Rae Whitlock, the black Calvinist Howard Stern, tweeted an article about relative sermon lengths in Catholic, mainline Protestant, and conservative Protestant churches. After the expected response, I then went and actually read the piece, commenting “I like sermons in the 20-25 minute range.” This is in line with the Methodist tradition of “three points, a poem, and a prayer”. Rae brought up his perceived need for lengthiness, saying “Sermons tend (& often need) to be longer in “younger” churches b/c of vast biblical illiteracy. Things take longer to explain.” He has a point, certainly, but like my old history teacher, Donald “Sonny” Renfroe, liked to say: ‘Like a woman’s skirt: long enough to cover the subject, short enough to keep it interesting.” Oh my!
I believe that a new homiletics starts with a multimedia approach to the presentation of the Gospel. Plenty of churches are podcasting their sermons, including Grace Central in Columbus, Ohio, where Rae happens to be a ruling elder. Grace Central has a resources page, which as I remember it is partially maintained by Rae. All well and good, but when you go to an individual sermon, such as Greg Blosser’s “An Ordinary Church” from March 28th, you’re given only audio. No text is provided. Multimedia is just that: multiple mediums for communication of information. While I can create a permalink to Greg’s sermon, you can’t read the text. More importantly, you can’t be linked in that text to relevant sources of information: Bible verses explained or merely referenced, allusions to previous sermons, or references to books, film, music, etc. The key here is to provide context.
I’ll provide an example here to expound upon the first point: Rae also tweeted about Will “Duce” Branch’s fall and restoration. In response, I wondered if “[h]is discussion of 1Jn3:6 seems to indicate a worldview consistent with non-perseverance of the saints. Hm.” For reference: 1 John 3:6 states: “No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him.” Rae then provided context: “Unless his theology’s changed in the meantime, he’s (still) a Calvinist. With that in mind, I didn’t pick that up at all…” and Seemed (2 me) more like he was saying that the text suggests ‘those who do this should examine whether or not they’re Christians.'” I then freely admitted that “Perhaps I’m imposing my own worldview. Hic liber est in quo sua quærit dogmata quisque, Invenit et pariter dogmata quisque sua.” You know, “This is the book where everyone seeks his own proper opinion; This is the book where still everyone finds what he seeks.” Indeed. I certainly bring my own worldview about perseverance of the saints, which is definitely a conditional view of the perseverance, because I find too many Scriptural references to ignore, even as some are to be reconciled. Even more, if greater context for 1 John 3:6 is provided, one runs into verse nine: “No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God.”
Perhaps it is obvious from the previous paragraph that I believe that references are key to a multimedia approach to a new homiletics. I have taken a conversation that was loosely had over Twitter and joined the pieces in this discussion. David Weinberger would be so proud of me. And this is where I feel that the modern church can make its mark: in a generation that seeks information through multiple mediums, this is an opportunity to satisfy that consumptive need with the spiritual meat our congregations desire [whether they know it or not]. The concern, of course, goes back to what Rae said: this is there for “younger” churches. I presume that he means in age of the congregants, but he could also mean in the age of the congregation as a body. In either case, a solid Scriptural foundation must be laid so the conversation can be reasoned, insightful, and edifying. Sir Francis Bacon wrote five hundred years ago that “[r]eading maketh a full man, conference a ready man, and writing an exact man.” In large part, that’s what I’ve done in writing this entry: I read the links Rae provided, we discussed them, and I drew my own conclusions in writing here.
Now let us pray. “Dear Lord, please let Rae have a good laugh at this, but also let him draw something from it. Also, let the reading of this idea, which is certainly not fully formed, inspire more discussion and more writing. We want to come to a greater knowledge of how to represent You to a new generation of believers. Amen.”