Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Therapeutic Preaching (2)

I've said before that I'm not exactly delighted with therapeutic preaching. But like-it-or-not it has come to be the standard template for evangelical preaching, or so it seems from my perspective.

You know the model, and the presuppositions that go along with it. The purpose of this sort of preaching is to comfort, encourage, and strengthen. It usually begins with a description of the "situation" of the typical listener (the members of the congregation). They are worried, emotionally scarred, beset by financial difficulties, fear of the future, relationship issues, etc. It is assumed that this description fits everyone, and therefore that everyone needs comfort and strengthening. At this point a suitably "therapeutic" Bible passage is read and exposited.

It can be a very powerful form of preaching, but by its very nature it tends to exclude much of the Bible, save only those passages that are obviously comforting. In the end, the message is that God is on your side, cares for you, and will protect you. And who can argue with that?

Well, I'm certainly not going to. But I might just argue that there's more--or there should be more--to preaching than comfort. For example, there's teaching. I would suggest that this might be a seen as one (though not the only) counter-model to the therapeutic approach.

Now, I haven't thought this through by any means, but I think the knowledge of God should be the primary purpose of preaching. Not that therapeutic preaching is absolutely void of this sort of thing, only that the impartation of knowledge is not its primary purpose. But note this: in the same way that we might grow in the knowledge and understanding of God while listening to a therapeutic sermon, we might well be comforted by a teaching sermon. I am not talking about strictly separate categories here. Potentially, there's a lot of overlap.

But in the wrong hands therapeutic preaching can seem like no more than "positive thinking" with a Christian veneer, throwing in a few justifying Bible verses for good measure. More importantly, it leads inevitably to a cherry-picking approach to Scripture, as the preacher selects the famously motivating-encouraging-comforting verses. Much of the Bible is simple set aside by this sort of preacher.

On the other hand, if the preacher sees his assignment as the impartation of a the knowledge of God--of who He is and what He has done--then no passage of the Bible can be excluded. He will tend to be more expository in his approach. He will tend to preach through Scripture, rather than dipping into it selectively.

Well, these are my thoughts on the matter just now. I welcome yours.

1 comment:

Milton Stanley said...

Not much more to add (at least at 9:26 in the evening). I agree with you. Or should I say, "Amen, brother!"