Twinkle, Twinkle, Simple Faith?

Every now and again I speak to believers who don’t enjoy the notion of Christian theology one little bit. Their faith, you see, is a simple faith. Theology? Well that just confuses people! “Forget all the boring and complex doctrine”, they say, “I just want to love Jesus…that’s all”.

But, one only has to ask, which Jesus is it that they ‘just want to love’? And of course, to answer a question like that, one needs very complex and and precise doctrine. And while being able to properly identify the Jesus whom we love does absolutely nothing to take away from the simplicity of our faith (viz., our complete and utter trust in the person of Christ), the same cannot be said for those who do not know their theology. Not only do they end up in great danger of heresy, but their faith becomes simplistic – not simple.

The following story (from Mark Dever’s “Message of the Old Testament”) serves to illustrate well that this is something which cannot be commended;

“George Buttrick… was [from 1927 to 1954] pastor of the Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church in New York. One week he had been off on a speaking engagement and was flying back to New York City. On the plane he had a pad and a pencil and he was making some notes for next Sunday’s sermon. The man seated next to him was eyeing him with curiosity. Finally, the curiosity got the best of him, and so he said to Buttrick, ‘I hate to disturb you—you’re obviously working hard on something—but what in the world are you working on?’

“‘Oh, I’m a Presbyterian minister,’ said Buttrick. ‘I’m working on my sermon for Sunday.’

“‘Oh, religion,’ said the man. ‘I don’t like to get all caught up in the in’s and out’s and complexities of religion. I like to keep it simple. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” The Golden Rule, that’s my religion.’

“‘I see,’ said Buttrick. ‘And what do you do?’

“‘I’m an astronomer. I teach at the university.’

“‘Oh, yes,’ said Buttrick. ‘Astronomy—I don’t like to get all caught up in the in’s and out’s and complexities of astronomy. Twinkle, twinkle little star, that’s my astronomy.’”

The Potential Harm of Homiletics

I’m reading through Charles Dargan’s “History of Preaching” at the moment. Pure dynamite! Highly recommend (you can download the double-volume here, or read it on Logos here).

But anyway, I read something today that resonates deeply with me in terms of my own experience listening to preachers absolutely murder their texts by forcing the passage into all sorts of arbitrary and overly rigid homiletical divisions.

Make’s me all twitchy and crazy-like. . .

But personal involuntary reactions aside, I think that Dargin’s observation of the trend in post-Reformation preaching is illuminating in this regard.

“In the post-reformers more attention was given both to analytic and synthetic form. The sermons of Luther and Calvin broke away with a certain joyous freedom from the trammels of the scholastic method. This was especially true of their expository discourses, which were verse-by-verse comments rather than orderly addresses. Yet . . . the study of homiletics naturally tended to the reinstatement of this method. As is often the case in such matters, a needed improvement went too far. In much of the preaching of the period under review there is too much stiff and formal division of sermons.”

Couldn’t agree more. While sermons shouldn’t be running commentaries, I’d take a running commentary over an arbitrary division of the text any day of the week. . . especially on Sunday.