Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Church and Culture, 7

I pray that all you reading from stateside had a good King holiday. Life in Cayman kept rolling as usual. Once again, I'm reminded of the "relative" nature of culture and cultural celebration. While the U.S. in many quarters stopped to pay homage to a man that paid the ultimate sacrifice for a more perfect liberty, the vast majority of the world continued in either the fight for or the enjoyment of liberties without reference to Dr. King.

This post isn't about Dr. King. It's about the church and culture. It's an attempt at trying to apply what we've said in the previous 6 posts to specific pastoral situations.

Let's take preaching . Can we speak of culturally distinctive styles of preaching in the culture of God? Should we assume or assign such distinctives? What effect does assigning these distinctives have on our understanding of the culture of God?

Grand Cayman is in the middle of its annual Keswick Convention. For the past couple of nights, I've attended what essentially is my first Caribbean revival meeting, and I've had a great time! There's nothing like singing the up-tempo "There's No God Like Jehovah" with a Caribbean flair, or standard Christian hymns with a Caribbean lilt. It's cool.

But the preaching has been most powerful. The theme this year is discipleship. On night one, the speaker preached powerfully, with great emotional range, from laughter to pure passion, about the centrality of the cross as the basis of Christian discipleship. Last night, with the same passion, power, humility, humor, penetrating appeal, he preached from 1 Cor. 15 on the centrality of the resurrection as the ground for our future hope and made a call for present boldness and risk-taking in light of that future.

As a preacher, he skillfully moved the crowd. Amens all around. And one young man rather constantly yelling in approval, "Pre-sent!"

It was what you might expect in a Caribbean meeting, I suppose. But the speaker is Peter Maiden, a white man from the U.K. who heads up the mission work of Operation Mobilisation, International. Diminutive, very British in accent and dress... he moved the largely Black and Brown audience.

"Black preaching" is stereotypically thought to be emotional, even cathartic, rhythmic, centered on suffering and celebration, and ultimately doctrinally shallow. "White preaching" is thought to be (stereotypically) largely the reverse: doctrinal, cold, intellectual, etc. Here, we had a black receiving "black preaching" from a very white man. At least that's what you'd believe if you believe the cultural stereotypes.

And nothing, in my mind, has quite done as much damage to the people of God needing to live the culture of God like the false ways of viewing preaching. Too often we think of "black preaching" and "white preaching," and by that we mean some standard or style of preaching that is acceptable in those human cultures. And attached to these general views of culture and preaching are certain norms for what we think is "good" preaching in each context. "Good" black preaching produces a whoop and a shout. "Good" white preaching produces... what? Knowledge? Emotional stiffness?

What does this do to our notion of preaching? It severs two essential aspects to good preaching: truth and passion. Good preaching, black or white or brown or yellow, is preaching the truth of the Scriptures with godly zeal... preaching the weighty doctrines of God with the weighty movements of the heart that accompany those doctrines. Now any individual preacher may have a different "emotional range" or "doctrinal range" to work with, but both those things go together in good preaching.

The practical effect of maintaining this human cultural distinctive where preaching is concerned is that large segments of the family of God are cut off from significant aspects to good preaching. Some are shaped into emotionally boisterous and doctrinally shallow Christians, while others are doctrinally heady and emotionally paralyzed. In the culture of God, we need truth set on fire so that we might be both rooted and grounded in the truth and stirred to compassion, love, and zeal.

This is why I think much of the conversation about "adjusting the method of preaching but not the message to reach the culture" gets it wrong. I think, even in the adoption of various multi-media approaches meant to create a bridge to "the culture," we're very often imbibing certain standards and cultural assumptions and mores that we're better off leaving alone. Our aim isn't finally to reach people where they are but to move people into the kingdom, family, culture, and nation of our God and King. Many of these approaches expend all their energy moving away from the culture of God, and so it's no surprise when they're not able to move people out of the culture of man.

What has God ordained? The preaching... that is, the oral proclamation... of His Word.

And what has God himself said about that proclamation? One thing is that it's "foolishness" to those in and perishing with the world.

What does that imply about preaching? It's not to be accomodated to the standards, preferences, and aims of man's culture. We should do it the way we see it modeled in the Scriptures... open a text, expound it, and apply it with passion for God and for the audience. And we should not be surprised if the culture of man esteems it little. It's foolishness in their eyes, but it's the means our omnipotent Father established to convert and regenerate His people.

Here's a place for great exchange among the people of God for the glory of God. Perhaps some African American preachers could learn a great deal from some of their white brothers in making their preaching more doctrinally rich and in adopting an expository discipline in the pulpit. And perhaps some white preachers could learn a great deal from some of their African American brothers about preaching with passion and urgency and seeing and celebrating the application of truth to the real human struggles sitting in their congregations.

What say ye?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Some very good thoughts here. I am a white man pastoring a predominantly black church in Toronto. Most of our people are West Indian (Jamaica, Trinidad, Guyana, Grenada, Haiti, ... sorry - nobody from the Caymans), a few Africans and south Asians and a few white folk from Canada, Europe and the U.S.

I come from a part of Canada that is very non-emotional and would even consider the way we worship here an expression of unbiblical charismatic excess. In the almost fourteen years we have been here the people have patiently brought me along to see that one can be solid theologically and still very expressive. They still laugh at my stiffness - because it really is funny and I have tried to teach them, and me, the difference between style and content. They want solid biblical exposition and the freedom to rejoice in it expressively.

I think one of the reasons we have worked so well together is that I have not confused their worship style with bad theology and they know that just because the pastor is not as mobile as they are is OK. They know I am passionate for truth .

Boiled down - we just love each other.

My head is filled with many other responses to your comments, but I better stop.

Thanks for this. I appreciate your blogs and would love to get you up here some day to preach.