Lee Eclov thinks people need more than helpful applications in a sermon. Rather than being told what to do in three easy step, Eclov argues that good preaching should teach people how to think differently. In the first part of his post he discussed the "bottom line fallacy." In part two Eclov uncovers the second danger - the practical fallacy.
I only vaguely recall the world of geometry - axioms, theorems, conclusions. I do remember the inevitable question: "Why do we need to know this stuff?" And I remember Mr. Cermak's answer: "Whether or not you use these formulae, geometry teaches you to think logically."
Some preachers are afraid of the question, "Why do we need to know this stuff?" so they try to make every sermon "practical," meaning it is about everyday issues like money or kids. Doctrinal preaching, or the week-by-week exposition of a biblical book appears not to scratch where people itch. People want sermons about things they can use on Monday. Like the sophomores in my geometry class.
But Paul tells us, "All Scripture...is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness." All Scripture. All Scripture is practical. It is practical, not because it all addresses everyday concerns, but because it all "civilizes" our thinking.
As I preached my way through Colossians, for example, we gradually tromped out a wide path to the truth that simply trusting Christ equips us with greater wisdom and righteousness than any counterfeit wisdom can offer. Put that way, it seems like an esoteric, impractical truth, far removed from the water cooler and van pool. But it was Paul's purpose, and therefore mine, to show just how practical this is for the believer. How freeing, simple, and safe. When we eventually arrived at the "practical" passages later in the epistle - "clothe yourself with compassion," for example - we could see not only the command but we had come to better understand the spiritual thinking that makes Christian compassion possible.
The Bible spends much more time on shaping the spiritual mind than commanding particular behavior. We need far more training in the ways of grace, of spiritual perceptions, and of what God is really like, than we do in how to communicate with our spouse. Understanding the glory of Christ is far more practical than our listeners imagine. Properly preached, every sermon based on a passage of Scripture is fundamentally practical. Every author of Scripture wrote to effect change in God's people. It is our job as preachers to find the persuasive logic of that author and put that clearly and persuasively before our people through biblical exposition.
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