Two very different bloggers weighed in today on their blogs about how we grow spiritually through preaching. Tim Challies titled his post “The First and Primary Object” of preaching. Dr Dave Fitch posed his as a question, “How do Christians Grow and Mature?” Their titles seem to fit the perspectives they themselves come from.
What interested me though was not the coincidence of both offering their opinions about the same topic on the same day. Rather, I was surprised to find from two seeming opposites that there was more similarity between them than there were differences. They came at it from different angles of course—Challies appealing to the authority of Jonathan Edwards, Dr Fitch relaying the ideas of a friend in ministry, again, fitting for each—but they arrived at similar conclusions by my estimation. Here’s part of what each one said.
Like every other Christian, I have often sat enraptured in church, having my mind filled and my affections stirred. But sometimes after arriving home I can barely remember a word that was said. The same is sometimes true of books, Bible studies and conferences. What was so meaningful at the time may be nearly forgotten only a short time later, leaving me to question if it was really so important in the first place. This is not to say that nothing sticks in my mind. Certainly I do remember a lot of what I hear and what I read. But when I consider a 500-page book or a series of eight addresses and compare what I read or what I heard to what I now remember, it can be awfully frustrating. It can be discouraging.
But, according to Edwards, if I were to worry in this way I would be placing too great an emphasis on intellect while downplaying the importance of affections.
From Reclaiming the Mission:
When people come to our church from other established (probably bigger) evangelical churches, they often come looking for a communal, real, authentic, missional life with Christ and a church body. They find our liturgical forms of worship refreshing at first. But sometimes, if they don't GET what's going on, they become disillusioned. Our sermons do not always exposit word for word what the Bible means and then package some applications to go home with and do and improve your Christian life. They proclaim Truth (the reality of Jesus as Lord) out of the Biblical text and ask us to obey, submit and live under the Lordship of Christ for this day, this week, this year. We do have group Bible study time at (newly reinstituted teaching for an hour teaching the Scripture that we are preaching), but the service itself is a time of formation before and into the Word of God. It is not a time of learning information for the purpose of attaining a certain competence (don't get me wrong, there's an important place for studying and knowing The Bible). Different assumptions about "How People Grow in Christ" undergird how we gather as a people, and the discipleship processes that come forth from that.
Personally, I was even more interested because I too have been thinking about preaching as a means of formation more than a means of information. Preaching is often simply a dynamically presented lecture, an entertaining conveyance of information. And while Bible knowledge is important (I chose my alma mater for that reason), I think what you love is more important than what you believe. I think what your love will inspire your actions more than your beliefs ever will. It’s important, then, to love the right things.
When my thoughts run in this vein, I always think of Donald Miller's words in the opening of Blue Like Jazz, "Sometimes you have to see someone love something before you can love it yourself." This, in my mind, is the task of preaching, or any Bible "education" for that matter. Preaching is an opportunity to show someone what you see, or Who you see, from where you stand. It's an opportunity to look upon Jesus in all his magnificence, generosity, or whatever it may be, and to help others to see him like that too. To stand and look and grow excited with anticipation. It isn't so much about having people leave saying, "Wow, I really learned something," although that's good. Rather, for them to walk away thinking, "Isn't Jesus amazing?" is to capture more than some available space in their brains. It's the kind of thing that makes you want more, want to believe more, want to be more like him. It's the kind of thing that changes you. It's hardly what we typically call knowledge. It's something more like love. Paul said something himself about those two things.