Preaching With Conviction, by Kenton C. Anderson, pp 9 – 56
Kenton C. Anderson, in his Preaching with Conviction takes a story approach to the deeply philosophical problem of how to approach postmodern-era preaching. The approach is useful for bringing out in very identifiable terms, the challenges that today’s preachers face in communicating divine truth to an increasingly sceptical, secularist and pluralistic audience.
Anderson’s story centres on Jack Newman, an evangelical minister who is losing confidence in the absoluteness and even the truth of the message he has been preaching for twenty years. He is contemplating resignation, but has the wisdom to confide first in his brother, and then in Henry Ellis, a retired, senior minister.
Defining the Problem
In both conversations, Newman clearly defines his challenge. Society has moved on from the days of quiet obedience and reverence for the religious claims of the Bible ad its preachers. Myriad cultures have changed the philosophical landscape from a predominantly protestant Christian one to a hodgepodge of religious and non-religious thought.
Additionally, the growing social consensus is that all views are as sound and each other, and that there is no single objective truth that can be known and communicated, since all knowledge is subjective. Postmodernism has created a congregation which is wealthier and gives more, but which is also more sceptical and believes less. It was making the same kind of pastor out of Jack Newman.
A Theological Solution
It is Henry, who in a stroke of brilliance helps resolve a large part of Newman’s trouble. In a cooperative dialogue, the two men establish that all objective truth finds its source in the creative acts of God. They called this initiation. Second they determined that the clearest revelation of this truth was made in the person and life of Christ, the incarnation. Third, they agreed that Christ, the Word, is also expressed in the Bible, through inspiration. Finally, God reveals truth through the direction of His Holy Spirit. They called this illumination.
The beauty of this system of perceiving truth is that it removes the burden of objectivity from the person, and places it on an external source, God. The preacher’s role, then, is merely in “helping people hear from God.” This way, the preacher needs only open up the channels in his hearers that let the voice of God in, and “let God do the rest.” He may even then be able to use the subjectivity of the hearer to his advantage, by appealing to subjective authority, as well as to apprehension; the hearer tainting the message with their subjectivity and therefore making it their own.
The postmodern philosophical problem is indeed complex. Does objective truth exist? Can it be known? Can it be told? I may add a fourth: Can it be heard? My view is that even if we can find, understand and communicate objective reality, the hearer is likely to taint it with his or her own interpretations of our words. Part of the beauty of Newman’s and Ellis’ approach for me, lies in the fact that rather than ignoring this, they make use of it for the benefit of the preaching of the gospel of truth.