“Can we talk?”

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].


6 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Scott Christensen on February 5, 2008 at 9:41 pm

    I cringe at the notion that I should stand in the pulpit and represent to the people something other than the Word of God proclaimed faithfully as possible. The moment I begin to think that I have something more important to say to the people (i.e. my own inconsequential thoughts compared to the Word of the Creator and Redeemer?) then I have prostituted the sacred call to preach and need to immediately step down from the pulpit.

  2. Amen- Great insights!

    I hope to post more thoughts on the place of dialogue in the week (or weeks) to come.

    My first lesson on “fasting” was well recieved yesterday. I may try and summarize those findings in an upcoming post.

    Hope your retreat was profitable!

  3. I agree wholeheartedly with the post. I came across Holland’s article just a couple weeks ago, and does he ever hit the nail on the head. I posted <a href=”http://expositionalogistix.wordpress.com/2008/02/04/how-should-we-define-expositional-preaching/”an article at my preaching blog addressing some of these issues as well — and will be posting others in the days ahead.

    Thanks for your faithfulness to the Scriptures!

  4. Posted by Jerry Wragg on February 6, 2008 at 12:53 am

    This has been a great discussion! Thanks men.

  5. I see that the postmodern dictionary of unless redefinitions continues to be part and parcel for Doug Pagitt. If you don’t like the definition of a word, change it; just don’t let anyone else know that you have. That way we can have a conversation, expect you don’t know what I am saying and what you are saying isn’t what I mean to hear.

    Confused? So is Doug.

    I am so grateful for God’s word. “For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God. For it is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and will bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent. Where is the wise? where is the scribe? where is the disputer of this world? hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe. For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom: But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness; But unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God. 1 Corinthians 1:18-24 (KJV)

  6. […] writes in “Can We Talk?”… “Doug Pagitt in his book Preaching Re-Imagined would have us believe that […]

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