Friday, March 6, 2009

What the Latest Squabble on Preaching Style Says About Evangelicalism

This post is not really about Andy Stanley. I mention that because I'm about to disagree with him and use the conversation ensuing from the 2nd part of Ed Stetzer's interview with Stanley as a jumping off point to something else.

Also, I know I am not fit to tie Andy Stanley's shoes. The man has probably logged more years of ministry than I have of actually existing on the planet. I have recently been profiting from Stanley's leadership podcasts, and I affirm that Stanley and his church have done sizable good for the kingdom of God. In fact, if you go back to almost one year ago, you will find me listing his sermons in my top 5 recommended podcasts.

My top 5 are probably different today, but I say all that to say that I'm no Andy Stanley/Northpoint hater. I think it is easy to dismiss criticism or diagreement as just being jealousy or predisposition toward criticism, and I hope to avoid that here.

That's already more time on Andy Stanley than I meant to spend, but here's a little bit more to set up my main points:
In the interview, Stanley says this:
Guys that preach verse-by-verse through books of the Bible-- that is just cheating. It's cheating because that would be easy, first of all. That isn't how you grow people. No one in the Scripture modeled that. There's not one example of that.

Now, Stetzer prefaces all this by saying Stanley is being "intentionally provocative." Then of course those who are provoked -- which was apparently Stanley's intent, mind you -- are being told they're missing the point.

That's what most of us call ineffective communication.

One commenter writes:
And that is the point that may be missed in all this. I don't think Andy is against preaching verse by verse at times. I think he is against the idea of one's preaching plan being to start in Gen 1:1 and work through the whole Bible, and then start over again. That is definitely not modeled in the Bible.

That may well could be Stanley's "real point." But if it is, why didn't he say that?

This commenter isn't alone in saying that those who disagree with Stanley (and I am one of them) are "missing the point." Just so we're tracking here:

1. Stanley "intentionally" says verse-by-verse is cheating and isn't modeled in the Bible
2. People disagree with Stanley's "intentional" and plainly stated point
3. Defenders say those who disagree have misunderstood

Doesn't that say something about communication here? Doesn't that make a larger point about the "real point" of the whole interview/discussion? The one about effectiveness in communication and "takeaways," I mean.

If a guy can say one thing but mean something else that is missed -- not by haters, but by people who are mostly prefacing their disagreements with affirmations of respect for Stanley -- but not missed by people who insist "what he really means" is what he really means (not what he actually, intentionally said), what does this say about the state of evangelical communication?

This is beyond styles.
For the record, I like and employ topical preaching, verse-by-verse preaching, narrative-expository preaching (which I think Jesus himself was doing in Luke 24:27), etc. Depends on the message, the message series, the crowd, and a few other factors. And I see a variety of preaching models in Scripture. It doesn't matter to me what homiletic style someone uses, and it probably shouldn't matter to you, so long as the person is demonstrating right handling of Scripture and communicating the centrality of the gospel of Jesus.

I mean, if we're supposed to look to the Bible for a model of preaching, let's do, but we also won't find Jesus telling the parable of the lost coin while standing in an elaborate set of a living room.

How topical preaching has been done by most evangelical churches over the last 20 years sucks. It just does. It's self-improvement, behavior modification, therapeutic gospel that has neither won the lost nor matured believers.
And this trend is partly due to the sort of expository preaching done in evangelical churches for decades that also sucked. Big time. It was grandiose, fundamentalist flamethrowing, more attuned to Pascal's wager in its presentation than real gospel proclamation. Or otherwise it was boring and bland. (And being boring while preaching the good news is not gospel preaching.)
So yeah, plenty of awfulness to go around.

But, again, this isn't about styles.

What is happening in the comments at Stetzer's place is a group of people saying "I respect Stanley but I disagree with him here" and a group of other people saying "if you disagree you miss the point because Stanley is worthy of listening to."

Two groups talking past each other.

What we see in the comments -- I think -- is the inevitable push-pull of the blending of tribes in the currently unstable world of evangelicalism.

The Matt Chandlers of the world are now running in the worlds of Innovate and Catalyst Conferences. The "yell at 'em about Jesus" club* is buddies with the "4 points and a video/skit" brigade, and their respective tribes are disoriented.

It's a good thing, by the way. There shouldn't be divisions in the church over styles, forms, etc. I have noticed that many in the attractional crowd are evidencing greater Scripture saturation, more and more gospel-centricity, not shying away from talk of sin and atonement, etc. And I am noticing that many in the non-attractional crowd are evidencing more desire to contextualize, to experiment with technology and social media, to fraternize with groups and churches their parents might not have fraternized with.
All good things.

But the push-pull is going to keep happening.

And as Andy Stanley himself says, "If you cut off debate, you kill the team."

Keep talking, brothers and sisters, preaching and talking.

* I would so like to be in the "Yell At 'Em About Jesus" Club. I'll make flyers.

6 comments:

nhe said...

Didn't Andy Stanley explain further what he meant by "cheating"? "That would be easy" isn't an explanation - what's easy about preaching verse by verse?

I guess that's what I don't understand.

Philip said...

It's a good thing, by the way. There shouldn't be divisions in the church over styles, forms, etc. I have noticed that many in the attractional crowd are evidencing greater Scripture saturation, more and more gospel-centricity, not shying away from talk of sin and atonement, etc. And I am noticing that many in the non-attractional crowd are evidencing more desire to contextualize, to experiment with technology and social media, to fraternize with groups and churches their parents might not have fraternized with.
All good things.


I think you are exactly right about that. I'm seeing the same thing.

I preach expository, verse by verse. I would agree with Stanley on one thing...it is easier! It's also "safer". But no preaching is easy.

Rob Harrison said...

Heh. Philip, I have to disagree with you--I don't think it's easier at all. Properly done, it can be a heck of a lot harder, depending on the passage. "Easier" would be just standing up there and giving people a lot of my good ideas with the occasional reference to the Bible . . . but that's preaching me, not preaching the word of God, and God didn't call me to preach me.

The hardest thing about preaching, I think, is letting God break me on his word so that he can use my brokenness to break others; some weeks, I don't let him, though by his grace he uses those sermons too. Preaching verse-by-verse doesn't necessarily ensure that that will happen, I'll grant; but not preaching verse-by-verse can be a good way of avoiding that.

dle said...

I'm very late to this conversation, but the whole debate seems to leave out someone.

Where is the Holy Spirit in all this? Isn't He supposed to inspire our teaching and preaching? If so, isn't a preacher/teacher truly attuned to the Spirit going to teach the Spirit's way?

My experience in this is that the Holy Spirit takes into account all needs and does so perfectly, not imperfectly. Therefore, no message is going to follow a formula each and every time because there is no "formula" group of hearers, no "formula" situation into which a message is preached, no "formula" set of needs that He can meet in that time, that place, and with that audience.

So I think this whole argument on all sides is bunk. And it happens because preachers/teachers are going their way, not the Spirit's way. And that alone depicts why so much of Evangelicalism today has run its course and produced so very little.

Jared said...

Dan, good to have you back, even if it's your usual "encouraging" self. :-)

I think most of us agree there is no right "formula."

I don't think it's fair to assume b/c the Spirit isn't mentioned in this narrow post and its four comments that nobody is walking by Him.

I appreciate the word, though.

Lee said...

Andy doesn't preach period. He seldom reference scripture, some sermons not at all. He is a false prophet in my opionion misleading his flock. Very very few of those who attend Bhead or northpoint regularly even know the basic principles of their faith. He is a modern day Joel Olsteen. I pray those that attend this farse find a church. Andy is very talented and if he would preach, atlanta would change! His church would be 1/8th the size, but oh how powerful it would be. Sadly this flock isn't ready for persucution, and will fold beneath it should it evercome. Lets call Buckhead church what it is, a sunday pick up joint