Monday, June 17, 2013

Beyond three points (1)

One of my major projects ahead is a conference at Vose Seminary in Perth with the intriguing theme: Beyond Three Points: Preaching at the Crossroads.  Unsurprisingly, I  have spent some time reflecting on this theme.

At first sight it seems to open up the big debate about sermon design and delivery of content.  Three points is a particular classic sermon structure that identifies points as headings for an outline, which then often has sub-headings.  Sometimes dubbed '3 heads and 9 tails' or '3 points and a poem' it has much to be said in its favor.  It communicates clearly and sometimes memorably (depending on the points!)  Some cultures use it powerfully.  Cleo LaRue says that black preaching especially enjoys using it.  I have known some preachers employ three point structures all their lives almost without deviation, and to the benefit of their congregations too.  Recently, at a retirement service one of the dominant themes, heard from all three churches represented that this minister had served, was of his powerful three point preaching.  A little fun was made (!) but mostly there was very healthy respect for the clear, thoughtful preaching over 39 years.   3 points especially suits the teacher-preacher who opens up Scripture and applies it with clarity and repetition.

Beyond three points sounds like something of a slap on the wrists for such preachers as though their style of design and delivery needs to be replaced.  As though three point preaching should be left behind as less relevant.  Past its sell-by date, contemporary preachers now need fresh structures.  This, of course, is part of a massive discussion about the role of the so-called 'new homiletic' which regards three-point outline preaching as deductive linear left-brained teaching ('old homiletic') as compared with inductive preaching inviting hearers on a journey of discovery with narrative movement.

I could easily fill a few lectures examining this debate.  However, I fear it would be too domestic. Just talking homiletics to preachers.   In spite of much literature on preaching styles I don't see glorious revival in the western church, do you?   However, I think this theme opens up a much wider concern about where the church is going and preaching needs to go with it. 

I am working on it, as you will see. All comments are appreciated!

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Michael, I think this is a significant question for today. There's no doubt in my mind that the infrastructure of a sermon will have to morph in order to compel the imagination of a new generation of seekers, skeptics and believers. And I'm not just talking about media support, powerpoint, film clips. In fact, I've seen little of that seem synergistic with the actual content. Even before the structure, I just need the assurance that the speaker serves a living Savior who's in the world today… What else about structure? Less is more. But you're the master of all this. I can't wait to know what you develop. Maybe now, we have to go from 360° preaching to Preaching HD, that is, preaching that is so lucid powerful, that the listener leaves thinking/feeling that they experienced in real time, for themselves.