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Preaching Without Reaching

David Mills

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The Irrelevance of Relevant Preaching

As a writer, I do not believe in relevance. I especially do not believe in relevance as a criterion for preaching, when that means the attempt to translate the biblical and theological language into words the average man already uses, from fear that he will not listen if the inherited language is used instead. Few preachers are good enough with words to do this without losing truths they should not be losing.

Let me give one example. A friend once praised a sermon warning against both legalism and licentiousness, vices he thought too little rebuked from the pulpit, but worried that such words would not “communicate to the person in the pew.” He urged preachers to use “relevant, contemporary language” because “finding the right word for the right point is crucial.”

Well, I thought, what word is the right and relevant word depends on what you think relevant. We have no reason to think that what feels relevant to the worldling is actually relevant to his life. We do have reason to believe that what he feels relevant will be that which diverts him from the painful contemplation of his own sins and helps him move along the trajectory he has plotted for himself—to improve, as he understands it, but not to change.

If the Christian revelation is both true and a truth to which fallen men are partly blinded, and a truth of great complexity and sophistication, a preacher may be most relevant when his language is least contemporary, and may be irrelevant to the point of fatuousness when it is most contemporary. (This is also true, I think, for liturgical texts, but for slightly different reasons.)

Read the entire article on the Touchstone Magazine website (new window will open).

Posted: 31-Jul-07



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