Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Piper: Out of Touch on Out of Ur

The latest offering from John Piper on Out of Ur is just a little odd on the (non) use of video and drama within the worship service. To be fair, he (initially) makes it clear its an issue on which there is freedom:

"The NT isn't explicit on the use of screen...the Bible doesn't forbid it."

But he shows very little insight regarding the context of Scriptural preaching which is really quite surprising. The scriptures are full of artistic, often visual media which in context are illustrating, deepening the primary message. Whether you reference the use of pagan poetry, prophetic role plays, image-rich parables, object lessons, profane expressions - I could go on!

He is also basing his position on a positive affirmation with which I'd agree.

"I believe in the power of preaching...the Spirit-anointed exposition of Scripture, through explanations and applications of what's there."

Here's where he gets reductionist:

"I think the use of video and drama is largely a token of unbelief in the power of preaching...and to the degree pastors use this entertaining spice...its gonna backfire It's gonna communicate preaching is weak, preaching doesn't save, preaching doesn't hold, entertainment does."

"Lets have the arts in our churches but lets not squash it all into Sunday morning."

He just doesn't get it. He'd be better to own that. He's no doubt a brilliant preacher and is comfortable with the spoken word as the only communication tool in his services. Which is cool. But is it really necessary to go to this extreme? "You're perfectly free to do what you want according to Scripture, but by the way, you don't believe in preaching if you do!"

His last comment sums it up:

"Nobody is going to go to hell because of the short run."

He pretends this is a non issue, but is he really saying that, with the last qualifier?

For me, I have seen the arts used unhelpfully as part of worship/preaching. For sure, I've probably done it. But no one is going to Hell in the short term or the long term because of that.

What I'm more concerned about is those who WILL discover a relationship with Christ, because the church bothered to speak their language in presenting the truth of Christ. Paul describes a principle that informs my life really well in 1 Cor 9:

19Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. 20To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. 21To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God's law but am under Christ's law), so as to win those not having the law. 22To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some. 23I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.

And I don't mean to get ad hominem with this comment but has anyone ever seen John Piper and Larry David in the same room?


Frank said...

I'm at Cession partly because the first service we attended had no live sermon, but instead had one of Rob Bell's Nooma DVD to watch.

In the short time it took to play that, it communicated so much to me. It validated much of where I was at in my thinking - it made me feel it home. It helped give me a space to rest and turn my attention to God rather than silly little quibbles I had about church practices. It helped me get back to giving God his rightful place.

Since then we have been locked into Cession and never looked back.

As good as the preaching is at Cession, I don't think it would have hit the same note at that time and the Nooma DVDs are a sublime mix between the spoken word and other visual references to tell a story that communicates a message.

This is where John Piper needs to face up to a possible generation gap.

To go off track a little - it's like blogging with words or images... or finding a healthy mix of the two - something I am in the process of learning. By taking that step of engaging different mediums just in the world of blogging, I am slowly noticing a connection with a whole new community of people.

Rhett said...

I like John Stott on this...

"Faced with this problem (the communication gulf between two worlds), preachers tend to make one of two mistakes.

If we are conservatives, we live on the Bible side of the gulf. That is where we feel comfortable adn safe. But we are not at home in the modern world on the otehr side, especially if we have reached - or passed - middle age... Our preaching is seldom if ever earthed. It is biblical, but not contremporary. And if we are called to account for our practice of exposition without application, we piously reply that our trust is in the Holy Spirit to apply his Word to the realities of human life.

I turn now to those whose theology is more 'liberal'. They are modern people who belong in the modern world. They are sensitive to the current mood and understand what is going on around them... Their sermons are earthed in the real world, but where they come from (one is tempted to add) heaven alone knows. They certainly do not appear to come out of the Bible. These preachers have allowed the biblical revelation to slip through their fingers.

On the one hand, conservatives are biblical but not contemporary. On the other liberals are contemporary but not biblical. Why must we polarize in this naieve way, however? ...We should be praying that God would raise up a new generation of Christian communicators who are determined to bridge the chasm; who refuse to sacrifice truth to relevance or relevance to truth; but who resolve in equal measure to be faithful to scripture and pertinent to today."

BJ said...

Frank - yes the genius of much of the Nooma material is that it is layered - preached word and images/illustrations seemlessly woven together.

Rhett - I think Stott captures the extremes well with his dichotomy of dysfunction - certainly he gets Piper nicely, and his description resonates really well with some of the liberal Methodist training I used to hear about - where the text was really the newspaper. His conclusion is excellent and I suspect many preachers live there.

The tension between truth and relevance is a helpful construct at one level - although they are not always in opposition - I think the best illustrative approaches to preaching are present when the 2 overlap.

BJ said...

I realised as I was wandering around this morning that I had written on this elsewhere in writing on my preaching philosophy:

"The launch of cession|community as a church was not primarily a search for relevance - in some senses a crusade against irrelevance. We observed people “falling off” popular churches never to be seen again. In one sense, the crusade was anti-relevance as some of the churches in question seemed obsessed with it. The quest was about being relevant about the right things – things that would lead to life in Christ.

Relevant preaching then was a qualified goal. Preaching had to reach into the heart of the human condition and connect lives to the heart of God as expressed in the person of Christ – thus the vision of “life encountering truth” understood preaching not as recycling a set of doctrinal propositions but rather as an invitation to life with and for Christ.

Preaching therefore needed to meet people where they lived and encompass the full range of human experience, joy and despair, even as it sought to transcend this fragile humanity. It needed to be balanced in that it needed to resonate with the gritty experience of the human condition and it needed to point to Christ who had transcended the human condition, while avoiding what Pasquarello describes as “moralistic therapeutic deism” .

And yet, an early conviction was that it needed to be unbalanced. Unbalanced by scripture. The church was determined that preaching would be biblical, but in the fullest sense of the Bible as a diverse and compelling witness to the revelation of God to humanity."

Rhett said...

Brett, I think you are right about the tension between truth and relevance. In fact, I think that is what Stott is getting at in his comments about polarization. I also think the while Piper and the Methodist liberals are obvious extremes, the point is more about where do I end up on the spectrum?

That's not a once and for all question either, but probably a good one to ask regularly as I look back an evaluate my past sermons and look forward to future ones.