Thursday, February 22, 2007

preach it

as a part of my internship for my mdiv, i'm required to preach a few times at church and last sunday was my first time. now, it's been a while since i stood in front of a church with a message, bible in hand. i'd never had a good experience preaching and have in the last few years just about deconstructed the need for it in today's church as the central part of a sunday gathering. ambivalent and full of anxiety i took the pulpit last week... and as i opened the text, it seemed to come alive, people's eyes became bright, connection with and around the text was occurring and i was having more fun than i want to admit. it was somewhat redemptive, so now i don't know what to think.
but i still have lots of questions: how does the sermon fit in a post-structural church? is it necessary? should it be the central piece on sunday morning? how can we re-think it if it still needs to be central? what are the theological/community values behind the sermon? is it more than the relaying of information by the "community expert"? How can it be deconstructed to become more relational? can that work in big churches? how have you experienced sermons, what do you like, don't you like about sermons. what are your thoughts?


Tim said...

i very much enjoyed said sermon. it did seem to come alive to me, the receiver, as well. thank you so much for entering this territory which felt so uncomfortable.

my experience of sermons in the past? good and bad. bad when they only offer oppression or condemnation, but good when they offer freedom or conviction.

"is it more than the relaying of information by the communal expert?" i think your very experience proved that it can be. perhaps it is less about the conveying of information and more about, with the help and prompting of I AM, to passionately and lovingly draw us, a faithless people, back to He who is Truth and Joy, that the scales on our eyes would dissolve and that we would see.

Aaron said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Aaron said...

i have a whole array of thoughts on the subject, but i'll try to keep it brief and focused...

i think there is definitely a need for teaching within the context of church, but i see it playing out less like the community expert imparting knowledge to the uneducated folk (in a one-directional style of communication) and more like an ongoing conversation as a community that takes many different shapes. one of the things i tried do (with varying degrees of success) when i was planning out our weekly youth services was start with the idea that the entire service is a time of teaching, not just the "formal message"... this changed my whole approach to teaching and building a service. so from the minute someone enters the door, the question is, "in what ways can this person enter into the conversation, or be engaged in some way?"... this could be visually, through a question to discuss, through videos, etc... basically, everything is part of a whole, not exclusive and fragmented pieces. by having this mindset, it relieves the pressure for one person to perform (although doesn't eliminate the possibility for a formal message to happen) and allows you to change the medium for teaching, and engage all of the senses while doing so...

just a few random thoughts, i hope it makes sense.

Anonymous said...

regardless of what deconstruction has taken place in your own life, it remains that folks still seek out church when they seek out god. if they dont find his words coming out of the mouth of thier co-worker or the guy who fixes their computer, they will seek him out in church. so it is still our responsiblility to present the gospel whenever we meet together. for the one out there that didnt get the benefit of a mature evangelical walking talking redeemed person in thier life. we need to tell it still. how will they hear unless theres a preacher?

Firelance said...

I don't think that Phil is recommending eliminating the preacher and the message, but rather asking, "should everything in a worship service be built around the sermon?" Phil, I've been part of an Anglican Church for a couple years now and I don't have time for great detail, but have been quite taken with the worship order. The homily is much shorter than most churches I've been to, and we probably spend the longest amount of time CELEBRATING the eucharist. Before going to Great Shepherd, I can honestly say that I had never in my life *celebrated* holy communion. I now look forward to it every week.

elnellis said...

thanks tim, aaron, roberto- all of your thoughts are helpful.
as one who has been impacted by sermons in the past- i am not advocating that they are no longer relevant. like aaron said, the spoken word seems to be one, among many, ways to convey Christian meaning and instruction. rob, i like your idea of "celebrating" the eucharist- communion never seemed to mean much to me growing up- it was a mere symbol- now i see it is so much more.
something that i can't seem to get away from is the way relational connection grows the impact of words. for example, i was far more impacted by the 3 comments from people i know and love, and not much, if any, by the words of the anonymous commenter. words out of a relational void carry little weight in a post-modern time- where truth is increasingly context-dependent. i hope to see the sermon become less and less a means to relate "objective truth" to the listener and more and more a way connect with each other around the text.

Anonymous said...

Man, our thinking has gone in opposite directions! Since we can't spend an evening discussing this over a pitcher of sangria I'll ask you here. Could you give me an example of how the truth of the Gospel is cotext-dependent and relative?

elnellis said...

hey swift,
i guess there has been a shift in the way i think about truth- but for me, it's shifted to make truth weightier. much of our theology as we know it has been informed by platonic thought- which is know for it's tendency to extract essence from being in it's desire to know a thing (ie, we can know what something is from it's essence as opposed to knowing it by what it is in relation to). post-structural thought offers a return (for it is nothing new) to context-dependent thinking in that it allows the question of "am i saved?" to be less important than the question of "am i living as one saved today, with you?" hence- the truth of the Gospel arising out of the context of the here-and-now. if truth was solely an abstraction there would have been no need for the incarnation of Christ.
from your question i picked up a sense of "red flag- phil is a relativist, he thinks anything goes!" is that true? because it's definitely not what i'm saying.
perhaps it's just a matter of semantics and "spin" but it has big theological implications for how we live in regards to self, neighbor and God.
and i'll definitly take a rain check on that pitcher of sangria my friend!

Anonymous said...

Yesterday we celebrated Sunday of Orthodoxy, remembering the triumph of the Church over the iconoclasts. At the second council of Nicea the fathers defended the veneration of icons with the same arguments that they defended the humanity of Christ. Those who wanted to destroy the icons were attacking the very incarnation of Christ. In a similar sense to what it seems you’re saying they wanted to abstract Christ. The fathers defended the icons because they show us an image of the image (icon) of God in his humanity. God, contextualized. “if truth was solely an abstraction there would have been no need for the incarnation of Christ.” If that’s what you mean by that then I’m with you, but, yes, some of your language seemed unnecessarily relativistic. But when you say that the concept of living saved (or working out our salvation with fear and trembling) is more important than the assertion “I am saved” I’m with you 110%.

(but Jeremy, you can’t have 110% because percent means per hundred and there can only be one hundred per one hundred and what you’re saying would mean that there were one hundred and ten of one hundred of something and that just isn’t logically possible.)


elnellis said...

arrgh! i just typed a long response and lost it all... damn!!
thanks for your response jere- i'm too annoyed with blogger to say anything meaningful at this point.

Aaron said...

and just to piggy back on what phil is saying (i think) regarding the idea of objective truth, is that when approaching the scriptures we have again been subject to the platonic, thinking we can extract pure, objective truth from the out of the story of the Bible... by "story" i mean the actual historical, literary, contextual (phil's word) setting in which it was written, give no regard the author, the culture, and the audience, and read the bible literally and call it objective truth. the Bible (as with truth, i think phil is arguing) must be placed within context for it to be understood (or even for it to exist? challenge me on that one, i'm not sure...), which allows truth to be found in the here and now and not just between the "in the beginning" and the "amen".

i'll stop there and chime in more later if i sort out the rest of my thoughts.

but phil, i do love you thoughts on the incarnation... the revelation of truth in the here and now to a people who already had the Torah, had heard the voice of God, had many "encounters with truth"... but the Logos became flesh... and the Word is living and active today...

Anonymous said...

I think I've been blabbing way too much on other people's blogs, so I'll try to keep this short. But something you said, Aaron made me realize what a big change in thinking I've had concerning Biblical interpretation since I was at Moody.
It seemed that there was a real push for a quazi-scientific interpretive method. Like the only true way to interpret scripture was to try to get at just exactly how the original writer understood what he was writing. It didn't jive with me though - I remember insinuating to one prof that if that was the way to do it then the Apostle Paul would recieve poor marks in his class. As I become more familiar with the writings of the Fathers I see that this stark style of interpretation is really new and that all of scripture should be interpreted through the lense of Christ - I mean, even geneologies were not recited, but interpreted in the gospels.
(it's all quite a bit off subject, I know, but I'm iterrested in what you think about that now as well)

elnellis said...

i agree jere. moody had one agenda- in hermeneutics, to scientifically discover the intent of the author.
as an artist, one of my favorite things to watch is the relationship between the "reader" and the "text." sometimes i listen to the way in which a piece impacts someone and they draw meaning out of it that i never intended. but it is there! so in this way the "text" (the painting) grows as more people engage it.
so to focus solely on authorial intent seems to limit the scope of the text- the Bible grows as people engage with it. we bring our stories and baggage and unique gifts and collide with the biblical narrative.
all this with the help of historical contextual insight (like aaron said) and through the lens of Christ and his redemptive agenda for the world (like jeremy said)- and under the guidance of the Holy Spirit and an interpretive community...
this is cool, thanks for the conversation friends.

Lian said...

Yeah, great discussion guys.
Interestingly, jeremy, this whole question about objective truth is similar to the old cliche about a tree falling in the forest when no one is there to hear/see it. To talk about truth as if it somehow exists and has meaning outside of a subject who perceives it is meaningless. It's a moot point, an unanswerable - even unimaginable - scenario since all truth as we talk about it comes out of a subjective viewpoint and is then received by another subjective viewpoint. In some ways to say that truth is objective is subtly heretical because it suggests that God is not its creator - it is to make God out of truth. On the other hand, when we talk of God being the truth himself (esp. Christ) we only affirm that truth is subjective.
Ultimately, I think we have to conclude that scripture is the subjective dialogue between God and his people throughout history. We have to look at it not as an entity unto itself but as a conversation between two parties. The preacher's job at a church gathering is, in my opinion, to intentionally engage the local body in that conversation for a time all together. His expertise, as you mention Phil, does not make him more qualified to converse, it only gives him the job of keeping everyone else up to date on the conversation. Hence the need for the authorial intent as well as the type of church history you expounded Jer. Too many Christians approach scripture and even the teaching of scripture like teenagers who walk up half way through a convoluted discussion and throw out a pronouncement that has nothing to do with what's being said.

Anyway, let's keep having the conversation both formally as a church and informally as a church - we all have something to contribute I think.

PS My blog is back in business if anyone wants to stop by.

Firelance said...

Jeremy, would you not say that your parents have contextualized the Gospel truth by translating scripture into (sp?) "Kakinte?" I don't understand your question above? Do you mean something else by the words "context" and "relative"?

elnellis said...

chad, you beautifully summed up what i've been trying to say- about subjectivity and interpretation. well articulated.

Anonymous said...

If all we mean by contextualisation and relatve truth is translation into an understandable language then I have no problem with it. I don't understand Greek.
Chad, you said:
"In some ways to say that truth is objective is subtly heretical because it suggests that God is not its creator - it is to make God out of truth. On the other hand, when we talk of God being the truth himself (esp. Christ) we only affirm that truth is subjective."
Chad, glad to have your input on this. It's a bit of a philosophical circle, but if God created truth then it raises the question could he have created truth to be different than it is. Could he have created incest to be good just as he could have created me with three legs? I view the statement that God is truth to mean that truth flows from his unchanging nature. Inversely untruth is anything that is not in harmony with His nature. But I know we could go in circles with this and get nowhere.
I think a lot of my reactions have been to language rather than the intent of what my friends are saying. Once I put them in context they don't seem quite so relativistic as I feared. So on the whole we agree, I just don't see the point of using that kind of language. Relative truth to me sounds like "if you look at Jesus another way he agrees with the Budha". I guess I just have a gut reaction shying away from the language of relativism.

Aaron said...

"It's a bit of a philosophical circle, but if God created truth then it raises the question could he have created truth to be different than it is. Could he have created incest to be good just as he could have created me with three legs?"

now, swift, you've taken us into Regent's perpetual theological debate of platonic/thomist thought vs. nominalism... i enjoy hearing the ongoing discussions of my profs but have no way of contributing anything of value to that one... you have a subtle way of leading us into these hugely theological/philosophical discussions...
i like it.

chad... i agree with phil. good summary to my thoughts as well... the transition from head to paper/keyboard is a difficult one for me to make sometimes. you said it well though.

Firelance said...

Jer, can you explain to me the context of the blue and pink lasers behind your mulleted head in that photo? Were you on the Tron set as an extra or something when that photo was taken?

pedro said...

Hey all,

I wish I had time to follow your conversation. As it is, I'm consumed with economics and demography and crap like that. Becoming familiar with a whole new set of disciplines puts a whole new spin on truth and the pursuit of knowledge.

I read a really good commentary last year entitled Jacob and the Prodigal. The author was American but had lived in the Middle East for a while. It was really cool to see this story interpreted through the context of the culture that gave it birth. The interpretation of said story in said book was much more consistent with the accompanying parables than familiar interpretations allow. The main conclusion of the parable is not that the prodigal saw the error of his ways and repented, but that the father allowed himself to be absolutely humiliated in order to bring the prodigal back into intimate relationship with himself.

Rob said...

Phil, I have a desire to participate in this discussion. I feel as if I’m barging in. But I see in my mind your face and know how welcome I am. Such has always been my knowledge of you.

I too have been on a journey to reconstruct the place of thought following a season where I felt ambivalence about its value. Two years ago I was critical of anything that sounded dualistic, or could be conceived of as splitting the mind from the body. I have returned to a place where I am comfortable giving precedence to the mind and am trying to conceive of that without splitting from the body in its relational context. These verses from 2 Peter 1 come to mind.

3His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. 4Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.

I am reminded that St. Peter likely is critiquing the Platonism of his day here. My understanding is that this is the mechanics of the Forms themselves, that they would fly high, escaping the corruption of the body, hoping to participate in the divine nature, but would fall to the Earth, as Icarus of legendary lore.

Through specific knowledge (of Him, his glory, his goodness, his great and precious promises) we are able to go higher than the Forms, to the divine nature himself. This is where you took us that Sunday (“as i opened the text, it seemed to come alive, people's eyes became bright, connection with and around the text was occurring and i was having more fun than i want to admit.”).

That was not mere knowledge, that was Christ.

Yet we know there is no dualism involved because of the next text, 5For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness… 10for if you do these things you will never fall. Here, knowledge provides the reason for things we add to faith, i.e., things we do. And if we do them (add actions to our intial thoughts.) we never fall, like the Forms eventually did… and still do.

So the only reason we don’t fall is Christ, not merely knowledge.

First you lavished us with knowledge of Him that leads to life. Then you invited us to conversation and eventually action to address our physical corruption.

Thank you.

nate said...

Hey dudes,

I feel so "Left Behind" in all of this, ah, I can't wait to get back to school. But being out here has been a blessing.

One way, Jer, that I've poised my language for relativity with truth is that there needs to be space for relativity within truth. This gives me the freedom to bounce around within the meta concept of truth derived from the Trinity and still leave ambiguity a niche to mess with our "sand castles on a solid rock". It's funny after being in Central Asia and the Middle East to realize that when it rains, houses actually need repair after because they were made of mud and straw. Rain seemed to have its way with them even if they were built on a rock but just not as much. Our truth is impenetrable, it is just safer if found upon a static foundation and as far as I've wondered about that, the only thing I can claim as static is the unchanging CHARACTER of God but I challenge classical theism's view of immutability in other sense's. If it is in God's nature to change from our perspective then it requires relativity to move with that change.

That's the intial thought, but I'm going to include a quote from a paper of sexuality that I read that has nothing to do with sex but with this conversation.

nate said...

I think this quote serves this conversation. And if the previous comment is not understandable it is because my prolocution was actually, "Our truth is NOT impenetrable..." but whatever locution resulted is up to the reader - ha, Phil's idea of relationship between the Text and the Reader. I've played with this idea of lived experience and Scripture holding the same place value because of the inability of Scripture's meaning to be altruistic for us all the time, we don't always know what is being said or understood from Scripture and at times our experience trumps what is being taught from Scripture, although it shouldn't trump Scripture itself as the whole body of Revelation/Truth that is represents. So here is the quote,

"When we spend time exploring these types of questions, we expose ourselves to the wisdom gained from our life. Wisdom held in our hearts and shaped through an integration of our faith, relationships and lived experience. We all too often do not access this wisdom and instead only privilege information generated outside of us, told to us, preached to us. When we honestly examine the knowledge gained from our experience, we do so knowing the full context of our time and culture. This gives us an opportunity to know something inside the context of the when, where, and how of the series of experiences. All too often when we absorb information outside of us, preached to us in churches, media, from others, we fail to know the context of that information or ‘truth.’ The teller speaks the truth for God, scripture, or as an expert. Understanding historical context, culture, norms and expectations gives a framework for understanding the information as it was meant to be understood, yet gaining this contextual information is often time consuming and unrealistic. This is why it is critical that people resource the knowledge and wisdom of their lived experience. Draw on this, examine this and hold it up next to the current Christian cultural discourse being espoused. This is a valuable untapped resource."

nate said...

Hey, guys, some stuff from an article I read in Seminary by Edward Farley. He comments on Church education and how in some circles it is dominated by the homliy instead of by 2000 years of rich history and discovery.

there are some presuppositions that relegate theological education away from the average believer. They are 1) The Professionalization of Theology, 2) The Homiletic paradigm of how faith occurs and 3) The Generalizing of the Meaning of Education. Basically, he notes that theology (systematic) has become synonymous with post college education and has therefore attained an aloofness that is intimidating to the lay person. He adds that the structure of the homily sends a message to the lay person that the sermon is “…the primary resource for the believers’ knowledge of tradition and interpretation of situations.” The third problem stated is that there is a total life approach to education that has grown but it does not include religious education and therefore is not complete and adds to the split between church education and theological education.
Farley is calling for the church educators to be more than administrators, but to be theologians-teachers, well equipped for their task. Therefore the general axiom that church education cannot be theological education needs to be challenged.


elnellis said...

thanks for your comments nate, sorry i hadn't realized there was still stuff going on at this post!
i always love your thoughts- your thinking is getting deeper and more beautiful as the years go by.
wouldn't you love to know what you know now when we were back at mbi?
i didn't have language or categories to articulate all that i felt resistance to in the depth of my gutt...

nate said...

for shizzle ma nizzle. I can't believe what I was thinking back then, but I understand it. I felt so much that I didn't know how to communicate. I remember asking questions in class and feeling like I was off in left field for what was going in my head and heart. I got a lot of blank stares, etc.... and if I didn't know the constructs that were in place by our profs, I wasn't qualified to ask some of the questions I was asking. That was what I was feeling and sensing from them - probably a little self-concious on my part. I do remember the explosion that took place in my heart when I started coming across the emerging/postmodern conversation. I kept feeling relief afterwards that I wasn't the only one and that there were so many others and many who were educated and qualified authors, intellects, etc... I still remember our conversation about swearing. Do you? Someone on your floor had challenged you about it, a preppy guy named Brent - good looking and ABerCromBIE up the ying yang but a great guy. Love you bro! A lot has changed but it is amazing that we became friends before that all happened. I was just thinking that this evening. We have much of the same heart and mind for these things but that all happened after we became friends. Cool, huh?! Blessings!