Thanks to Caleb who in his post yesterday pointed out the growing trend among preachers to deliver talks rather than sermons. A question I would like our readers to consider is “how did we get to this point?”.
Doug Pagitt in his book Preaching Re-Imagined would have us believe that “In reality preaching as speaching [Pagitt’s code word for expository preaching] is quite new. In fact, it is the creation of Enlightenment Christianity” (pg. 60). Actual historians of preaching might disagree with Pagitt’s revisionist claims. Peruse any major work on the history of preaching (e.g., Hughes Old, E. C. Dargan, O. C. Edwards) and one will see that “progressional dialogue” is the new kid on the block without a biblical leg to stand on. In his Life and Practice in the Early Church:A Documentary Reader, Steve McKinion notes that in the early church “it was the role of the preacher to explain its meaning to them” (73).
In more recent times it was Harry Emerson Fosdick who led the masses away from expository preaching when he asked:
“Who seriously supposes that, as a matter of fact, one in a hundred of the congregations cares, to start with, what Moses, Isaiah, Paul, or John meant in those special verses, or came to church deeply concerned about it? Nobody else who talks in public so assumes that the vital interests of the people are located in the meaning of words spoken two thousand years ago.”
Forty years later, Fred B. Craddock promoted the idea of “inductive preaching” in his book As One Without Authority.He argued that “The scriptures, against their own will, intention, and warning, became the ‘paper pope,’ with the result that the present was sacrificed, immediacy in preaching was lost, and congregations became accustomed to being sacrificed weekly on the altar of ‘sacred history'” (33).
Today, Doug Pagitt has picked up where Fosdick and Craddock left off. He “re-imagines” preaching and the church as a place where the only authority is the individual which under further analysis seems a bit ironic. Pagitt’s post-foundationalism is in part a reaction to the “individualism” that he has perceived as a weakness of modern evangelicalism. However, Pagitt’s desire for “progressional dialogue” exalts the new hermeneutic and its emphasis on the authority of the reader to new levels. In progressional dialogue, the Bible is just another member of the community (Preaching Re-Imagined, 195-97).
Fosdick, Craddock and Pagitt all have something in common, they share an obvious disdain for what has historically been known as biblical preaching. They erect the worst of straw men and then paint with the broadest brush in their kit. However we should not conclude that this is a mere squabble about definitions. I would agree with Richard Holland who concluded that “Preaching re-Imagined is really preaching re-defined. We are using the same word–preaching–but have different dictionaries to define it. Preaching should find its source and parameters in the pages of Holy Scripture. It should expose the hearers to the Scripture, explain the Scripture, and exhort them to live according to the Scripture.”
Addendum: I would highly recommend our readers examine Richard Holland’s excellent article “Progressional Dialogue & Preaching: Are they the Same? (TMSJ 17/2 (Fall 2006) 207-222 [Here is a PDF copy].