Life application or "relevant" preaching

Discussion in 'Preaching' started by Organgrinder, May 28, 2012.

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  1. Organgrinder

    Organgrinder Puritan Board Freshman

    What are they talking about when a church says that their pastor preaches sermons that are relevant to your life?

    What do they mean by life application?

    Is this the way the modern church is headed?
  2. Edward

    Edward Puritan Board Doctor

    It can cover a wide range - from, at the best, trying to apply the lessons of scripture to modern life, to, near the bottom, pop psychology were verses plugged in that seem relevant when taken out of context. But, at the heart, it is topical preaching, not expository preaching. And it should be more common in the Evangelical churches than in the Reformed bodies.
  3. Tim

    Tim Puritan Board Graduate

    It may be useful in this discussion to compare and contrast these contemporary ideas with the (Puritan?) notion of experimental religion.
  4. Unoriginalname

    Unoriginalname Puritan Board Junior

    Relevant is a buzz word, so its meaning can be a bit fuzzy. Generally relevant is a word that is used instead of shallow topical preaching. Some examples of relevant sermons or sermon series may be series on money or marriage, child rearing. At worst these sermons can be moralistic pep talks. Yet to be fair, you should always ask what the person means by relevant. I personally find sermons that go book by book through the bible to be relevant to life, so there is always a chance that the pastor is trying to retake the word relevant and apply it in that sort of manner. The minister who said this could mean that when they preach the word they strive to allow it to convict and guide as opposed to use it as a boring history lesson. The best course of action is to ask what it means for preaching to be relevant.
  5. Jack K

    Jack K Puritan Board Professor

    It's a preacher's job to preach the Scriptures in such a way that they are relevant to the lives of his listeners. So I don't think you can tell much just from that line. All preaching should be relevant.

    You have to pry deeper. On the negative side, it MAY indicate a tendency to pander and to say "we're going to give you the sort of preaching you like." It sounds a bit like a advertising line, and that's always suspect. Or if MAY indicate a tendency to de-emphasize Scripture and instead give the sort of life tips one could just as easily get from Dr. Phil. But I don't think we should assume everybody who speaks of relevant-to-life preaching is guilty of such things. As I say, preaching should be relevant.

    I wouldn't make that assumption, either. Good expository preaching is always relevant to life, or it isn't preaching.
  6. Contra_Mundum

    Contra_Mundum Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger Staff Member

    Some people see a divide between "doctrinal" preaching, and "practical" preaching. This is a false dichotomy. The practical value of doctrinal preaching is either missed or unexplained to too many people. And there is doctrine very poorly preached, having all the downside of the stereotypically arid lecture.

    The beauty of the mutually-supportive and aesthetically pleasing Reformed-theology "architecture" is not an end in itself. It is meant to draw out the heart in love and admiration and holy reverence for the Designer. Nor is this Edifice rightly abstracted from its Builder, but in fact is a very personal description of Himself. It is a Work of Art inseparable from the Creator.

    For this reason, doctrinal preaching (rightly done) is the most excellent of preaching--because it is first of all the preaching of God in Christ, the object of our proper affections. Before preaching should be "about" man, and his needs for help and guidance, it must be "about" God in Christ. And when it comes to "practical" matters, those issues should simply flow from what we have learned about God and what his interests are. We should be being and doing the things that he loves, because we love him and want to be with him and be like him. The directions we receive from the Bible tell us (accurately) what genuine love for God and for our neighbor looks like. There is no other source for the Christian.

    But trying to preach the Bible to teach "God's method" of balancing your checkbook, or raising kids (God's way!), or great sex, or principles of work or education or you name it--in other words, to teach "fulfillment" in human endeavors of any kind--is missing the point. It misses the main point of God's Self-disclosure, and it misses the main point of human-need. As Christians, we do not find fulfillment in our marriages, or in our children, or our vocations/callings/recreations, or anything else; but in God. Nothing less will satisfy us, and everything else that we need spiritual instruction for we should be doing for the benefit of others, and not ourselves.

    In other words, all the "practical" counsel from the Scriptures should be advice on how to "die daily."
  7. J. Dean

    J. Dean Puritan Board Junior

    The good Reverend speaks the truth.

    If you read the sermons from the great men of God through church history (Luther, Calvin, Edwards, etc.), very little time is given to practical application. Most of the sermons are about doctrinal exposition. Even John Wesley's sermons follow this pattern, in contrast to modern Wesleyanism/Arminianism which is high on the practical side.

    Application makes the mistake of putting the cart before the horse. It's about people who want a "do and don't" list, rather than building the foundation for the dos and don'ts. Furthermore, an overemphasis on the practical is a dangerous step in the direction of works-righteous laden sermons; we've already seen the Arminians go down this road, and the Reformed need to beware that they do not go in the same direction.
  8. Supersillymanable

    Supersillymanable Puritan Board Freshman

    Just to clarify, we're not saying that we should put no application in sermons correct? I'm on full agreement with the fact that Doctrine comes before practical application every time, but surely we most also teach people how to practise the implications or the logical consequences of the text we're expounding? I fully agree that we should never pander to people's "needs" and put that above the word of God, because the faithful, sound preaching of doctrine from the Word of God is what they need.

    Are we in agreement with this? I always thought that practical application of good doctrine was important, or is there something I've missed here?
  9. J. Dean

    J. Dean Puritan Board Junior

    I would agree with you on that. But the problem comes when sermons become all about application with little or no doctrine. As I said earlier, the best sermons from the men of faith in church history had some application, but the overall concentration was on doctrine. This is because doctrine rightly understood and believed leads to application.
  10. Supersillymanable

    Supersillymanable Puritan Board Freshman

    Okay, I'm fully agreed there. I was slightly confused, as it seemed to me that people were almost "condemning" to some extent, the application of texts in sermons...
  11. Contra_Mundum

    Contra_Mundum Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger Staff Member

    I'd like to offer a bit of clarity on this stipulation.

    If you read Puritan sermons, and Jonathan Edwards is certainly a kind of epitome and exemplar of the class (especially the latter-era),
    you will find e x t e n d e d instances of "Use." Use of what? you ask. Use of the Doctrine. The Puritans certainly preached extensively through portions of Scripture, but not as often or with as much rapidity as the 1st generation Reformers. Many of their sermons left for us today are extended treatments of a single verse.

    From "the text," typically a verse, or sometimes even a part of a verse, the Puritan preacher extracted the Doctrine. This was overall a rather limited portion of the message, might be a little shorter or longer, depending on how much effort went into proving that the point drawn was, truly, the biblical author's intent, or justly and properly deduced from it. The Doctrine was boiled down to a proposition.

    And then followed a typically more lengthy section concerning "Use." Such use went all over: from divine adoration with respect to the truth, glory given to Christ or to any or all the Three Persons, judgment against sin contrary to the doctrine, further development of the doctrine or establishing its place in the broader system of doctrine, the doctrinal relation to the church's manner or function, and (inevitably) exhortations to personally efficient thoughts and impulses tied to the doctrine.

    To be sure, many elements or numbers (1,2,3...) of the "Use" we might tend today to classify simply as developed "Doctrine." Because we aren't used to thinking of necessary conclusions to bald-doctrine on the surface of the text, as itself being doctrine; nor of the right pleasure in such investigations (kind of like "music appreciation," or some other subject) as actual "application" or use. Our anti-intellectual age can't be bothered with time spent in such appreciation, and wants only to rush on to "what is the cash-value of this proposition." If there isn't much to DO from that text, well then: give me a better text.

    Now, someone like Matthew Henry (another Late Puritan) had apparently more of a running, expository style, if his commentary and the outlines therein give us much indication of his practical style. His pulpit guidance was more immediate, and followed the flow of the text. But still one can see how this "integrated style" also sought grounding for whatever exhortation or application (use) given, from the text.

    So, what I'm trying to emphasize is that there is an order to Reformed and Puritan sermons--Doctrine, then Use, and sometimes other intermediate divisions such as "Exposition" or "Exhortation," things like that. And not always greater length of time or energy given to the Doctrinal portion of the sermon. Sometimes, a thing said simply and well is sufficient for building quite a bit of superstructure upon it.
  12. jwithnell

    jwithnell Moderator Staff Member

    I recall the word "relevant" being tossed around quite a bit in the Presbyterian congregation of my very early youth, particularly after a teenage girl with a guitar led the worship service. So it's nothing new. Man constantly wants to turn attention to himself and away from God.
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