Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Beyond three points (2)

I am grateful for the last (generous) comment and share concerns that sermon structure is 'synergistic' with content as well as 'less is more'.  In dealing with 'three point sermons' I recognize we move into the arena of rhetoric with assumptions about informing and persuading hearers. Augustine is (rightly) credited with applying Cicero’s three rhetorical purposes (appealing to mind, heart and will) to the act of preaching. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth century the role of persuasion was paramount with sermons dominated by rhetorical structure (with John Broadus very influential in N. America). Three points became so common, Fred Craddock (the most eminent critic) says such sermons began to collapse under the weight of their own popularity. 

Craddock went on to claim that in the last part of the twentieth century this structure could not cope adequately with a changing church and world. Questions about the preacher’s authority and right to persuade; questions about the use of text – was it always right to squeeze all text into three points; and, for him, the most important question about the listeners. Did they not deserve the right to be more active participants? “Does the priesthood of believers not apply to preaching? After all the message belongs as much to them as to the preacher"(i).

Mentioning Craddock immediately gives a green light to moving into debate about three point propositional preaching – so-called 'old homiletic'- and narrative inductive preaching (new homiletic) that moves like a story. This debate has sometimes been hostile with expository preaching associated with the former. Sound, biblical expository preachers are assumed to be deductive drawing out truths clearly to inform and persuade.  Only old homiletic can be trusted!  I could stay specifically on this issue, which has occupied much recent homiletics literature. It does raise important questions about persuasion and authority in our preaching.   

However, the full conference theme runs: Beyond three points: Preaching at the Crossroads.  Indeed, conference organizers have asked participants to offer papers answering: 'Where is the challenge at boundaries and intersection of biblical text, contemporary life, faith, culture, worship, in a pluralist, egalitarian culture?'

Crossroads are sometimes marked by a signpost.  I have been thinking how to express wording on a signpost.  What different directions do you see facing the western church?   Perhaps there are more than two?  And how would you name them?  That's what I am wrestling with at the moment.  There are so many challenges in contemporary change how can we sum them up?  Perhaps we can't.

In the light of this much bigger crossroads issue dealing with whether a preacher uses three points or not seems to be a minor mechanical side-line.  Surely much more is at stake than how sermons are designed!  This is what I am working on. Any thoughts on the crossroads and names on the signpost are very welcome!

[i] Craddock Fred in Martha Simmons ed., Preaching on the Brink  p 69.

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