Preaching Opposing Views Of Doctrine (part 2)

Last week I was saying that there are times when I will say to our parishioners, “If I believed in a prosperity, health and wealth kind of gospel, I would really push this Scripture. Look at what God’s Word says…”

I reject the notion that we should steer clear of such doctrines.

I am not geared for much apologetic exposition (in other words, you won’t find me spending much time proving a certain position or disproving what I believe to be a poorer reading of the Bible).

Instead, I prefer showing the best side of the other side. It’s the opposite of creating a straw man argument. In an article in the Atlantic, The Highest Form of Disagreement (June 2017), the author uses the term, “steelmanning.” Steelmanning considers and addresses “the improved version” of an opposing view.

Congregants of all stripes will appreciate your ability to think carefully about an opposing view and present its best side. Especially when you do it with humility and grace. You still move to a preferred reading of Scripture, but at least you have been more than fair.

(My experience over the years of research shows that most “sides” are not thorough in their appraisal or critique of the “other side.”)

A listener that was not fully on board with you on a doctrine would likely give you a better hearing if you steelmanned.

But more importantly to me is what steelmanning says about you and me. The author wrote,

“steelmanning makes you a better person….It makes you more compassionate, learning to treat those you argue with as true opponents, not merely obstacles….And it keeps us rational, reminding us that we’re arguing against ideas, not people, and that our goal is to take down these bad ideas, not to revel in the defeat of incorrect people.”

I’ve experienced more than one setting where a dose of steelmanning would have been a breath of fresh air. I vowed not to contribute to vilifying through focusing on the weakest point of the position. It smacked of lazy thinking.

Before Sunday, see if you will encounter an opposing view in your preaching portion. If so, think about presenting its best argument, not its weakest. God will receive glory in the Church and in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 3:21) because you will be gracious, fair, but clear in communicating the better reading.


How To Preach Opposing Views Of Doctrines

At times I find myself saying to our faith-family: “If I were a health and wealth preacher, I would use this verse. This verse…” Or, “If I were an Arminian, this is an excellent slice of doctrine to support the view.”

I never really gave it any thought, never felt any risk in saying such a thing to a very conservative congregation with a strong fundamentalist history. But recently I came across this article in the Atlantic, June 2017 titled, The Highest Form Of Disagreement. I present a few key excerpts below and then give my understanding as to why presenting the best arguments of the “other side” is healthy for preaching.

The article began with the frustration many feel while listening to recent political debates where someone attacks a person rather than an idea. The author highlighted the “weak man” argument where people attack the weakest part or the weakest version of an idea (think of the weakest part of, let’s say, a charismatic’s view on the miraculous gifts or the weakest part of a part of Calvinism). And then proceeds with…

“…America would benefit if our culture of argument elevated the opposite approach, steel-manning, “the art of addressing the best form of the other person’s argument, even if it’s not the one they presented.” Here’s Chana Messinger extolling it in one of those great old-school blog posts that I am honored just to honor:

We probably know best which arguments are most difficult for our position, because we know our belief’s real weak points and what kind of evidence we tend to find compelling … use that information to look for ways to make their arguments better, more difficult for you to counter. This is the highest form of disagreement. If you know of a better counter to your own argument, say so. If you know of evidence that supports their side, bring it up….Because if you can’t respond to that better version, you’ve got some thinking to do, even if you are more right than the person you’re arguing with.
In short, she says, ‘Think more deeply than you’re being asked to.'”

That’s good stuff! Thinking more deeply is helpful for Sunday soul-watching. It’s fair to the “other side.” It shows that there is no threat. It shows we’re intellectually honest.

Before Sunday, see if your preaching portion contains important information about opposing views of doctrine. Let your listeners know it and watch those minutes contribute to God’s glory in the church and in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 3:21).


“Hell is unfair” (part 8 of What Are Our Listeners Thinking?!)


This is my last installment of allowing Linda Mercadante’s research to help us understand what many of our listeners are thinking while they listen to our sermons. The research comes from her book, Belief Without Borders: Inside the Minds of the Spiritual but not Religious. I have benefited from her interviews of SBNR and hope you have too. We tend to think that our listeners are immune from such thinking, but it’s in the air we breathe. We’re all affected by such thinking and the Church is moving, sometimes slowly and sometimes rapidly, toward such thinking. Biblical preaching is one way to keep the Church of Christ on course.

The final area we’re highlighting is the flat out rejection of a literal heaven and hell. Mercandante writes:

“They outright rejected the idea of a static heaven and a torturous hell. Most also rejected any kind of ‘winnowing’ process where some would go to a better place and some to a worse one” (p. 195).


“Guiding their judgments, again, were factors like the American ethos of ‘fair-play’ and equality, as well as the therapeutic ethos….a number felt that believing in heaven and hell, or in any kind of afterlife, was immature, childish, selfish, and/or a vestige of a superstitious past. Several felt almost ‘honor bound’ to reject such seemingly unpopular or unscientific views” (p. 196).

Or this direct quote: “‘I never believe that you have to make people behave because they think they will burn in hell if they don’t. That’s threatening them to behave, which is negative reinforcement, which I don’t ever think is good.” (p. 198).

There you have it. As you know, if you preach the Bible from cover to cover, eventually you will butt heads with such thinking. We cannot change their minds unless God graciously opens their eyes. However, we can kindly let some of our listeners know that we know they struggle with this teaching. We can be the best amateur, expository apologists we can be (seems to me I’ve read about a book with such a title, but can’t remember for sure).

Even our mention of such an intellectual/spiritual struggle helps our faith-families realize the fight we’re in for God’s reality in a world that champions human fantasy.

Preach well for the sake of His reputation in the Church and in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 3:21).




What Are Our Listeners Thinking?!: Confronting the Thoughts That Are Slowly Making Their Way Into the Church


A couple of weeks ago I finished reading Linda Mercadante’s book,

Belief without Borders: Inside the Minds of the Spiritual but not Religious (Oxford, 2014)

I had two goals in mind:
  1. I wanted to begin to understand what this growing population is thinking about Christianity and the Church. Not often, but sometimes relatively unchurched or been-out-of-church-for-years visitors attend. I wanted to learn what they’re thinking.
  2. I especially wanted to understand the kinds of thought patterns that our parishioners are unknowingly drifting towards. The kind of stuff that’s in the air we breathe by virtue of living in this world.
Knowing this helps me when I’m preparing and preaching sermons. I can ask how certain Scripture interacts with such thinking. I can explore how the Gospel creates a renewed mind. It’s a way for pastors to cut worldliness off at the pass. (Sorry if the spacing gets lost below.)
Let me begin with Mercadante’s citing of Harvey Cox:
“Cox asserts that religion is leaving behind the ‘Age of Belief,’ which is characterized as inordinate focus on ‘right belief,’ and entering, instead, the ‘Age of Faith’ where dogma is ignored, religious difference is minimized, and spirituality replaces religion” (p. 8).
We’ve got our work cut out for us!
Little by little our listeners will drift away from being learners of Jesus Christ. Unless, of course, we challenge those with ears to hear to think carefully about Christian doctrine/dogma and how it directs the Christian life. This involves preaching biblical sermons that are incontrovertibly true. This involves creating sermon segments that dive deep into doctrine.
Before Sunday, see if your sermon contains the incontestable truths of God. See if “right belief” is the foundation for righteous living. See if Christianity is expressed in such a way that automatically maximizes religious differences (“there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name…” Acts 4:12). Let’s do so for God’s “glory in the church and in Christ Jesus…” (Ephesians 3:21).
Preach a good sermon, will ya?!