Monday, December 10, 2007

Should preachers write their sermons out?

Been doing some non-theology reading recently (as I said earlier, it's good mental cross-pollination, and helps us stay fresh), and this book has me intrigued with the discussion of the differences between oral language and written language.

The vast majority of the world's languages have never been written out. Those of us who speak one of the world's big 20 languages forget that. At least I do. But most language is a spoken thing, ever-changing, ever growing and fluid.

McWhorter speaks at some length about how our language changes when we write it down. We imagine that it doesn't, but it's almost always vastly different. Which leads me to the question of the day: should preachers write their sermons out?

A sermon is a preaching of the gospel. It is not a religious discourse, a lecture, or a holding forth on issues of contemporary interest -- though it might incidentally be any or all of these. But the primary purpose of preaching is to proclaim the word of God to those who hear.

Some sermons are wonderful. We're all heard those that spoke immediately, crisply and succinctly to what we needed to hear. And we all know the duds. Those without direction, without a point, hard to listen to, and even harder to remember.

I've begun to wonder if writing out a sermon can be the first step to irrelevance. I shouldn't use the word. It's a 60s buzz word, when an irrelevant sermon meant one that didn't address the Vietnam war. But I mean irrelevant in the broader sense of the word, a sermon that doesn't connect the gospel to those who hear.

There are horror stories. C. F. W. Walther -- if I remember correctly -- mentions preachers in Germany who lectured on potato growing. And I distinctly remember a preacher who regularly recycled sermons. Which is not bad in itself, but please, please change illustrations that are dated or have no connection with the congregation listening.

Anything written out acquires an importance just by being written. We tend to think of it as A Learned Discourse. Something for a journal. Or at least a newspaper.

But the point of a sermon is NOT to preach something that people will read later, that people will admire, that someone will put in a collection of sermons. It's to give the word of life to dying souls. and I think that writing out a sermon tends to untether it from the reading that the sermon should be expositing.

More tomorrow --

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