Quick Update

I guess it is obvious.

We made it to California.

I have spent the last couple days trying to get books together so that I can begin researching and writing my doctoral dissertation. I am right now thinking through the question, what impact if any should culture have on our preaching?

The easy answer you hear sometimes is none.

We should just preach the Word and let the Word do its work and not really concern ourselves too much with the culture in which we are communicating. After all, it is a lot of work in and of itself to study the Word of God and get the meaning right in the first place, do that well and there isn’t a whole lot of time left to think about the culture really. Plus there is a Holy Spirit and ultimately the effectiveness of our ministry is in His hands not our ability to communicate.

But while that is true, I don’t think that particular attitude is actually as biblical as it first sounds.

Anyway, it is late and I’ll have to give you some reasons why I think that on some other occasion. (Maybe you have some ideas as to why…) If I ever get it done, you can read my doctoral dissertation. It is something I am thinking through to prepare myself for preaching to a traditional South African culture – what are the non-negotiables of expository preaching and what are cultural elements of communication that can and should be changed to be more effective?

We miss our family there in Pennsylvania. I must have woken up three or four times on Saturday night and every time I woke up, I woke up to find myself praying that God would bless the preaching of His Word in the lives of the members of the church. If I was always that focused I could really get alot of praying in at night!

5 thoughts on “Quick Update

  1. I hope you finish your dissertation very soon! I’d be interested to read it.

    Why do you characterise the position of resisting cultural influences in preaching as the “easy answer”?
    Do you think people who have arrived at that conclusion haven’t thought carefully about it or could it be that after weighing the options they’ve made a different value judgment ?

    And later you say
    “After all, it is a lot of work . . . . . . and there isn’t a whole lot of time left to think about the culture really.”
    Do you think unwillingness to sacrifice the necessary time to study our culture is a common motive?

    This is not meant to be a challenge, by the way. I am genuinely curious where the lines would be drawn on this issue for several reasons.
    One is a desire to have a more, as you say, “biblical” perspective. After all, if we answer the question of “how does culture impact our preaching?”, we may see our preaching actually impacting our culture!

    Two, it seems to me that the “easy answer” (or at least the most common attitude) is not to resist cultural influences, but to capitulate to them and allow them to dominate one’s approach to preaching the gospel.

    We’ll remember you tonight at prayer meeting 🙂
    Hope your wife is enjoying your time with family!!

  2. Interesting Jack.

    Good to hear from you by the way. I don’t mind a challenge – hopefully that will help me articulate what I am intending to express more clearly.

    I think the give in answer is an easy answer, you are right about that. But I also think that the run away answer is an easy one as well. Or the, everything in culture is wrong and culture has no impact on the way I preach and I should just preach the Word answer.

    I say that is the easy answer for a number of reasons. One, obviously we don’t want to compromise the Scripture and obviously we don’t want to speak our own message and obviously we don’t want to capitulate with culture, and I do think it is easier to simply say that we should spend little time thinking about the culture to whom we are communicating.

    I would say and will say in my dissertation that acting like you can simply ignore culture and preach the Word is naive, ineffective and unbiblical. It is naive because we all are affected by our culture whether we recognize it or not. We can’t just say I am going to be biblical and culture is not going to impact the way I preach because the fact it, it has and does. It often affects the way we dress when we preach, the words we choose when we preach, the illustrations we use, the structures of sermons that we prefer, even sometimes the length of sermons we preach not to mention the fact that it even affects the questions we ask of the text we are studying. It is ineffective because preaching is more than speaking the truth, it is communicating the truth and in order to communicate the truth we have to understand the people to whom we are communicating. For example, if I am in a culture where people that are loud are instinctively considered arrogant and I don’t consider that when I go to preach, it is likely that the people to whom I am preaching are going to consider me arrogant even if I am not. Though I probably am if I don’t pay attention to the fact that they think loud people are arrogant. And more importantly, I believe it is unbiblical to not pay attention to the culture to whom you are communicating. While it honors the content of Scripture, it does not honor the way God Himself chose to communicate Scripture. God stooped down to use culturally appropriate forms and structures, illustrations, and more to communicate His message with us. This is one reason there is so much similarity for example between Ancient Near Eastern Treaties and what we find in the covenants of the Old Testament, one reason we find so many illustrations of proverbs like we find in the book of Proverbs in other cultures, one reason why God uses metaphors to describe Himself like a rock say, when God is not a rock – what is He doing, He is using language that people in that culture would understand to communicate who He is – He is not merely saying, hey you have to come up to me – He is saying I will come down and speak in terms and ways you will understand.

    More importantly, I think honestly it is a bit selfish. And that really is why I do think it is a common attitude when it comes to preaching and is an easy answer as well. It is very easy when I communicate to only think in terms of how I communicate and what makes sense to me and the ways I like to express things, and not pay much attention to the people to whom I am speaking, not do the hard work of really listening to them and even changing the way I speak to make it easier for them to hear. It is hard to love people enough to actually listen long enough to understand how to communicate with them.

    Again, great to hear from you!

    I am somewhat surprised though, would you really say the most common attitude in the circles in which you have moved is to merely capitulate with culture?

  3. Oh and Matt, we are in California until June 6th. Where are you at?


    I was thinking of two examples that demonstrate the “just preach the Bible and not pay much attention to culture” attitude really is pretty common.

    First, check out the history of missions. Many would say that much damage has been done throughout the ages by missionaries who assumed Western culture equaled Christian truth.

    Second, even in good churches I have found that people often equate a form of sermon with expository messages rather than what expository messages really are, expositing the text. I think this is why some have a hard time say for example with the exposition of the gospels – they have a form or structure of preaching in their mind which worked pretty well say with Pauline epistles but honestly when it comes to narratives like Mark is actually less expositional because it doesn’t do justice to the narrative structure of the text but that sermon structure they had received from church culture was so ingrained it was hard to really look at the text from a different perspective.

    Anyway, have a great prayer meeting! Say hello to everyone! Love you guys.

  4. hmmm, maybe I wasn’t very clear…
    I didn’t mean to say the circles I’ve been in (which, I imagine are fairly limited) capitulate to the culture. I was thinking more along the lines of American churches in general, or what passes for Christianity in the popular or common sense.
    The Lord has been very kind to us and we have found ourselves in churches where the leaders have labored very hard to be faithful not only to the content of the Bible’s message, but have also taken pains to make it plain and relevant and profitable.

    I appreciate your point concerning missions and equating Western civilization and its’ values with Christianity and this is to our shame.
    Its interesting that when the first British evangelicals arrived here, they made the same mistake with the native Indians, “converting” them to an imported European culture and Christianity at the same time.
    Some of the saddest historical accounts of thos days concern Indians who left their tribes due to persecution from their own after their conversion and established separate Indian villages modeled after English towns and reflectining English culture. Several years later, when the British and the Indians began to war with one another, these Christian Indians found themselves in the same position as Japanese-Americans in WW2 – unwelcome and distrusted by both camps! And they suffered much.

    I also appreciate your point concerning God stooping down to use culturally appropriate forms and structures, illustrations.
    The amazing thing to me is that in that act of condescension, the end result is that he actually brings us “up” to himself!

    Lastly, it is precisely because the culture that shaped the thinking of those men who received and recorded God’s revelation WAS so different than ours that we have to consider these things carefully if we desire to communicate God’s message accurately.
    We can’t help but allow our cultural context to color and flavor us. That would be like a fish denying that he was wet…
    One of the reasons I’m anxious to read your dissertation is because, I believe, it is difficult for us to examine the “water” in which we “swim” while we are yet in it. We almost need to be yanked out of it in order to bring a measure of objectivity to our observations. And I expect you will gain much valuable firsthand experience in this in the coming months/years, if God permits it. It would be even more interesting to read your dissertaion ten years from now when your research and theses have been tested in the fire of experience. . .

    Thanks for praying for us!!
    The Lord was near at prayer meeting!!
    We wish you every blessing, fruit from your labors and much joy in Christ!!

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