Today a subversively-thinking friend sent me a link to an article by Michael Frost titled “Preaching in a Post-Literate Age.” This I found to be quite interesting — he starts with a review of the differences between modern/evangelical/literate modes and their post- counterparts, citing a few thoughtful comparison tables… from here he moves on to consider whether preaching is still a valid idea. Pasting in and editing my notes from the email conversation….

I liked the comparison charts, very helpful I think. One might want more context to explain some of the entries, but on the whole I think they’re well-founded… and despite any inclination to call me a left-evangelical instead of a post-evangelical (I quite like Tomlinson’s definition of post-, btw) I find myself identifying with the columns on the right. ;^) I hadn’t really thought before about “post-literate,” that’s kind of interesting, have to muse on that. I personally have found evangelical sermons to be intellectual dumbed-down… an odd mix of spoonfeeding and intellectualism that would never tell a parable without getting pedantic on its meaning, as though the masses can’t connect the dots (heaven forbid we’d leave that to the Holy Spirit; btw, I guess parables should play well with pomos.) In the church I long for, there’s a kind of mindful intellectualism but more contemplative, experiential… and content with mystery rather than having to de-mysterize and demythologize everything. Evangelical intellectualism is the “wrong kind” of intellectualism… it made a point of having the clergy do all the hard spadework and then explaining it all to the masses, bringing it down to “layman’s terms.” This deprives people of the “eureka!” moment, whereas the new kind of intellectualism opens people up to discovering things for themselves.

As to what he says about preaching, I think the sermon as we know it must change… before long it’ll be about the same as preaching in Latin. (Those who don’t learn from history…) If we think that we can do the same old sermon but spice it up with PowerPoint, we are sadly mistaken… basically missing the whole point, actually. It’d be like lauding a big-screen TV so you could read endless texts on it.

Postmoderns will be much less drawn to the lecture. A thought-provoking homily is much better, or even better still, a discussion. Whereas the modern church loves lines like, “The sense of this phrase is such-and-so-forth; you see, the Greek word here means blahblah, and it comes from a root that means yaddayadda, from which we get the word excrement.” Okay, not quite like that… but we’d do far better to say things like, “In those days, people used to have a saying that ‘such-and-so-forth’, which meant to them blahblah… so when Jesus says this to them, it conjures up an image for them of yaddayadda.” Tell it like a story, the way it was written. When we consider the minutia of a certain word in a certain text — especially the poetic ones — recall the scene with Robin Williams in “Dead Poets Society” where they begin by plotting the “greatness” of a poem on a graph… and end with the tearing of the introduction from the book at Keating’s insistance, “Excrement! That’s what I think of Mr. J. Evans Pritchard! We’re not lighting a pipe! We’re talking about poetry. How can you describe poetry like American Bandstand? ‘I like Byron, I give him a 42 but I can’t dance to it!’ …then amid the sound of tearing papers, “Take that, Mr. J. Evans Pritchard! I want it gone! All gone!”

I don’t yet know what the ‘new’ sermon will look like, but it calls for some experimentation. Maybe it’ll be like an “Idea Exchange” of sorts. The evening before Good Friday this year we’re having our emerging little gang over for a passover-style meal… we’re having the meal in courses with 5 or 10 -minute thoughts or “vignettes” between each course, with discussion of each one through the course following until the next one… so the whole thing is built around small presentations or meditations followed by discussion (and food, of course!). What drives me to experiment this way is that in the old sermon it mattered that the preacher got to make his points to the people… in the new, it matters that people meet God or discover something of him — which may or may not be in something the preacher says, and the liklihood of this taking place may actually increase as the preacher becomes a facilitator and uses less of his own words, not more.

So there it is. The sermon remains “valid” but it nonetheless needs to be reinvented if it’s to remain relevant.

Share This

Share this post with your friends!