Preaching that Understands the WorldJanuary 30, 2007
John Stott famously claimed that preachers should study for sermons with a bible in one hand and a newspaper in the other. His point was that good preachers are not only adept in their “Word study” but also in their understanding of the world around them. In today’s Classic Materials, Don Carson offers some practical pointers towards this latter aim.
1. Most preachers ought to devote more time to reading, to reading widely. It is never right to skimp in Bible study, theology, church history, or excellent biography; but in addition, we must read books and journals and news magazines that help us understand our own age and culture.
Without here taking time to provide my own list, perhaps I may mention several principles that govern my own reading (outside of Scripture, commentaries, theology etc).
First, I try to read material from competing perspectives. I may subscribe for two or three years to the left-of-centre New York Review of Books and Sojourners, and then cancel the subscriptions and subscribe for a while to right-of-centre Chronicles.
Secondly, certain authors I regularly skim: Os Guinness, George Marsden, Thomas Sowell, James Davidson Hunter, Paul Berger, and others – not because I agree with all they say, but because they are trying to understand the culture.
Thirdly, ocassionally I read ‘blockbuster’ books, simply because so many people are reading them that I think I must find out what is shaping the minds of many fellow citizens.
Fourthly, ocassionally I devote a block of time – six months, say, or a year – to try to get inside some new movement. For instance, I devoted a considerable block to reading the primary authors in the various schools of deconstruction.
Fifthly, I have sometimes subscribed for a period of time to a first-class literary journal such as Granta. Sixthly, I ocassionally subscribe to reports from reputable pollsters, to discover drifts and trends in the nations – Gallup, Yankelovich, and others.
Not everyone reads at the same rate; not everyone’s ministry requires the same extent of reading. Some manage far more than I. At no time should such reading ever squeeze out the primary importance of understanding the word of God. But selective rapid reading of many sources can help preachers better understand the world in which they serve.
2. Discussion with friends and colleagues with similar interests isa great help. This may be formal, for instance an agreed eveningonce a month to discuss book X or film Y in the light of Christian commitments; it may be informal, depending, of course, on the structures and friendships of one’s life. No-one understands everything; thoughtful, widely read and devout friends are to be cherished and nourished.
3. Nowadays there are some good tapes. I sometimes drive substantial distances, but never without tapes. The Mars Hill Tapes offer good value for money. In addition, many ministries today are recorded, and preachers do well to listen to other preachers who are particularly gifted in the handling of the Word and in applying it to life.
4. It is essential to talk with non-Christians, whether one on one, in small groups, or in large crowds. There is no more important avenue towards understanding our world.
The above exerpt is from the book “When God’s Voice is Heard.”