Monday, July 17, 2006

A Terrible Thing (Part Two)

I wonder how many pulpits today can handle "Its a terrible thing to fall into the hands of the living God" (Hebrews 10:31)? Never mind that, how many preachers can handle it without explaining it away? I'm not sure I could.

Is a preacher allowed to just stand at the pulpit speechless for a few minutes? How many preachers can get on their knees and say,"You know what? I'm at a loss for words here. I just don't get God here." Could we handle that? Would we see that as pastoral leadership or as a failure to lead? Be honest now.

I think preachers feel a lot of pressure to have the answers, and certainly we don't want them copping out and just saying "I don't have the answer to that" all the time when 30 minutes of prayer and study would make all the difference, but when pastors have all the answers our respect level for God can go down can't it?

I don't think there are many preachers who want to seem negative, or unsettling, or at a loss, or too profound before lunch. Maybe there are things they'd like to talk to their congregations about but they know they can't do it justice in 30 minutes. Or 30 months. So they don't. And what we may end up left with, whether it is from pride or pressure, is pithy pop theology week after week. And I think most people in the pews can sense it, even if they haven't labelled it yet.

Which is why Dorothy Sayers hit me on the head today. In her book Creed or Chaos? she writes:

"If spiritual pastors are to refrain from saying anything that might ever, by any possibility, be misunderstood by anybody, they will end--as in fact many of them do--by never saying anything worth hearing."

Now, don't get me wrong, I can't stand preaching that is irresponsible. A preacher does have to try to avoid being misunderstood. A lot of things we say can have double-meanings. Metaphors may only be meant to go so far. And many a heresy or misguided notion have come from mere misunderstandings which careful preaching, and writing, could probably have avoided. Preachers and writers and whoever else could use a bit of that fear of misrepresenting God that made the ancients so hesitant to fill in the vowels.

However, that's where I was already coming from before reading the above said quote. Sayer's point is that we still have to try to understand, articulate, and represent the truth about God. After all, fear is the beginning of wisdom, not the end of it.

I guess what I'm saying, then, is that we have to watch for this tendency to explain God away for the sake of the comfort of our listeners, when what we really want to say is: "You know what, God is really out of this world." Then we can talk about God coming into this world in the flesh and speaking into the printed page. And the gravity of the situation may be impressed on us in such a renewed way we might even dare to call it a revival.

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