Which is better, preaching that exposits biblical texts, or communication that changes lives? Having trouble deciding? Think of expository preaching as the mere transfer of information with diverse multiple points that no one--not even the preacher--remembers. Now think of the alternative, modeled by Andy Stanley and Lane Jones, as "teaching people how to live a life that reflects the values, principles and truths of the Bible" (p. 95). Still not sold on Communicating for a Change? Try assuming that Bible teaching only imparts knowledge that puffs people up with pride, while talking to them about themselves from the Bible (p. 96) results in obedient action. After all, "We don't live our lives by points" but "by emotions. We respond to what we see, taste, and feel" (p. 102). So why insist on an approach to preaching that requires rational understanding of historical facts and spiritual appraisal of their personal implications? If, by chance, you are still left standing in support of teaching the Bible to people, ask how you can possibly defend your stance since it reflects "a system designed in another era for a culture that no longer exists" (p. 89)?
Such a line of argumentation runs throughout a book that is otherwise brimming with helpful communication insights and techniques. In fact, the practical value of this book, the engaging style in which it is written, and the authors' own success as effective communicators, seem to have overcome any inclination on the part of its 89 reviewers to voice biblical objections to some of its assumptions. Before offering my own critique, I want to summarize the material I found most helpful.
I agree that a sermon should reflect a clear goal that can be expressed in single statement. Everything should lead up to, support, or point back to that central, memorable statement of truth that Haddon Robinson calls "the big idea," and that Arthur Whiting called "the theme," and that Charles Stanley apparently refers to as the preacher's "burden" (p. 13).
Asking the five questions: What do they need to know?; Why do they need to know it?; What do they need to do? Why do they need to do it?, and What can I do to make it memorable?, strike me as useful tools in getting unstuck when I get bogged down or distracted while preparing the message or communicating a single point. They insure coherent movement from INFORMATION to MOTIVATION to APPLICATION and INSPIRATION, with helpful REITERATION.
Other good counsel includes: Internalizing the message by identifying the big chunks that serve as "mile markers" through the message; building tension in the introduction and early part of a message that is relieved by the one point of God's Word being presented; less information, more life; talking faster, and taking it slower in the turns so that "passengers" aren't lost in transitions.
Chapters 12 and 13 were the most helpful. ME-WE-GOD-YOU-WE is an approach to organizing a message based on the relationship between the speaker and his audience, rather than the text. It starts with the preacher, ME. My personal experience with a problem, question or need introduces the subject in such a way as to invite my listeners to identify with me. Together WE are engaged in the process of discovering what the Bible, GOD, says to answer the question, solve the problem, or relieve the tension identified in the ME-WE potions. The listener, YOU, is then faced with the changes called for by the single point of the sermon. Finally, the message concludes with a call to imagine or envision the implications of an obedient response on the part of the community of believers--including the speaker and listener, WE. I believe that thinking in these terms will help me do a better job of connecting, keeping my listeners engaged, and bringing them with me to the desired destination.
Having read several of the customer reviews that average nearly 5 stars, I am impressed not only with the unanimity of praise the book has received but with the number of reviewers who join the authors in rejecting how they were trained to preach in seminary. But at least four assumptions deserve some critical analysis because they appear to weaken a biblical understanding of the peculiarity, purpose, and power of preaching the Word of God.
First, the writers state: "We make no distinction between preaching, teaching, or general communication. For our purposes they are the same" (13). While all communication--including biblical teaching and preaching--share certain principles and processes in common, the biblical purpose of preaching is unique. Unlike general communication, driven by results, biblical preaching is driven by revelation. Using the Bible as a resource to talk to people about themselves can result in effective communication, but the preacher speaks for God with the biblical text as his source (2 Tim. 4:1-5). Communicators speak naturally to connect with as many people in the audience as possible. Biblical preachers speak with divine authority that no one naturally receives (1 Cor. 2:14).
Second, as good as it sounds, a changed life is not an adequate goal for preaching the Word of God because God is glorified in His judgment of those who reject His Word as well as in the blessing of those who receive it. We are not commanded to relate ideas from the Bible that we judge to be essential, applicable, or appropriate--"all they gotta know"--but what God has already chosen to communicate because He considers it to be essential to knowing Him (John 17:3, 6-8, 17.) If we faithfully proclaim the whole purpose of God (Acts 20:27), teaching and admonishing one another in order to present every man mature in Christ (Col. 1:28), His word will not return to Him without accomplishing His purpose (Isa. 55:11). That purpose involves what people think and believe as well as what they do. Teaching the Bible to people has the decided advantage of equipping the listeners with a model for how to feed themselves. It also gives them a basis on which to evaluate messages they hear, like the Bereans did in Acts 17:11. While alignment of purpose, goal and method makes perfect sense in terms of communication strategy, there is a greater need now than ever to remember that the end doesn't justify the means. Attainment of the preacher's goal does not validate a methodology that promotes dependence on a fallible communicator.
Third, when preachers talk about a "powerful illustration," an "impactful delivery," or "seven keys to irresistible communication," often they are describing a human cause-and-effect. But there are important differences between the persuasive powers of public speaking and the power of the preached Word of God (1 Cor. 1:18-25; 2:1-5). The power of motivational techniques is human, while the power to convict sinners, justify believers, and sanctify saints, is divine. The assertion that "burden" plus passion equals change fails to distinguish between the power that resides in the packaging of the message from the supernatural power of its content . That God works through the personality in whom He has chosen to wrap His message does not mean that powers of persuasion are commensurate with the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes (Rom. 1:16,17; 2 Tim. 3:14-17). While it may be true that "presentation trumps information when it comes to engaging the audience," it is the Word itself that is "...living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword... (Heb. 4:12,13). It is the heart of the listener that must be prepared to receive it as sown seed (Matt. 13). In spite of being the Truth in human form, the very Word of God perfectly packaged, the Lord Jesus was rejected by the majority of His own, and received only by those who, having been given the right to become children of God, believed in Him (John 1:11,12).
Homiletic application of biblical truth--even with inspirational imaging and reiteration--only identifies and urges needed change. It no more guarantees actual implementation of biblical truth than does information by itself. According to Matthew 7:28,29, what distinguished Jesus' communication from others was not that He was creative, direct, compassionate or offensive (as stated on p. 150), but that He spoke with the authority of God!
Fourth, the assumption that a generational shift has made it necessary to "abandon a style, an approach, a system that was designed in another era for a culture that no longer exists (p. 89)," is unsubstantiated. The authors ask, "Will you consider letting go of your alliterations and acrostics and three point outlines and talk to people in terms they understand?" The question seems to attack textual expository preaching as a relic of left-brained modernity, even discounting the present value of literary and mnemonic devices as if they were Confederate currency! The implication is that either the old style of preaching was ineffective in its own generations, or that now we have to accommodate a new generation that is not only completely different, but defensibly disconnected from that of their fathers. This goes beyond the idea that truth never changes but methods can and should. It essentially denies the existence of timeless principles of biblical preaching, and embraces contemporaneity as synonymous with relevance. Preachers must always bridge the gap between the time and culture of the Bible and of their listeners, and there are many kinds of bridges. But the principles of verbal and relational bridge-building don't change.
If the helpful content of this book is promoted on the basis of some faulty assumptions, the reader should carefully distinguish the two and not think that he must embrace the authors' apparent antipathy for textual-expository preaching in order to connect better with listeners that are increasingly influenced by postmodern thought. "But," as Robertson McQuilkin has written, "let's not be caught defending the indefensible or putting institutions (which the postmodern has little use for) ahead of people and authentic human relations." Stanley and Jones have reacted to common abuses of verse-by-verse teaching and preaching. The wise reader will make the necessary adjustments in his approach to sermon development and delivery rather than jettison his commitment to preach the Word in favor of a generational, results-oriented technique for communicating with people.