9Marks Pastors’ and Theologians’ Forum
Must the sermon be a monologue? If not, should it be? In other words, does the Bible allow for some type of back and forth conversation (like Q&A) to characterize the regular style of the main exposition of Scripture in a congregation? If it does, is it pastorally prudent?
The Bible uses dialegomai to describe the proclamation of the first evangelists (e.g. Acts 19:8; 20:29, 24:25; Heb. 12:5). This suggests that there was an opportunity for feedback to the proclamation. However, the use of dialegomai in the Bible is different than its use in classical Greek, where dialogue involves sharing ideas so that those in dialogue would arrive at the truth. In the New Testament, the communication of the gospel includes within it the ideas of proclaiming this news as a herald (kçrussô) or announcing good tidings (euaggelizô) with a view to persuading (peithô) people. The goal is to change people’s minds about the truth and see them accept Christ as their only Lord. The early evangelists knew that they were bearers of the truth that the Creator of the world had revealed once-for-all to his creation, and they wanted to communicate this truth to their hearers.
It seems that a lot of Jesus’ teaching was dialogical. Some of his most important truths were communicated through situations that warranted a comment from him. In the same way today, much Christian teaching takes place in informal settings, where leaders disciple other Christians through conversation about the things of God. Actually all Christian proclamation is dialogical even if a verbal response is not elicited. We engage the mind of the hearer in such a way that they are provoked to respond in some way.
However, Jesus spoke with authority. He had a definite message from God to give to the people. We too bear this authority when we proclaim the Word. This authority is not intrinsic to us, as it was to Jesus. It is derived through the Word of God (which gives us the content of the proclamation), the anointing of God (which gives us the license to be proclaimers), and the empowering of the Holy Spirit (which directs us in the use of God’s unchanging truth and makes us conduits of his convicting power). Of course, the fact that our authority is derived and that our ministry is by grace removes any cause for arrogance and gives this proclamation a winsomeness which helps to draw people to Christ and his truth.
We must always reckon with the fact that we have been given a message from God to proclaim. Whatever method we use, we must do it in such a way that the authority of the God who spoke a definite word to humanity is borne in the words we speak.
Ajith Fernando has been the national director in Youth for Christ in Sri Lanka since 1976. He is also the author of the NIV Application Commentary on Acts and Jesus Driven Ministry.
R. Albert Mohler, Jr.
The very shape of this question is interesting. In the first place, I would not consider the public proclamation of God’s Word to be best characterized as monologue. It is one voice speaking, but this voice is not speaking on behalf of himself, but as the one charged with proclaiming and teaching the Word of God. At the same time, there does not seem to be a biblical warrant for a more dialogical form of preaching. If anything, the biblical model appears to assign the preaching responsibility to an individual who dares to speak on behalf of God by presenting and applying God’s Word.
I think of a text like Nehemiah 8:1-8. In that setting, Ezra and his colleagues “read from the book, from the Law of God, clearly, and they gave the sense, so that the people understood their reading.” Earlier in this text, we are told that “the ears of all the people were attentive to the Book of the Law.” Those preaching spoke with authority. At the same time, it would not be appropriate to suggest that these hearers were passive. They were active recipients of the preached Word. They were “attentive.”
In the same way, a church congregation is not to sit passively in the pew merely observing the preaching of the Word. To the contrary, the congregation should be actively involved in the disciplines of hearing, receiving, and responding to God’s Word as it’s preached by the one who is invested with those responsibilities and gifts.
A similar approach is evident in the New Testament. When Paul instructs Timothy about his preaching responsibilities, nothing in the text suggests that Timothy will be involved in a dialectical enterprise with the congregation. Instead, Paul charges Timothy with the sacred and solemn responsibility to preach the Word “in season and out of season.” If anything, he warns Timothy against taking the response of his hearers into too much consideration. This can hardly be described as a dialogue.
As I see it, the push for a more dialogical form of preaching is a redefinition of preaching as described in the Scriptures. This shift seems to go hand-in-hand with larger cultural movements against the idea of teaching authority and the very idea of an authoritative Word. The last thing modern evangelicalism needs is the substitution of congregational “dialogue” for biblical preaching. This plays into all of our modern temptations and, in the end, threatens to remove the authoritative Word from our midst.
R. Albert Mohler is the president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and has contributed to numerous books. More of his work can be found at www.albertmohler.com.
Kevin L. Smith
Black People Gonna Talk! “Black preaching” is dialogical. Regardless of how one feels about the term “black preaching,” any sincere observer must acknowledge that something a little different occurs during the preaching moment in the typical black church. Black preaching is intentionally or unintentionally dialogical due to the historic element of “call and response” associated with black religion. This interaction between leader and participants is often traced back to the cultural remnants that Africans retained when brought to the West as slaves.
To the question of whether this should be the case, my answer is, it depends! Theologically, the answer is “no.” Homiletically, the answer is “probably, yes.” Am I being ambivalent? Perhaps. Yet the reality is this: black people in a black church with a black preacher do not expect to hear a “white” sermon; nor will they be especially receptive to one. That’s just reality.
Fortunately (I think), my biblical theology drives my homiletics. Therefore, I do not believe the preacher should strive to be intentionally dialogical in “preaching a sermon,” regardless of the ethnic setting. Certainly, we have no scriptural model for being dialogical. Any consideration of the elevated pulpit in Nehemiah chapter eight, or the noticeable authority associated with Jesus’ proclamation in the gospels, or the preaching of the apostles in the book of Acts, shatters the myth that the preacher’s voice is “one voice among many.” No, no, no. The preaching of the sermon is a moment for God to speak and for his people to shut up and listen.
Further, as a practical matter, the general biblical illiteracy associated with much of the so-called Christian community today should halt the contemporary preacher from considering a dialogue model of preaching. This is often my struggle as a black preacher. Often, I have to correct non-biblical erroneous dialogue – which can be an awkward moment in the often intense emotional exchange between pulpit and pew in the black church. Nothing kills the dialogue like telling your dialogue partner (in this case, the congregation) that they are wrong.
However, to maintain my ambivalence, I must say, it feels real good as a preacher when a seasoned saint affirms the truth of the Scripture by yelling out, “Preach it!” or “Tell ‘em one more time!”
Kevin L. Smith is an assistant professor of church history at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky.
Preaching (as opposed to a Sunday School lesson or a carefully led inductive Bible Study) should be monological because it
(i) best reflects what the New Testament intends by kerygma (what is preached, message, proclamation; and its related word kçrussô—proclaim, make known, preach, to cry or proclaim as a herald), which is the Greek word it uses for preaching (see Luke 4:18-19, Romans 10:14, Matthew 3:1);
(ii) reflects the pattern of kerygmatic preaching of the apostles and prophets in both testaments;
(iii) reflects Jesus’ authority in his own preaching;
(iv) effectively accomplishes what preaching is—not merely conveying information, but conveying biblical truth with passion, earnestness, and authority to convict of sin and command obedience by gospel-focused motives;
(v) creates a listening domain which best reflects the meaning of the text by studied grammatico-historical exegesis by a recognized elder/teacher (rather than a postmodern democratic epistemology and perspectival pluralism).
Monological preaching thus best complies with the divine command to repent and believe, urging obedience rather than dialogue and debate. It is necessarily counter-cultural rather than accommodative of postmodern, deconstructive opinions of the nature of truth.
Having said this, I consider the best monological preaching to be dialogical in that it asks rhetorical questions and addresses individuals with a view to soliciting and urging a response. Such preaching should be thoroughly applicatory to the mind, will, and the affections and should not reflect clerical hegemony.
Derek Thomas is the minister of teaching at First Presbyterian Church in Jackson, Mississippi, a professor of systematic theology at the Reformed Theological Seminary in Jackson, and the author of numerous books.