Haddon Robinson is one of the most influential persons in the homiletical world. The author of the immensely-popular textbook Biblical Preaching (a second edition is due out this summer from Baker Books), he has influenced thousands of evangelical preachers through his writing and through his former stu-dents who now teach homiletics, Robin-son, a native of New York City, completed graduate studies at Dallas Theological Seminary (Th.M., 1955), Southern Methodist University (M.A., 1960) and the University of Illinois (Ph.D., 1964).
A former professor of homiletics at Dallas Seminary and former President of Denver Seminary, in 1991 he became the Harold John Ockenga Distinguished Professor of Preaching at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and is also co-director of the Doctor of Ministry Program at Gordon-Conwell. Dr. Robinson was named one of the twelve most effective preachers in the English-speaking world in a 1996 Baylor University poll. He is one of the hosts for Discover the Word (formerly Radio Bible Class), a daily radio program of RBC Ministries in Grand Rapids, MI, which is broadcast 600 times a day on stations around the world. He is a senior consulting editor of Preaching magazine and a fellow and senior editor for Christianity Today. His book Biblical Preaching is currently being used as a text for preaching in 120 seminaries and Bible colleges throughout the world.
He recently met with Preaching editor Michael Duduit for an interview in his seminary office.
Preaching: Through your book Biblical Preaching, one could say that you literally wrote the book on expository preaching. It has been such a pivotal book in shaping our understanding of expository preaching in so many of today’s churches. Since you first wrote that book, how have your views on expository preaching changed?
Robinson: I have just finished revamping the book so the new edition is coming out soon. My basic understanding of expository preaching has stayed the same. I think within the book itself I’ve spent more time talking about narrative — narrative literature, narrative preaching.
I’ve come clearer to seeing that when you talk about expository preaching, you’re not primarily talking about the form of the sermon. You are really talking about a philosophy. Do you bend your thought to the text or do you bend the text to fit your thought? How a person in all honesty answers that would say a lot about whether or not that person really is an expository preacher.
Another thing that has come into better focus is the reason for expository preaching — that is, laying before people the biblical text is for the authority it gives. In looking at the sermons of the past, I think it would be accurate to say that even for those who were orthodox, the authority for the sermon rested in the preacher.
When Spurgeon and men of that sort preached, the people in the congregation believed that he had studied the text — that he was orthodox — therefore he could be trusted. So when you examine their sermons, you don’t find in most of those sermons anything that I would look at and say that is clearly an expository sermon — it opens up the biblical passage, it’s formed according to the lines of the passage, and it has the purpose of the passage in view. They are in a sense topical but they are orthodox. You’d have a hard time in m
So if you ask why is expository preaching more important today, it is that we don’t have the authority that preachers had in the past. The truth is that — aside from people that have grown up in the church — the average person in our society does not give high grades to preachers as being intellectual or even moral leaders.
Twenty years ago it would have been almost impossible to bring a case to court against a minister. Today a lawyer that’s defending a minister will do every thing that he can to keep the people in the jury from thinking of him as a minister. So we have lost a lot of the base, for a lot of different reasons. What we are really trying to say is, “O.K. if I can get people to study the Bible and to see the text, I believe that the Bible is self-authenticating.” If I can get you to really read it, to look at it, to hear it, to understand it, it has its own power to convince and to convict and to change people.
Therefore in a postmodern age one reason that we work with the biblical text is to have the authority of the text — and behind that the authority of God — behind what we say. I’ve always believed that, but it has become clearer to me now than it has been in the past. That is not to say that the person in the pew has to accept my view of inspiration. It is simply to say that if the Bible is what I believe it to be — the word of God — and that the Spirit of God answers to the Word, then if I can lay that out before them in a relevant fashion it has the power to do what my authority today can’t do.
Preaching: You mentioned that expository preaching is less a form than a philosophy. Does form still play a role, and how important is that in terms of the nature of the sermon?
Robinson: I think form is important. The question is: where does it come from? One answer is that the form of the sermon, it seems to me, needs to reflect the form of text. By that I mean if I am working with a parable of Jesus, it is not the form of the parable to say, “There are three lessons about God’s mercy that we learn from this story.” If God had wanted to give us three lessons, He was perfectly capable, and the biblical writer was perfectly capable of saying there are three lessons. So I had to say to myself: Why, when God wanted to tell me about the seeking love of God — say in Luke 15, the prodigal son — why in the world did He use this story? When the religious scholar says to Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?” in Luke 10, Jesus tells them a story.
It seems to me that if you and I were talking, and you said to me, “Who is your neighbor?” And I said, “Well, once upon a time there was a guy going from Boston down to Providence and he got into a wreck on the highway.” You’d say to me, “Wait a minute, what is this telling me a story? I asked you a straight question, ‘Who is my neighbor?’ I wanted a definition.” But Jesus doesn’t do that. So if in my sermon I suddenly come up with a didactic definition, then the form of the sermon is not the form of the passage.
I think that you could make a good argument that not only should the sermon reflect the idea of a biblical text but it should be influenced by the form. So if you are dealing with narrative literature in the Old Testament then there ought to be about the sermon some element of story. Or if you are dealing with a psalm — the psalm isn’t given to teach us things as much as it is to direct people how to worship. So I have to wrestle with that literature, not only in what the psalm is conveying but how I can have a poetic element about my preaching. That is out of the philosophy that when God communicates His truth He chooses certain forms, and therefore my sermon needs to reflect that.
Preaching: As pastors deal with these narrative passages of scripture, how would you suggest they approach them for preaching? They want to be faithful to the text, they want to be expository, and yet they want to be faithful to the narrative shape of the passage. How do you suggest they deal with such passages?
Robinson: There is a small body of literature in how to interpret the biblical narrative. Robert Alter has a book on the art of Biblical narrative. He emphasizes that when you study a biblical text you need to study it in its context — not just this story but the stories before and after — and ask the question: why did the biblical writer put this in here?
You also have to recognize that the biblical writers give us very little description. You have this long section in the Bible about David and about Moses, but we don’t know what they looked like. The writers just don’t seem to tell us. They put some emphasis on action, the most emphasis on dialogue. So looking at ways of coming at narrative, I am trying to find out what the idea of this — that is, what is the biblical writer telling this for?
I think it is a help to people to understand that behind the biblical narratives there is theology. There’s a tendency to think that God gave us those stories so that we would have something to tell our kids before they went to bed. But the stories are a way of telling us about God. So as we look at the story and see it in its context and then its broader context, I have to ask, “How does this writer through the dialogue, through the action of these characters, get across his idea?”
Think about any stories. One of the things you have in any good story is detail. Detail helps to make things visual, so that if I tell you about the ghetto of New York where I grew up, I can describe it: the smell of urine in the halls, the look of the garbage in the street, glass on the sidewalks. Good stories have detail. But if you have only detail without a principle the whole thing falls flat.
So I read the details of the story in terms of its dialogue, its action, but I also have to find the principle. If I don’t find the principle, I just sort of recite the story. Two dangers: one is, it will fall flat. The second danger is I can make the biblical narrative say what I think I want it to say rather than to look at the narrative and say: what is the narrator trying to get across? There is more and more literature now on narrative. Really the whole thing started basically thirty years ago. You don’t have much literature on narrative in the past, and I think it’s because we live in a story culture, and we suddenly recognize how much of the Bible is a story.
Preaching: There is a lot of literature on interpreting narrative. One of the frustrations pastors face is perhaps knowing how to approach and study a narrative passage but not how to turn around and put it into a homiletical form. How do you make the transition from interpreting the narrative passage to preaching the passage in a narrative form? That is a struggle for many preachers.
Robinson: Yeah, it is a struggle. One advantage we have today is that a modern audience doesn’t know those stories. I was chatting with a young woman two weeks ago who is a graduate of a major university. She has recently come into the faith. In the course of the conversation I said something about 1 Corinthians 13, and she stopped me and said, “What is 1 Corinthians 13?” I said that it’s a chapter in the Bible about love and, she said, “Is that the New Testament or the Old Testament?” I suddenly realized this lady hasn’t got a ghost of a notion about those stories! I think that today one of the things that we can do is simply to tell a narrative — tell it in an effective fashion, help people to re-experience it. That is one reason for a minister to read novels, to be aware how story tellers craft their stories in order to get across not just the story but some ideas behind it.
In the past — at least when I was in seminary — the great emphasis was on the left brain. You know, analyzing. I am convinced that you don’t really interpret the Bible unless you also use your imagination, especially with narrative literature. You have got to enter into that — not by cold analysis, but you have got to say: can I put myself back into those days, can I relive what David was feeling when he escaped from Saul? If I can do that, then I can tell the story in a vivid way.
In fact one way you can do a narrative is the first person narrative. My son, Tory, is writing his thesis for a D.Min. degree on how to study for and to preach first person narratives. There you have to get into the mind of the character. A lot of the story preaching is not biblical; it’s interesting but not very biblical — that’s its great danger. But you can take that story from the point of view of one of the characters and tell it. You don’t have to be a great actor. It’s amazing how interesting it is for people to hear somebody who as a character relives that story. In our day it can make a great impact.
Preaching: You use the term experience. How much preaching needs to be experiential versus intellectual?
Robinson: I don’t think you really understand truth unless you can experience it. I think truth in the Bible is never like mathematical theory — something that you can put up on a blackboard and analyze. I think that truth in the Bible always intersects life. Therefore, while I have to think in order to understand, I also have to experience in order for that truth to really make a difference. I’m not saying that I have got to move people’s emotions by some tricks, but I am convinced that the Bible is never given in order to simply satisfy our curiosity.
I think that it can be a great satisfaction in having a curiosity met. I think that there are people who enjoy Bible study the same way that other people enjoy filling out crossword puzzles. Get all the parts and get the thing completed — they find satisfaction. I think there are people that study the Bible that way. They can see how it relates to its context and how its details work to get across the concept. But if it never gets into your life, if it never really touches your experience, I doubt seriously that you can call it a study of biblical truth, because I think God’s truth is always designed to challenge us and change us.
Preaching: One of the critical areas that is so important to preaching — and that so many pastors struggle with — is the whole area of applying biblical truth. Making that transition from the context of the biblical world into “What does this mean for me on Tuesday morning?”
Robinson: It’s a perceptive question. In fact if I have a serious book left in me, it would be on application. I think in many of our circles, more evangelical circles perhaps, but liberal as well, the great heresies are not primarily in the doctrine — though they can be there — but in the application. By that I mean, I can study a text and I can understand what the text means, as a preacher. Thus if I really understand what this text means, I can preach that idea, that abstraction from the text, with the authority that says “Thus saith the Lord.” But the big question is, when I apply it in a specific way, can I have the authority of the Scriptures behind the application?
If it’s a necessary implication: that is, if as Paul would say in 1 Corinthians 9, “There is one God,” it’s a necessary implication. There can’t be five Gods. So if A is true, B must be true. But there aren’t that many necessary implications. The next level would be a probable implication — it’s important, but it doesn’t quite have the “Thus saith the Lord.” Others are a possible implication, I guess improbable and, finally, an impossible implication. But how you take a truth from the ancient world in a different context from ours and bring it over with the authority of scripture, I think is the thing we battle with. But on the other hand, you have to apply the text, and you have to do it, I think, in specific ways, for people to get it and to put it into their lives.
There’s a danger of legalism here. You can have an abstract concept, a concept that says “You shall honor your father and mother”– it’s clear that’s what you’re supposed to do. Then I apply it: it has to do with my aging parents. And I can tell you a story out of my own life, when my father came to live with us the last years of his life in Dallas. He lost touch with reality, and we had to put him in the nursing home. It cost me half of my salary, and I went to visit him every day. I hated to put him in there because he didn’t like to be there. When my wife’s mother came to the end of her life, we kept her in our home, and my wife took care of her. In both cases I was trying to honor my parents. Different situation — the kids were gone when Bonnie’s mother was ill. But it is very easy to come to the conclusion that if you are going to honor your parents then you must keep them in your home when they get old. Then what happens is that that application has all the force of the principle. But you can honor your parents in a number of different ways because of different situations. So I see legalism as the application of a principle, and the application has all the force of the principle and it does not deserve it. So there is a theological danger in the way that we apply.
There has got to be some thought given so that what I am saying to the people today accurately reflects the dynamic of its original situation as well as the concept that comes out of it. That takes more thought than most of us have given it in the past. I think often, therefore, we fill people with guilt because they don’t do what we say this text says we could do; we really say the text says this is what you must do. If you put a “Thus saith the Lord” by it, you have all kinds of power over people who take God seriously.
On another level just on application, I think it is a good thing for a pastor to make a grid of his congregation. Make the grid any way that you want it, but on the one side put down different age groupings in your church — the boomers, the busters, the millennials. Then come across the other side and have single living with parents, married with no children, married and divorced. You can have a number of those grids. Then look at those grids and say, “If what I am saying today is God’s truth, and I believe it is, how would it apply to a young person who is 18, living at home single? Does it have anything to say to the young woman who is out in the business world and living with a roommate?”
If I have that grid and when I look at those boxes, things will come to mind, and I will say, “Yeah, if that person was sitting in my office and they said to me, “How do you cope with a difficult roommate, or how do you handle frustration of having a boss that is always on your back?” Does this text have anything to say to that person? Sometimes you say, yes it does. So it enables you to think of your audience — to take them more seriously because you can see individuals or groups of individuals more clearly.
Preaching: It seems like this area of application may be one of the greatest places where you need some sanctified imagination, mixed with a large dose of humility.
Robinson: That is the great advantage that a pastor has over someone like myself at a seminary. I am sometimes asked, “Who are the great preachers of our day?” and my wife says, “It is one less than you think.” I really do believe the great preachers are pastors of congregations at Sixth and Main of some town that know the people. He takes the biblical text and relates it to those people’s lives because he knows them and knows them well. So the pastoral side of ministry fuses relevant preaching that applies to life. In fact, often the big problem that kind of preacher has is he knows the people so well that if he applies this, Aunt Milly in the church will be absolutely sure he is talking about her. But someone said that the mark of a great sermon is that the person in the pew wonders how in the world the pastor knew that about me. So you learn a lot just by living among people and being perceptive. That is a great advantage when it comes to applying the truth.
Preaching: What are some of the best things that are happening in preaching today? What are some positive trends that you see?
Robinson: I think a move away from preaching as lecture to preaching as extended conversation. A move where the preacher is talking with the congregation rather than at the congregation. I think that’s healthy. It means that the preacher, though he or she is doing a monologue, it isn’t monological because you’ve thought about these people you’re talking to.
I think a second thing that’s going on in preaching is that there is more self-revelation. We don’t, I hope, preach our experiences, but we have to experience what we preach, or at least see how this truth intersects with our lives. It doesn’t necessarily mean at all that I have a catharsis experience with the congregation to talk about my deepest strivings. But there is in the audience today — especially the younger audiences — a desire to know who you are personally.
In fact I’d put it the other way: I don’t think you can connect with audiences under 50 unless they relate to you. I don’t think today you can listen to an effective preacher six weeks and not know quite a bit about him. I think in the past — in my growing up years — you could listen to somebody for six years and not necessarily know anything about him. I think it’s healthy, provided the preacher does not use himself as the best example or even the worst example. I want to sense that he or she has struggled with life. I also want to believe that they have won some victories.
I’m not very impressed with a preacher that stands up and basically says, “I am a loser in this area, I can’t tell you anymore than I know myself.” I don’t want to listen to a loser. I want to listen to somebody that has struggled but has found a way through this struggle to find some equilibrium in life.
I think a third positive trend is preachers are more conscious of the need for story in their sermon. I don’t mean anecdotes but this sense that a good sermon can be like a story. In the past I would go to my study, and I would come out, and I would deliver to the people what the results of my study would be. Today, there is a greater tendency to let the congregation in on your study. So it leads to induction rather than deduction, which is another trend. You sort of take the listener along on the journey with you. I think there is more of that being done, and I think it is a good trend because I think we live inductively. We have experiences, and out of the experiences we draw conclusions. Only in lectures in seminary and college or some pulpits do you get some sort of deductive arrangement where you state a proposition and then explain or prove it or apply it. That is a trend.
Certainly I see a greater emphasis of women in ministry today — in denominations ordaining women. Even in the denominations that don’t ordain women, many of them really have come to appreciate the great contribution a woman can make as she studies the scriptures. I am convinced that a woman reads the Bible differently from a man. Women as a group tend to be much more relational and ask relational questions. I think that more and more people recognize the contribution that women make and can make and genuinely appreciate what they do. Twenty years ago that was not the case.
Preaching: Over the next 10 to 20 years, what do you think are going to be some of the greatest challenges that preachers are going to face.
Robinson: We are in a much more secular culture. In fact it’s not just the post-Christian culture, it’s almost a pre-Christian culture. When Paul went into a community, he had the advantage of going into a synagogue and teaching and preaching to reach some people, and then he went into the marketplace. I think that we are going to find ourselves — if we’re serious about our business — just in the marketplace. That is good, and it is also difficult. I think we are going to find it much more difficult to proclaim the central doctrines of the Christian faith. To preach the uniqueness of Jesus Christ in a multi-faceted culture in which you insist Jesus Christ is the only way to God — the response of people sitting in front of you is that you are a bigot. It’s an emotional response. So people are willing to say yes to Jesus certainly, even to say He is the Savior. But the number of people in our churches who would say that He is the only Savior, the only way to God, is less and less.
I think it is going to be much more difficult for people who have been raised in a religious tradition to speak effectively to the secular culture. I think many of the things that church people — and I mean this in a positive sense of church people like myself do — we often use the jargon of the faith without realizing we are using it. If you’ve grown up in certain tradition where you think that preaching is yelling — you try to face a secular audience today and yell at them, and you’ve lost them. The things that you sort of took by osmosis growing up will be less and less effective. I think the great challenge that we are going to face is not just how to preach to these people, but how do we reach them in order to preach to them. How do you get them inside the church; how do you get them to sit and to listen? I think we are going to see a declining church enrollment. We are seeing it now but I think it is going to get worse.
I think we are also going to find that when we take a stand on moral issues we will do it at a cost. If you’re pro-life, you are going to find more and more people in this culture who look at that position as deviant. The series of ads that are being run by the National Organization of Women put a great emphasis on the right to choose as a fundamental right, the freedom to choose. They are warm, and they are glowing. But they don’t ask the next question: freedom to choose what? Since it is an abortion, it’s freedom to choose to kill a fetus that a woman carries. They don’t spell that out, but they are winning.
At the confirmation hearings for members of Mr. Bush’s cabinet, you heard the harshness of the rhetoric, the sense that you cannot possibly have somebody who is sincerely pro-life in that position. Conversely, that a person commits adultery — it seems to people today, well so what? What you do in the privacy of your bedroom, who’s business is it? So you start to preach the Ten Commandments and you discover people have already made up their minds that probably three of the ten don’t apply anymore. So I think that we are going to find in the years to come we are going to have a whole strategy in the best sense how we get to that secular culture. I don’t have the answer to it at all, but I worry about it a lot.
I sit in an airport, and I watch these people come by, and if I could stand up on this bench and preach to them and tell them about Jesus Christ, I would do it. I know if I stood on this bench and preached to them they would take me out and put me in jail. How do you reach them? These people, these different secular people who see the church and thus God as an enemy.
Preaching: Are there any pastors out there right now in churches that you observe reaching that kind of audience?
Robinson: I think you have the elements in many of the churches like Willow Creek — they have done well to attract a certain level of non-Christians. Very few of us in our churches reach beyond the circle. There aren’t that many churches reaching the Moslems, the Hindus in our culture. I think there are African-American congregations that seem to be making inroads and are doing it with a faithfulness to the gospel and to its preaching.
I think of someone like Tony Evans in Dallas in a large, thriving church in which they don’t hedge. The pastor of the largest Methodist church in Houston, Kirbyjon Caldwell, is an evangelical and seems to be doing a better job in reaching the African-American community than we are reaching the Caucasian. But there are a number of thriving churches. Rick Warren has a significant number of people in his congregation who are new to the faith. He is in tune with southern California. It is just what they are doing today. Ten years from now, if they still have the goal of reaching the non-churched person, a lot is going to change then.
It is always easy — relatively easy — to reach people provided you don’t cross them. So there are churches that are growing that would call themselves evangelical, but there are things that they would not preach because they have said that if they preach that they won’t come back. It has been years, years since I have heard a sermon on hell. Because in this culture how do you preach this today, if you are trying to reach out to people. They can’t imagine it.
Preaching: A few issues ago we had an interview with Adrian Rogers, and he made reference to that issue. Knowing he is very conservative, people think he would preach frequently on hell, but he doesn’t often because it does not make for an effective evangelistic sermon. People do not respond.
Robinson: Several years ago I went through the gospels, and just out of curiosity, I went through the gospel of Matthew and the gospel of Luke. I put a line next to passages. I put a “S” where soft passage was, “H” for hard passage and “I” for in-between. You come to the end of that there are far more hard passages than you are going to have soft passages. Jesus said things that got Him crucified. It is that kind of faithfulness, the desire to be faithful to that, I can’t really with integrity pick and choose in the gospel of Luke or Matthew only passages where I think I’ll have a soft landing with my audience. On the other hand, it is a reality that if I preach this clearly there are going to be people that are going to respond to me — and thus to the gospel — as though this can’t be Christian because Christianity is always love and grace. The term bigot is thrown around.
There is a lot in the Bible that is just not politically correct. And people who are schooled in being politically correct in our universities, in society — there are certain things that you say that turn them off. Because, fundamental to their thinking is that political correctness somehow came down from the mountain along with Moses. That’s why it’s so hard to preach the biblical text to the outside. Within the construct of faith, believer — they’ll be more patient with you. You can preach it, but I am also convinced that the person in the eighth row, four seats in, who’s been a Christian 15 years, will often sort through what biblical truth they will accept. They don’t accept everything I say — that speaks to their credit — but there is also biblical truth they won’t accept because it’s just tough truth.
Preaching: You’re in a setting where you are training the next generation of preachers. Are there particular things you try to do with these future preachers to get them ready for the task they face?
Robinson: Teaching seminary students to preach resembles teaching people to swim who have never been near water! So you have a lecture or two on “That’s water.” We have a large number of students here — which I think is true of most seminaries — who have not been to church that much. They became Christians in college and so this whole thing is new. Or we have people who have grown up in the church but have no experience with people in the marketplace and therefore really do not know people. They may know the Bible but do not know people. These other people know people but know less of the Bible.
The tendency going through seminary is to believe that if you took your exegesis notes from a New Testament class into the pulpit and read them to people, there would be a great stirring of God. So sometimes the sermons you get are pedantic; probably true to the text but not true to people, to life. Perhaps you could say that people who have been out for four, five, or six years may have more dif-ficulty being true to the text because they face people every Sunday, and they’re much more aware of life. But that’s what you struggle with in teaching preaching.
I find that it really doesn’t help just to teach a method. In fact, I sometimes say to our students, “It would be helpful if you never thought about preaching a sermon in your life.” Because a sermon brings a certain form. The first thing after I study this text is to understand it. And then, having understood it, have a whole second phase in which you have to ask, “What is the best way to communicate this to my congregation?” And any form that will take the biblical text and be honest and true to it, and communicate it to a modern audience, I think is legitimate, provided the audience will accept it. There are certain forms I might think about, but I know the people in the First Episcobapterian Church will flinch. They wouldn’t accept it. But if it will get it across in an effective way and touch people’s lives, then that’s where — in the best sense — you can use your creativity to communicate.
Preaching: Those young preachers are going to have some very different cultural challenges in the next few years.
Robinson: Sometimes when I’m thinking about preaching I think I’ve gotten hold of the hem of the garment but I can’t always sustain the grasp. That’s because audiences change. What was effective 20 years ago is just not effective today. Preaching to an older audience, the builders — they grew up learning to listen. You can have a sustained argument with them. The younger audiences, they don’t follow it. It’s not their way of getting information.
We do less and less reading. Often when you ask a pastor, “What do you have to do to develop as a Christian,” one of the first things he’ll say is “Well, you have to study the Bible.” But the Bible is a tough read. The generation that I grew up in really valued reading, and I think the past is valued. But I think that today a person who wants to be an effective communicator has to have an awareness of visual media — movies, what goes on in television, because that’s the way people get their information. The average person spends about 200 hours a year reading the newspaper, about 200 hours a year looking at magazines, 1,300 hours a year watching TV. When people are asked what is their major source of news they say “television.” 55 percent say it’s their only source of news. So they’re being shaped by a media that is visual, that tells stories, and yet for people at seminary, we get our information by reading.
That really is the world as it is. I think it would be helpful if we could take time in theological education to study how movies and television convey ideas that actually do shape us — moral values, theological values. We watch television, watch soap operas, watch the evening drama. People get murdered, robbed, raped, they never pray. They never seek out a preacher, priest, or rabbi.
We live in a world in which God doesn’t exist. And then folks come to church an hour, two hours a week, and you try to say to them, “God is central to your life.” You’re preaching within a context in which people very effectively are getting the idea that you don’t call in God; fix it yourself. So it seems to me that a pastor has to have an awareness, not only of what’s going on out there in terms of what the messages are, but how that message is shaped by media. I don’t think we’re that skilled in media, and I’m not talking about using clips of films, though that’s fine. I’m really just talking about a whole awareness of how these people sitting out there are shaped and molded by a philosophy that is neutral to God or often very hostile.
It’s tough to stay culturally aware, because you live — as a preacher — within a culture that’s religious. And the people around you — on your board, that you work with, near voices — support what you are and what you’re saying generally. It’s hard to get to the distant voices and hear them. You can hear the distant voices and preach to them, but they’re not my congregation on Sunday. So I have to make my people, who are committed to Christ, aware of what is going on out there