Thursday, April 01, 2010

Contextualized Preaching

I was recently listening to parts of a few messages from the same pastor. Both of these messages (now three since I have added one since I started this post) were heavy on an explanation of legalism (very superficial, if not a bit ridiculous in places) and a diatribe against legalism. Aside from the fact that his explanation was not entirely sound, here’s my thought.

I doubt very seriously that the bulk of this man’s congregation struggles with legalism. That is simply not their issue. In fact, it is probably exactly the opposite. These are not people who need to be freed from directives about living, but perhaps need to be reined in a bit.

In other words, this champion of contextualization is failing to do exactly that. What he says is fine, I suppose (though there are some problems with it). It just is not where his congregation is living.

It’s hobby horse preaching, not contextualized preaching. What he was doing was (to quote him), “making fun of religious people.”

Part of (or all of) contextualization is taking the single meaning of the text and applying it to your hearers’ life—the one that they are actually living. It’s not an opportunity to beat on your favorite enemy.

Such preaching is not only bad manners; it’s bad preaching.


Wendy said...

His congregation DOES struggle with it. Terribly. But you're right about not contextualizing it. He taught about what legalism looks like in another culture, completely missing what it looks like in his own.

Actually, I'm assuming a lot with this response since you didn't identify the preacher. But I think I know. :-)

Larry said...

Yes, I am sure you know who, though I was trying to be cautious. But you make an interesting point and a good one about different cultures.

Did you listen to these messages? Speaking of assumptions, I would have assumed you would not have heard them.

Thanks, as always, for reading and commenting. Trust all is well with you.

Wendy said...

Your assumptions are correct. I haven't listened to those particular ones. I am well familiar with teaching on legalism there though and have (again that word) assumed that the current teaching is not much changed. In fact, when we first attended in 2002, he read from a BJ Handbook during a series on Galatians. Rumor is that happened again in this sermon series. Probably the same handbook.

We are doing well. Thanks! :-)

Bixby Bulletin said...

Larry, I agree with your main point, but I think that both you and said preacher seem to have a definition of legalism that is too narrow (he when he describes it as he does and you when you suggest his assembly doesn't have problems with it).

Everybody struggles with legalism. It's a universal scourge. It's the flesh's de facto approach to anything of God. The manifestations of it may vary from culture to culture and person to person, but it is in every person's heart.

The preacher you spoke of was preaching badly because he was targeting a manifestation that is probably not evident anywhere in his congregation and therefore his congregation, being human, probably had no idea how to poke themselves in the eye with it. Thus, wasting a message.

Bob Bixby

Larry said...

Thanks Bob.

I am not sure I agree with you. I think his definition is too broad, and it doesn't get at the genius of legalism. I have started a post on what I think legalism is and will have it finished probably first of the week. I kind of feel like I should think about Easter for a few days here :) ...

I do think virtually every religious person struggles with legalism to some degree. Non-religious people almost never have the thought at all.

Wendy, in his first post, made almost the same point as you, that this congregation does struggle with legalism, yet this pastor was addressing a type of legalism or manifestation of legalism that is foreign to his congregation. So it's a point well taken, and one that I appreciate clarification on.

Thanks again Bob. I hope you will check back in a day or two and interact with my thoughts on legalism. I would appreciate your input.

Anonymous said...

Looking forward to reading your upcoming post

Anonymous said...

Bixby nailed it.

Only quibble I'd have is that sometimes one can use a "reductio ad absurdum" to illustrate a concept. So, even though the folks in Seattle may not struggle with wearing nylons, hearing that some folks are that absurd might make them consider their own, altogether different, absurdities.


Larry said...

Curious about what's absurd about wearing nylons? That seems absurd to me.

But I don't think this preacher's point was reductio ad absurdum. It sure came across to me like pure mockery. And given that probably very few of his audience have any connection with BJU, it didn't seem to serve a purpose for him. Again, my point is not that BJU was right (or wrong), but simply that it didn't seem contextualized for his audience.

Anonymous said...

So, Larry, you wearing nylons now?

Just kidding.

Really, you can't see anything ridiculous about nylons being required attire? If not, you really need to get out a bit.

I feel no urge to defend the preacher in question. Neverteless, I do believe that pointing out ridiculousness in one context can help an audience consider ridiculous in another.

The herd mentality of legalism manifests itself in drastically different ways in different locations. All of them are a problem. Getting people to laugh at someone else and then setting the hook to make them, in horor, see the same thing in themselves is a fine communication strategy.

If the preacher in question didn't do that -- if he just made fun of other people's foibles and sins, then I agree with you. It'd be just like a fundamentalist railing on dancing when no one in the congregation has ever been dancing or has any interest in going.

However, if a fundamentalist preacher made fun of how certain Christians on the west coast all have to wear similar jeans and t-shirts and tatoos to worship, and got everyone laughing, then quietly pointed out how everyone laughing was wearing similar suits and dresses and hair styles -- it just might make people pause and reflect. At least it should.