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).

Randal

Read More, Preach Better

From a human perspective (FHP), there are some things we can do to improve our preaching. For instance, if you haven’t read some of my recent posts, you might enjoy the summary takeaways from TED Talks. Providing the Holy Spirit is carrying you and your listeners during your sermon, you will be a better communicator of God’s Word by putting into practice the best practices of the best communicators.

And here’s another one: READ MORE. PERIOD.

Christmas week of 2016 I set a goal to read one book each week (no more than 250 pages, which means large books bleed into the next week).

The backstory: Back in the mid-eighties at Dallas Theological Seminary, Prof. Howard Hendricks encouraged us to follow his practice of reading one book per week. As a young masters level student, I remember being impressed by this seemingly out-of-reach goal (not realizing that all the pages of required reading in my formal studies easily equaled this!). As a young pastor, I remember thinking: “Ya, but Prof. doesn’t realize that pastors are not professors. We don’t have the luxury of devoting all that time to research.”

It only took me thirty years to finally see Prof’s wisdom (He’s probably doing his famous sniffle in heaven at the thought of this!).

And this practice has changed my life/ministry. Try it.

  • Convince yourself you can do it. No excuses.
  • Discipline yourself to do it. Schedule between 30-60 minutes.
  • Read authors that will stretch your thinking. Don’t waste your time on things you already know and practice. Aim for theological depth.
  • Skim whenever you can. I’ve learned that even the best of books can be read quickly if I do not allow myself to get bogged down by reading every word. Many sentences and paragraphs do not provide what you are reading the book to gain.
  • Don’t ever read without a highlighter in hand. You’re reading for research, not for pleasure (you have other times for that).
  • Use Evernote or some other system to record your notes for future use.

Watch what happens. You will gain momentum and your preaching will reach another level of sophistication (in the best sense of the word). God will receive His due in the church and in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 3:21).

Randal

“Let’s be honest. That’s bizarre!”

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Some things just don’t look right in the Bible. Period. And when we come across those things, we do our listeners a favor–especially our relatively un-churched attendees–by pointing it out.

One of my friends at church, Craig, gave me a great example of this a few weeks ago. He was talking about how weird it is for Jesus to be called the good Shepherd, but then for Him to send His sheep out among wolves. What kind of good Shepherd would do that!?!

That’s the kind of stuff that doesn’t look right when you think about it.

Over the years I’ve benefited from James Emery White’s blog, Church & Culture. In Volume 12, No. 53 he imagined what the unchurched would tell us if we listened to them. Number 7 was, “Can we agree that there’s a lot of weird stuff attached to Christianity and the Bible? Okay, it may be true, or real, or whatever, but can we just agree that some of it is a bit…bizarre? For some strange reason, it would make me feel better to hear you acknowledge how it all looks and sounds to someone from the outside.”

Well, one reason it would make them feel better to hear us acknowledge some weirdness in holy Writ is because it’s TRUE. God has recorded some strange stuff in His Word. Another good example is the Judges’ narrative I’ll write about in weeks to come, often labeled, Jephthah’s Tragic Vow. Jephthah promises that if God gives him a strategic victory in battle, he would dedicate the first thing that comes out of his house to greet him. That first thing was only daughter! And what’s totally bizarre is that God allowed Jephthah to carry through with his promise (according to my un-inspired reading of the narrative).

There are a whole lot of well-churched folks who appreciate any time we point out such weirdness. Before Sunday, see if your preaching portion has some bizarre aspects to it. If you bring it out, your listeners will appreciate the honesty and, depending on how you proceed, the mystery that is our God. That assumes you will fight the temptation to explain everything in God’s Word, especially the things that are impossible to explain.

Preach well so God receives glory in the church and in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 3:21).

Randal

P.S. I usually don’t ask for feedback because I know pastors are busy. However, I am curious to hear your thoughts on why the generation of preachers before us were very hesitant to bring out the bizarre aspects of God’s revelation. Are there any dangers to this approach to interpretation and preaching? Thanks for chiming in.

What I’m Learning About Preaching From Atheist Attendees

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Two events produced this post. The first event happened a few years ago and lasted over a three or four-year time period. The second event happened yesterday. Both events involved atheists attending church and overhearing worship during the teaching time. Both events continue to teach me valuable lessons about preaching.

First, atheists listen more critically to what we say than our faith-family. In this way, in a small way, I feel what Timothy Keller of Redeemer Presbyterian feels about preaching in New York City. He said he always has to make sure he has his facts right in NYC because he knew his listeners will verify his words.

My two atheists–one regular attender and one, one-Sunday visitor–listened more closely than most regular attending Christians. It means I have to pay attention to my facts during illustrations (I find that’s the time I’m most apt to misspeak). But actually, having experienced atheists in the house has made me realize how important it is for me to do my homework. I don’t want to take advantage of Christian listeners who are not as critical listeners. I don’t want to lead them astray with false data.

Second, my interaction with the two men helped me realize that our Christianity rests on faith that God’s revelation explains the reality of our world. I’m currently reading, Belief Without Borders: Inside the Minds of the Spiritual but not Religious, by Linda A. Mercadante.

Over and over again I’m reading excerpts of people believing that human beings are basically good and that they will do the right thing given enough education. Very different perspective than the anthropology of Scripture. I was challenged to continue to make it clear that God’s Story is our story. We believe that what God says in His Word is reality. We continually assess whether the lives we’re living match the reality of God’s Word.

Third, my time with the self-proclaimed atheists, both of which left the Christian faith, confirmed for me that no apologetical skill will turn a committed atheist into a committed Christian. I am responsible to preach the Word. Apart from the Spirit of God, I can’t force someone to believe God’s Word is real.

I remember hearing Dr. Norman Geisler, one of my former professors at Dallas Theological Seminary in the ’80’s say, “Apologetics is effective in helping a person who’s on the fence.” These two atheists, one of which is my friend, are not on the fence. And my best attempts at being an apologist will not win the day.

(Some readers might be interested in learning that the well-known Yale Old Testament Biblical Theology professor, Brevard Childs, once wrote me a letter stating that he felt that an emphasis on apologetics was detracting from the preaching of God’s Word.)

Anyway, there you have it: what I’m learning about preaching from atheist attendees.

Preach well so God receives glory in the Church and in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 3:21).

Randal

Challenging Conventional Thinking

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You may have discovered that your sermon content often challenges the thinking of your congregants. That’s a good sign. It’s very difficult–maybe impossible–for anyone to grow spiritually if they continue to think the same things.

For instance, how do you think your congregation would answer this question, “Does God need your money?”?

I can tell you how mine did a couple of Sunday’s ago. The majority answered a confident, emphatic, “No!”

We were worshiping by responding to Philippians 4:14-20. Paul says, “Even in Thessalonica you sent me help for my needs once and again.” The work of God through Paul needed the Thessalonians Christians. If they hadn’t given to Paul, what would have happened to the work? Someone quickly answered, “Someone else would have stepped in.”

Right, God would have used someone else’s generosity to fund His work. It’s true, God owns the cattle on a thousand hills. But it’s also true that some other farmers also own them! Chuck Swindoll wrote, “Let’s face it, money and ministry often flow together” (Laugh Again). One of our missionaries serves under TEAM and I learned that donors provided the agency over 27 million dollars to operate last year!

Before Sunday, see if your preaching portion contains concepts which will challenge the conventional thinking of your congregants. Watch the reaction in the pews. Since we function as theologians for the flock, it is important that we spur them on to new ways of thinking about their God and their relationship to Him. I hope you’re sensing that God sent you to your post in order to stretch His people with the Word.

It’s not about inventing novel theology. It’s not about creating new doctrine. It’s about digging deep and thinking deeply about His Word and comparing that to the conventional thinking of the church.

Preach well for God’s glory in the Church and in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 3:21),

Randal