“Preaching” . . . Under the Microscope

 Ears to hear, or critiques to offer, that is the question; and in all fairness I think that it is a good question.

I made a promise several posts back (that I still intend to keep) concerning the questions being asked about Ergun Caner.  I promised that I would no longer post about that or contribute to further gossip.  That does not mean that I haven’t kept up with it.  At this point, at least to me, it appears that Dr. Caner will gladly answer pointed questions in private, but chooses not to do so in public.  It appears further to me that he will with complete honesty and openness explain the spoken and written discrepancies of the current issues to those he does not deem hostile toward him, while he chooses not to for those that he does deem hostile toward him.  I do not know that to be fact, but after watching for a while, that seems to me at least to be the case.  Which I would probably be the same way. But that’s not what this article is about. 

In my observation of the blogging and the articles written concerning this issue, something seems to be sticking out that  . . . well . . . honestly would affect nearly every preacher I know; and that is that some of the accepted norms of pulpit rhetoric of the past is not be “accepted” much anymore.  The accusations against Dr. Caner aside, some of the issues that I have read about actually go beyond Dr. Caner, to “Baptist preaching” in general.

It has not been uncommon at all in Baptist pulpits throughout the last few generations at least to “parabalize” historic events or create them in order to paint a particular picture that the preacher deems to be important to the message. You may have heard a preacher say  this or something similar to it, “I heard about a little boy once that sat up all night wondering where the sun went . . . that is until it finally it dawned on him.”  Which is often used to picture staying diligent about a dilema until the answer comes.  Now in years past, when the speaker says something like that, everyone gets the joke, the picture and the point, and moves on to the next item in the message. 

Now it seems that such “parabalizing” is no longer acceptable at least by some portion of people out there.  For example, if someone wanted to press the preacher, after the message they might demand to know “the name of the boy”; “actually where was he when he heard this story;” “did you in fact actually hear of this boy from someone or is he a figment of your imagination.”    When it is actually revealed that this is merely a long standing tale then his integrity may be brought into question.

Now that is probably too light of an illustration of the present condition, but my points is only to demonstrate that I think there has been a shift between what once was, and what now is.  Nothing more.

One thing that does come under greater scrutiny now in this information age is the availability and checkability of certain “facts.”  Dates can no longer survive as “guess work” in a message, events are no longer foggy memories, their clarity can come back to life for verification, and folksy use of language probably just no longer needs to be used.  Regardless of what you are talking about a “folksy” way of saying something will almost never survive maticulous scrutiny.  Let me give you an example.

(Truthfully this has nothing to do with Dr. Caner, this just the best illustration that I can come up with right now.)  Say I am speaking Monday to a group of people who are from North Arkansas, and in my introduction I say, “hey, I was born and bred in Mountain View.”  Then maybe the next Sunday night while I am speaking at another event and introducing myself I say, “I was born in Batesville, Arkansas in 1972.”  Now imagine that there were people in both speaking engagements that decide to hold my feet to the fire, and they say, “You said here you were born in Mountain View; but over here you said you were born in Batesville;  which is it?”  With a smile on my face I would merely reply “both.” That is the way that I talk; that is the use of language that I am accustomed to. My family lived in Mountain View when I was born, but the hospital was in Batesville.  On the one issue I was speaking of the “home” of my birth, and on the other I was speaking of the “hospital” of my birth.  Two different places, and only one birth.  That is what I mean by speaking “folksy” 

It is the same as when I pastored Shiloh Baptist Church.  It’s address is  McRae, AR , it’s phone number is a Beebe, AR number, and it is in the Searcy school district.  Depending on who I am speaking to, I may say that I  have pastored in McRae; Or I may say that I have pastored in Beebe; or I may say that I have pastored in Searcy; but when you double check my history, I only pastored one church during those years.  I claim a history of pastoring in all three towns, but only at one church.  The church is located in the country about/roughly/close to/maybe 7 miles from Beebe, 7 miles from Searcy, and 5 or 6 miles from McRae.  I may give a one word answer to a multifaceted scenario and go on.   That is a use of the language that I for one am accustomed to. Nothing about it is untrue but for some it is unorthodox.  

For example, when I am in another part of Mississippi and the question gets asked, “where are you from,” I answer “I am from Corinth, Mississippi.”  When I am talking to someone about my life I say  “I am from Mountain View, Arkansas.”  Which is true?  Both.  That is the common way that we speak, and as a preacher, that common usage of the language doesn’t necessarily turn off when I walk up to stand behind the pulpit.  I will say that I will be on greater guard against allowing “folksiness” to lead someone to wrong conclusions. 

Now that being said, it appears to me at least that this use of language is being put to the fires of detailed truth all across this land.  Other blogs that I have read concerning Dr. Caner have in some cases moved on past Dr. Caner to Baptist preachers in general, concerning the overall language use in the pulpit.  That being said I will readily admit that a folksy kind of speech could not survive a serious prosecution of maticulous detail oriented minds.

One of my questions is why?  Why have detailed minds begun to put this kind of language use to the fire?  I do not ask this accusingly or sarcastically.  My curiosity is generally wondering why that has become the case.  Now I think I know some possible answers, and I could be wrong about all of them, or maybe I could come close.

    1. – Some preachers have in fact been proven to be over the top phonies, and those most closely affected by it have gone on high alert toward every preacher.  When preachers hurt people those wounded develope a heightened zeal for discernment, and a more intense test of scrutiny.  Folksiness, parablizing, guesswork, and firstperson stories with foggy edges, are against the rules and there is zero tolerance for them altogether.  Because a few charlatans have harmed some of God’s people, no one gets a pass on anything.  Which is understandable, and I as a preacher need to be sensitive to those wounds.

   2. – Some are just truly zealous for every word from every stage and every pulpit to be backed with actual, factual, detailed, and unpolished truth.  There are some that believe all “humorous” tellings, must be “historical tellings” as well for the sake of the integrity of the message.

3. – Then there are some that just don’t like particular preachers, and they are going to find all of their failures and fallacies, and faults and make sure everyone around them knows about it.  The unfortunate truth is they will  always be able to find them if that particular speaker is given to use folksy lingo filled with liberties and fogginess concerning detailed facts.  These are people that I would liken to the IRS trying to audit a money filled cigar box.

What can preachers do to deal with these issues?  The answer is very simple.  Just be honest.  Adrian Rogers said once, “feel free to use my bullets, just fire your own gun.”  Or was that Vance Havner?  The point is, don’t claim as original stories that are not original.  If they are not true, present them as fiction. If you cannot remember a detail don’t make one up.  If a true story a l m o s t  fits a point, the minute you change it to fit, it is no longer a true story.

What can pew sitters to do?  Recognize that preachers do sometimes use “folksy” language that is not untrue, but may be unorthodox in it’s use.  Some people can accept this use of language, some people cannot. It is incumbant upon both the preacher and the pew to recognize that these disconnects and disagreements exist.

Let me be unequivocally clear.  As Dr. Rogers so eloquently said, “it is never right to do wrong, and never wrong to do right.”  Flat out lying from the pulpit or the pew with malicious intent to deceive is unacceptable.  I would not defend that on any front.  I believe that all preaching must be honest preaching, expository preaching, and applicatory preaching if it is going to rise to the level of Biblical preaching.

Now that being said, I am for preachers. I  are one.  I have had pastoral friends that have committed life-altering sins.  They are still my friends.  I have had pastoral friends that have gone off the theological deep end.  They are still my friends.  I have had pastoral friends that have ethically failed in terrible ways.  They are still my friends.  While I will never defend what they did, I will gladly defend them because I know their defense attorney.  They have an advocate, Jesus Christ the Righteous, and He is one attorney that I will always side with.

All of that being said, Preachers!  We are under a microscope like we have never been before, and I will be quick to say that there is nothing wrong with that.  When we preach what we ought to preach the way that we ought to preach then every sermon we preach will stand the scrutiny of One.  The only one that we must be concerned about.  There is one living man that I care greatly about what He thinks of my preaching, and I will endeavor to bend over backwards to see to it that He is pleased, and His name is Jesus. 

 Honest preaching for a Holy Jesus is certainly a privilege to treasure, a treasure to guard, and most definitely a Change Worth Making.

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