There’s this thing some preachers do and it bugs me

Had one of those sermons in church last night – where the preacher has looked at the Bible text and read up on the historical background so he can give us some more insights into what the passage is talking about, which is great and really helpful, but…

The guy has an imagination, and he’s using it to fill in more details in the story – which I wouldn’t mind him doing if he stated clearly that that’s what he is doing. What bothers me is that he wasn’t separating out what is a definite and what is a maybe. I’d be cool with it if he stood there and said: so here’s what I imagine may have happened there… or: the text doesn’t tell us where he was when he saw the vision, but from this and this and this that we know about the circumstances, my guess is that he’d gone to the Temple (just for example).

Of course, inserting these kind of caveats means you end up with less beautifully flowing oratory, but since we’re a Bible-believing church and we take our sermons seriously, I expect our preachers to be prepared to sacrifice some beautifully flowing oratory for the sake of making sure that they are preaching truthfully and not misleading people. I think of this as “responsible preaching” – you’re not there to just tell people a nice story, you’re there to help us see something of God’s truth, to open up God’s word to us. So I really expect you to make it clear what part of what you’re saying is actually there in the text, what is stuff that you got from another reliable source, and what is just stuff that you are filling in, imagining, making an educated guess about.

Otherwise, I can’t take in much of what you’re saying – once I’ve noticed that some of what you’re saying is just your own guess, how can I take any of what you say seriously? It’s as though you went into a physics lesson at school and your teacher started talking sci-fi stuff as though it’s real, not making any distinction between stuff that has been scientifically tested and stuff that people have imagined – yes, some of that stuff we imagine may be true, who knows, but please don’t present me with time travel alongside, say, gravity.

There’s nothing wrong with using your imagination. I just wish preachers were more clear about it when they’re doing it, that’s all.

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2 thoughts on “There’s this thing some preachers do and it bugs me

  1. Yup. Totally agree.

    Our pastor is fairly good about not doing this. But at Christmas time he handed out these pages full of what was essentially tradition, but it was all listed as though these were verifiable facts relating to the birth of Christ.

    What also bugs me is when sources aren’t listed. Tell me where you got your info from. Then at least, if I want, I can dig deeper and figure out how that person knows this stuff. But just saying it like it’s commonly accepted because it’s true with nothing to back that up is… well, like you said, mixing SciFi into physics class without making the distinction.

    I have heard preachers give quick asides during their sermons crediting someone else for an idea they’re about to present. I respect that because it menas that if you want to explore that idea more, you can go directly to the person it came from and get their take on it with any explanations they may have given.

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    • Our previous pastor was also very good at not doing this – I guess I got spoiled :) but we’ve been without a pastor for about a year now and still don’t know how long before we get a new one. It’s kind of interesting though, being exposed to all sorts of different preachers, with different styles.

      I also much prefer it if a source is stated. Also, clear Bible references – not just a general “the Bible says” but where, so that I can check it and see for myself. (My pastor back home in Israel was quite adamant that we should have our Bible open during his sermon and check that it really says what he’s telling us it says, because the Bible says there will come a day when there will be false preachers, and we’d better be on guard.)

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