Monday, November 13, 2006

Centering on the Word

Good illustrations help reinforce the message of a sermon. But what happens when the illustrations themselves become the center? According to a recent article at, twenty-first century preaching is in danger of allowing "micronarrative" to take the place of the biblical text:
. . . in this postmodern age, a seismic change is taking place, and the reverberations are shaking the pulpit. In postmodern preaching, the center of gravity has shifted away from the text to the preacher's own experience and that of the audience. In this kind of preaching, the traditional relationship between text and anecdote is reversed. Instead of using anecdotes to illustrate the central truth of the text, personal story is the central truth of the message and is corroborated by Scripture. The weight of proof in the sermon does not rest on proposition but on identifiable experience.
John Koessler's article warns against allowing mircronarrative to dominate and offers a historical perspective on illustrations in sermons.


Blogger PamBG said...

"Christian experience is rightly used when it confirms the documentary evidence," he wrote, "but it can never possibly provide a substitute for the documentary evidence."

I like this. I've had experience of a range of different "types" of churches and, in very low-church evangelical churches, I've found a lot of repeating of peopele's testimonies over and over again. This is great and, in one sense more liturgical churches would do well to be able to tell these stories. However, it does make for repetition and sometimes prevents people from being exposed to "the whole counsel of God" from the bible. We need meat as believers, not just the same starter-courses over and over again. Being a life-long disciple needs more than hearing about people's conversion experience or the story of their healing over and over again.

In Richard Lisher's recent book "The End of Words", he actually counsels against using illustrations at all. He prefers the use of "focal instances" such as "you are the salt of the earth". Not illustrative stories, but "pictures" that the congregation can grab hold of. I think the "no illustrations" rules is a bit draconian, but I've found I'm using focal instances more and more.

One final comment. I've heard 45 to 60 minute sermons where the preacher was gripping and one wanted him/her to go on and on. But these instances are rare. Most preachers who talk for a long time just end up repeating themselves a lot. It may not fit everyone's worship style, but I really do think one can say what needs to be said in 5 minutes (although I realise that congregations from a preaching tradition would feel cheated by a 5 minute sermon).

3:20 AM, November 14, 2006  
Blogger graham old said...

"In postmodern preaching, the center of gravity has shifted away from the text to the preacher's own experience and that of the audience."

The irony is that ISTM that this kind of preaching is highly biblical. At least some of the time, it strikes me as perfectly legitimate.

5:38 AM, November 14, 2006  
Blogger Milton Stanley said...

Thanks for the input, Graham. Peace.

3:22 PM, November 17, 2006  
Blogger Milton Stanley said...

Good points, Pam. I'd like to know more about Lisher's focal instances. You've given me something to look into. Peace.

3:23 PM, November 17, 2006  

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