group & shares how cool & put together his life is through his views, ideas & a funny little story about what happened to him this past week & how we should all try to be more like him.

    although i am not familiar with all the emergent church is trying to ” do” — i can see one thing the emergent church is trying to do is get people to quit their spectatorship of a man’s faith & make it their own faith…maybe that is the deeper connection within themself that Pagitt is referring to?

    just thoughts…

  5. As usual, I agree with you and Meredith. The emerging church is soft on spiritual substance and often checks intellect and truth at the door. However, they have tapped into something that the Church has abandoned for far too long – the incredible power of story. Jesus told stories all the time. The modern pastor generally stinks at it.

  6. As usual, I agree with you and Meredith. The emerging church is soft on spiritual substance and often checks intellect and truth at the door. However, they have tapped into something that the Church has abandoned for far too long – the incredible power of story. Jesus told stories all the time. The modern pastor generally stinks at it.

  7. @Andy – Amen.

    @Meredith – you are right that in some churches that is what sermons have devolved to. I didn’t really address this in the post, but their treatment of the Bible is this: what does our experience and culture say and let’s look at scripture from that perspective. They have it turned around.

    I’m not against people being involved, but truth needs to be taught.

    @Eric – also what disturbs me about the emerging church is the theology of those, in particular, associated with the Emergent Village. Knowing that with Pagitt’s statement gives me great concern. It seems that there is a lot of looking at mystics and less at the Bible. A lot of focus on contemplative spirituality which seems to be a blend of east meets west.

    I agree that story needs to be part of preaching, and we need to be better at it. It is a tool for teaching sound doctrine and we are still exhorted to “rightly divide the word of God.”

  8. @Andy – Amen.

    @Meredith – you are right that in some churches that is what sermons have devolved to. I didn’t really address this in the post, but their treatment of the Bible is this: what does our experience and culture say and let’s look at scripture from that perspective. They have it turned around.

    I’m not against people being involved, but truth needs to be taught.

    @Eric – also what disturbs me about the emerging church is the theology of those, in particular, associated with the Emergent Village. Knowing that with Pagitt’s statement gives me great concern. It seems that there is a lot of looking at mystics and less at the Bible. A lot of focus on contemplative spirituality which seems to be a blend of east meets west.

    I agree that story needs to be part of preaching, and we need to be better at it. It is a tool for teaching sound doctrine and we are still exhorted to “rightly divide the word of God.”

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