April 21 – Sensitive to my Audience

April 21 – Sensitive to my Audience

2 Corinthians 1:12-13

For our boast is this, the testimony of our conscience, that we behaved in the world with simplicity and godly sincerity, not by earthly wisdom but by the grace of God, and supremely so toward you. For we are not writing to you anything other than what you read and understand and I hope you will fully understand…” (2 Corinthians 1:12-13)

Much of my preaching is for missions conferences. This spring I was in a small-town Mississippi church that was weak from its untimely birth. Circulating among the early arrivers before the first service, I met a bouncy little lady who announced that she was church organist. “Oh,” I responded, “and how long have you been organist?” “50 years!” she said with a bit of well-earned pride.

“50 years! That’s been a time of great change in music. It must have been quite challenging.”

“I do not change,” she stated, jaw firmly set. Then she continued, “if they want Bach and Mendelssohn, well and good. If not, they can get themselves another organist.”

In an instant I changed the metaphor about my ministry from frustrated typewriter salesman in the computer age. Here I am, constantly crisscrossing the country offering Bach pipe organ recitals to an audience dancing to the music of electronic praise bands. I preach commitment, sacrifice, and incarnational investment of life to reach people living and dying out of reach of gospel witness. It’s like I’m from another galaxy! They’re interested in sending their members on 2-week junkets to exotic places, sending their money for nationals to do the job, and staying put in their pews, praising God. And not with a pipe organ!

I have hesitated to be specific about possible responses to postmodern thinking because, in the nature of the case, so complex a set of issues can’t even be accurately named in so short a space, let alone adequately explored. Besides, I myself am on pilgrimage in these matters – developing a whole new generation of messages and revising old faithfuls in my personal attempt to connect more effectively with the postmodern generations I have opportunity to address. So I’m reluctant, but I overcame my reluctance with the thought I might be able to set a few markers toward harnessing the all-pervasive postmodern engine to drive spiritual formation.

Let’s address the pragmatic question of what a preacher should preach if he is to bring the content of his message under the authority of Scripture. But in addressing the entire scope of ministry and in seeking to do it all under the authority of Scripture, the problem becomes broader and deeper.

Do we use the historic approach in Bible interpretation, or the emerging postmodern hermeneutic as our control? For example, is there objective truth? Increasing numbers of evangelicals would hold there is enduring truth only in the major doctrines of Christianity, that beyond that we arrogantly go astray when we seek to establish “biblical authority.”

Again, does God even have a will for us in matters of ministry or do we simply use Scripture as a source of historic reference, sort of a case book of stories for reference? God’s stories, to be sure, but intended by him to make normative demands on those at another point in time, living in another culture.

Does “meaning” exist objectively? And if so, does it reside in the text or in the mind of the interpreter, bound as she or he is by their culture? And is the Reformation dogma valid that holds the perspicuity of Scripture and the priesthood of each believer, capable and responsible to understand and obey Scripture? Or are the doctrines and practice of the church created from our own cultural understandings combined with the historic interpretations of the universal church?

The historic response to these questions among evangelicals until the 1980’s would have been: The Scripture and the Scripture alone is the final authority for faith and practice. Words do convey meaning, and in Scripture, it is God’s meaning, objective and unchanging across time and culture. Further, it is fully adequate to teach us what we must believe and not believe, how we are not to behave and how we are to behave. The text is the bearer of objective truth and the meaning intended by the original author is accessible to the diligent student. Our responsibility is to understand and obey that truth. That is the foundational presupposition, so we must begin with an honest confrontation of the insidious inroads of postmodern thinking.

It is the renewing of our minds God is after and transformational preaching certainly can’t bypass the mind. But we can use the contemporary anti-intellectual mood to dethrone scientific naturalism and a materialistic mind-set. We may harness the mood to demolish a deadly enemy of spiritual reality. Is it my way or the highway? Do we never change or do we use rational yet biblical thinking to transform our minds and the minds of those with whom we minister?

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