Preaching in the Vernacular

Discussion in 'Preaching' started by JDKetterman, Feb 10, 2008.

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  1. JDKetterman

    JDKetterman Puritan Board Freshman

    I'm not sure if any of you have ever dealt with this problem. The content of the sermon you hear will be very Reformed and very Orthodox, yet the preaching will be so academic that no one knows what you are talking about unless you are part of a Reformed circle.

    While I don't believe a sermon should be dumbed down, but it should be understandable enough for a non-Reformed person to come in and understand what the Preacher is saying. Whether it be consciencally or unconscioually, the church functions as if the culture is a Christian culture and that Christiandom is still alive and well. We live in a post-modern culture, why is it that some Reformed preachers speak in this language that only Reformed elites really know about?

    There's no question that there a great deal of orthodox and Reformed teachers out there, but my question is why don't many of them speak in language that the common Christian can understand?
  2. greenbaggins

    greenbaggins Administrator Staff Member

    It is because people do not understand the true definition of scholarship. This is the true definition of scholarship: to be able to take the most difficult subjects and explain in such a way that anyone can understand. So, anyone who spouts off a mouthful of mumbo-jumbo is not a scholar: anyone can do that. All they would have to do is use a dictionary. The fact is that only a true master of the material can explain it without the jargon. This needs more attention in seminary preaching classes.
  3. PilgrimPastor

    PilgrimPastor Puritan Board Freshman

    I agree with that whole-heartedly. It has been my experience though that such a high number of seminary professors are not really practitioners but theoreticians. How can you teach something you have never done outside of the classroom?
  4. Herald

    Herald Administrator Staff Member

    JD, this EXACTLY the quandary I have dealt with in my preaching. Do I stay in the clouds and hope that my audience catches what falls through, or do I come down to their level and lose some of the majesty that is contained in God's word? What I elected to do, and I pray it is working, is to stay in the clouds but reach down and bring the hearer up to that level. I will take opportunity to explain certain comments that may tend to confuse or lose those listening. I do so while remaining cautious of pride. I tend to define terms. This summer I preached on justification by faith and spent a great deal of time defining these terms. I think it helped to bridge the gap between where I was going in my preaching and where the hearer was at that moment. This type of preaching will eventually result in the hearers getting used to that type of preaching. Their ability to listen and comprehend will increase and the work of the Spirit will become clearly evident.


    ...of course I could be completely wrong and have a flock that just nods their collective heads to humor me.
  5. PilgrimPastor

    PilgrimPastor Puritan Board Freshman

    I see Sunday morning as a time to "build bridges" in a sense from higher theological principals to practical "livable" principals. I would rather hear things from my parishioners like I hear today from one gentlemen who said, "as you taught about temptation I felt convicted of my own sin... but thanks for doing it, I need to be challenged!" rather than hearing things like, "wow you sure are smart" or "I wish I knew the things you know." :graduate:

    I think we can be relevant without abandoning the highest elements of the Scriptures. :2cents:
  6. JDKetterman

    JDKetterman Puritan Board Freshman

    Do you believe this is a common problem particularly in Reformed seminaries? Is the problem that most Reformed seminaries are training students in Reformed terminology, but not training them on how to explain this to common people in the preaching?
  7. Amazing Grace

    Amazing Grace Puritan Board Junior

    Lane: this is perfect. You should print this comment somehwere for all to see just as you have it.

    The other reason is because the average lay-person likes a pastor to sound 'more educated''. SOme people like a Gospel they cannot understand as if it contains so many intricacies that faith by proxy is the norm in so many churches rc and protty alike.

    The holy Spirit will have none of this 'scholarship' The thermometer creates some algorithm that sounds so important that the plowman has no clue, but thinks this is what they should believe. Throw in a little greek , hebrew or latin, and you have them in the palm of your hand. Then one wonders why the Lord is not adding to the body.

    Repent and believe the Good News, that's what the Holy Spirit says.
  8. Presbyterian Deacon

    Presbyterian Deacon Puritan Board Graduate

    I think it was Spurgeon who once remarked that many preacher try too hard to be like God, for "they are invisible all week and incomprehensible on the Lord's Day."

    Someone said, "If you put a giraffe in the pulpit the sheep will starve."
  9. KMK

    KMK Administrator Staff Member

    I have been guilty of this myself. And my lovely crown/wife, my help-meet lets me know about it in no uncertain terms. It is not easy to hear that the sermon you spent hours and hours on over the week was not fully understood, but I am thankful for her honesty.

    I have found that it is in the sermon illustration that those 'lofty' truths are brought low enough for the human ear to hear. That is why I admire Spurgeon so much. He is the embodiment of the definition of 'scholarship' that Rev Keister provided above.

    I have also found that through practice, I get better at the sermon illustration. Sometimes I rack my brain for days but I can always count on the HS to provide. After all, it is His desire that the sermon is understood by His sheep!
  10. Semper Fidelis

    Semper Fidelis 2 Timothy 2:24-25 Staff Member

    Agreed! R.C. Sproul has stated that if you can't explain a topic in words that a child will understand then you really haven't mastered a topic.

    Seriously, the hardest thing I've had to do recently when I was teaching the adults was to prepare a synopsis of what I was going to teach so that a child could get the "main point" of what I'm saying.

    Every technical field has it's "vocabulary". It's often not that people are incredibly intelligent and brighter than others but they've been around the vocabulary a long time. I can't tell you the number of times that I've been initially impressed by the seeming brilliance of a man only to later learn his technical vocabulary and realize he didn't have any idea what he was talking about.

    Acronyms and technical terms are useful time savers when you're talking to your technical group but you shouldn't be talking that way to others. If you can't move from your "group" to the rest of the world then you lack maturity in that field.

    Likewise, a Pastor that does not know how to speak to his people reveals just as much about how well he is shepherding his people as he does about his maturity in expression. In other words, an under-shepherd should know his sheep. He should understand their capacities. It doesn't mean he doesn't push them occassionally and challenge them by expanding their vocabulary but a man should know what terms his flock will understand and explain those they don't or use simpler words (perhaps more) to explain the same concept.

    Want a challenge? Try visiting my Church some day where only 1/3 are native English speakers and try to teach on the imputation of Christ's righteousness that the Japanese, Filipino, Chinese, African, Iranian, and American listeners will understand!
  11. kvanlaan

    kvanlaan Puritan Board Doctor

    I think it was Joel Beeke who I heard speak on this who said "I didn't have time to write a simple sermon, so I wrote a complicated one." (Or something to that effect. Basically, that complex truths presented in a simple and effective sermon is the mark of a good minister.)
  12. Herald

    Herald Administrator Staff Member

    This is not necessarily a good barometer, but when people come up to afterwards and discuss your sermon it's encouraging because you can see them "getting it." Conversely when weeks go by and they just filter out of the sanctuary without comment it may give you an indication that you're not "getting it.'
  13. Davidius

    Davidius Puritan Board Post-Graduate

    Some things are just hard to understand. As much as our pragmatic, sophistic, anti-intellectual cultural would like it to be so, not everything can be reduced to a child's level.

    I know what you'll say: "I'm not talking about that. I'm referring to ministers who are always talking over everyone's head." Okay, I agree with you there. My main point is that I disagree with those who say nice-sounding things like "anyone who has mastered a subject can explain it to a five year old."
  14. Presbyterian Deacon

    Presbyterian Deacon Puritan Board Graduate

    "...and I like ministers always to know what they are talking about, and to be sure that there is something in it worth saying..."

    C. H. Spurgeon, The Soul Winner, (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1963), page 98 :book2:
  15. fredtgreco

    fredtgreco Vanilla Westminsterian Staff Member

    Every sermon, on every topic should have material that is understandable to a 5-6 year old. That does not mean that everything said should be in 5-6 year old's terms.

    The concept of the category of hearers (see William Perkins' The Art of Prophesying) is critical here. The man who preaches just to a section of his congregation (whether they be 40 year olds or 6 year olds) and lets the rest starve is a fool.
  16. Herald

    Herald Administrator Staff Member

    Can you provide and example of a theological topic that cannot be explained to a five year old while maintaining the truth of that topic?
  17. greenbaggins

    greenbaggins Administrator Staff Member

    I think we have to make an important distinction here. There are words that are vitally important that we need to use, words like imputation, propitiation, expiation. etc. However, it is how we explain those words that is important. The reason those words are important is that the Bible uses them. So, we use these words, but we explain them so that they are understood, whatever that takes. Usually it takes careful explanation in easy to understand terms. So, I'm not in favor of dumbing the message down. I'm in favor of bringing the whole congregation up.
  18. Herald

    Herald Administrator Staff Member

  19. greenbaggins

    greenbaggins Administrator Staff Member

    Thanks for the suggestion. I have done so (stealing some good thoughts from others as well, most notably Fred Greco's) here.
  20. JohnTombes

    JohnTombes Puritan Board Freshman

    Doesn't Peter say there are some things in Paul that are hard to understand? Some great men do not have the native ability to make things plain & simple. God gives different measures of grace and a variety of gifts. He then fits the gifted man to the need. We trust in him to do his work.

  21. greenbaggins

    greenbaggins Administrator Staff Member

    Yes, you are right that Paul has difficult things. But isn't that ultimately because God wanted us to stretch and learn? After all, if God had wanted Paul to say everything in an easy to understand fashion, He could have done so. But the difficulties in Paul are for our stretching, I believe. I don't think that means that we should not help our congregations to understand (which I'm sure is not what you meant).

    I am reminded of something that Gaffin said in Acts and Paul. What is true of Paul's missionary journeys can be said about the study of Paul's theology as a whole: shipwrecked, beaten, imprisoned, stoned, robbed, etc. ;)
  22. JohnTombes

    JohnTombes Puritan Board Freshman

    People hear on different levels, too. Shouldn't some, at least, be stretched by what they hear? If the Word preached is to be the basis of a life of devotion throughout the week anticipating the next sabbath meal, we need to give people a lot of meat to chew on. I know that idea of a meditative life based on public ministry is a very puritan one. It is, however, a motivator in how I preach, especially to those over whom I have been made an overseer.

    You can't say everything, everytime you say something, for if you did, there would be nothing left to say.

    Last edited: Feb 11, 2008
  23. christianyouth

    christianyouth Puritan Board Senior

    Who are some preachers who you feel do a good job at bringing complex topics down to layman's terms?

    I think :

    Ligon Duncan
  24. KMK

    KMK Administrator Staff Member

    John Weaver
    Robert Morecraft III
  25. KMK

    KMK Administrator Staff Member

    Here is a good example of what we are talking about in this thread that I just stumbled across. Spurgeon, in his sermon, "Barriers Broken Down" preaches about 'submitting to the righteousness of God' from Rom 10:3. He is basically preaching about 'Duty-faith', but he uses illustrations to bridge the gap.

  26. greenbaggins

    greenbaggins Administrator Staff Member

    Got anything more to add? ;)
  27. Reformed Covenanter

    Reformed Covenanter Puritan Board Doctor

    Do you not mean Joe Morecraft III?
  28. KMK

    KMK Administrator Staff Member

    Yes. I wonder why I had the name 'Robert' in my head?
  29. py3ak

    py3ak They're stalling and plotting against me Staff Member

    I have a very happy memory of an 86-year old woman standing in her row in church between the Bible class and the morning service mumbling to herself over and over "antropomorfismo" (I know how to spell it: that's Spanish).
  30. JohnTombes

    JohnTombes Puritan Board Freshman

    If I did, I might refute myself, sort of....:lol:

    There is always so much to say....

    I need self-restraint with self-control even when preaching. One of my problems has to do with the final draft. I edit, but everything I've studied comes back in somehow.... Sometimes a sermon turns into a series. Our people don't mind. After all these years, they know my quirks. Anyone else have this problem?

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