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preaching article Pulpit Abuse: What It Is and How to Stop It

Pulpit Abuse: What It Is and How to Stop It

based on 8 ratings
Sep 6, 2012

We preachers are all prone to use family events and incidents to illustrate our sermons. The dumb spouse is second only to the idiot adolescent child in making his or her meandering way through the fertile fields of homiletics. It is easy to eisegetically snuggle a good spouse into a Corinthian passage on how women ought to behave, but it is not fair! Even if you ask your spouse for permission, you sin with the practice. The fact that you have to ask permission probably says you're pretty sure this kind of sermon inclusion is off-track. Even the asking of it sounds as if you're saying, "Is it OK, Darling, if I exhibit your idiocy in my sermon this week? It would mean a lot to Jesus."

I want off this thumb-worn issue in favor of a more insidious kind of abuse. I have a lay friend who loves to teach. He is very big on the Civil War and often takes part in Civil War battle reenactments. He's a fair Bible teacher, but he is an indefatigable historian because this is his passion. So no matter what he is teaching, it all ends up at Manassas. He amazes me that, with a bit of gyration, he can snuggle Gettysburg into Philemon. When it is all over, I can't remember exactly how he did it, but I know he did.

Most of us who preach pursue some kind of hobby or field of learning, and without realizing it we can make our pursuit part of our sermon. I like prophecy in general, but I am suspicious of it when it becomes too specific. I have known prophecy-loving preachers who feel compelled to help me understand Gog and Magog, even when they are preaching the Book of Ruth. They just can't help it. Ruth and Boaz are fairly easy to write into prophecy; after all, the pair lived in Bethlehem, directly south of Moscow, from whence shall come the hordes of invaders in the last days.

For some preachers, their sermons keep close company with professional football. I had a pastor who just before the Rams' game in Los Angeles, quoted in his sermon a word of support for his favorite team (which wasn't the Rams) by citing Daniel 8:7: "I saw him attack the ram, furiously shattering his two horns, and the ram was powerless to stand against him." You actually have to look on down in the chapter to Daniel 8:20 to find out the ram in Daniel's sermon is Media and Persia and has no direct correlation to the NFL.

In Alabama, home now to two championship teams—Bama and Auburn—these two rivals have developed fierce antagonisms, and their relative merits have wound up in sermons of all sorts. The Auburn team serves the sermon with a sort of mixed metaphor, as it is alternately called the Tigers or the War Eagles, but there are easy ways to work Eagles into a sermon: They that serve the Lord shall mount up with wings as War Eagles, sort of (Isa. 40:31). Where the War Eagles are gathered together there shall the carrion be, kinda (Matt. 24:28).

Dr. Calvin Miller served as Research Professor and Distinguished Writer in Residence at Beeson Divinity School in Birmingham, Alabama, as a poet, artist, novelist and evangelist. Before coming to the divinity school, he was professor of communication and ministry studies, and writer-in-residence at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is the author of more than 40 books and numerous articles on religion and preaching. Sadly, Dr. Miller passed away in August 2012.

Talk about it...

Chris Surber avatar
Chris Surber
0 days ago
Of course, Dr. Miller has written extensively on topics of preaching and his texts are required reading in many preaching courses. These are good words but surely not to the exclusion of that personal aspect of preaching in which we betray our personal likes, dislikes, experiences, and passions for the sake of entering into actual relationship with the people to whom we teach / preach in order to deepen the meaning the same.
John E Miller avatar
John E Miller
0 days ago
"God wants a good firm proclamation that brings the world nearer to Jesus". I suggest that before we presume to decide what God wants we should first check with His word.
Jason Jones avatar
Jason Jones
0 days ago
"It is easy to eisegetically snuggle a good spouse into a Corinthian passage on how women ought to behave, but it is not fair! Even if you ask your spouse for permission, you sin with the practice." Umm, no. Not even close. It seems the author has a bone to pick and used this opportunity to soap box it. It is helpful for the people to hear practical applications that involve real people. It is helpful for the people to know we are human and our family is normal. Does this get abused or misused? Yes. Do we need to be wise in how we handle this? Yes. Is it unfair? Sometimes. Is it sin? Not necessarily.
Leonard Davis avatar
Leonard Davis
0 days ago
It is helpful to remember that Dr. Miller was writing about "abuse" of various techniques. Such overuse or abuse can cause those who hear such sermon to come away from the worship experience thinking that it was more about the preacher rather than being "more about Jesus." All of welcome an occasional personal reference and an occasional tie in with the preacher's hobby or favorite team, but too much of a good thing ceases to be helpful and becomes a distraction.
Pastor Sandy . avatar
Pastor Sandy .
0 days ago
Some of us are in a bad mood today?!! I did enjoy this article, sometimes very humerous. Thanks, Calvin Miller.
Bill Williams avatar
Bill Williams
0 days ago
Calvin Miller was an excellent writer and preacher. His ministry will be sorely missed. May he rest in peace!
Bill Williams avatar
Bill Williams
0 days ago
@John, is there anything in God's word that would make you think he DOESN'T want a good firm proclamation that brings the world nearer to Jesus? @Jason, the key term in the sentence you quoted is "EISEGETICALLY". In other words, reading INTO the text your own opinions and agendas, rather than drawing out meaning FROM the text (exegesis). Anything done eisegetically, if not sin, is at best a manipulation of God's word.
Guillermina Grandt avatar
Guillermina Grandt
0 days ago
I like it
Joe B avatar
Joe B
0 days ago
I am quite sure Dr. Miller has checked the Word more than you will probably ever know.
Pastor Sandy . avatar
Pastor Sandy .
0 days ago
I was not aware that Calvin Miller had passed away. Thanks, Bill. Mr. Miller went to be with his Lord August 19, 2012, would have celebrated his 78th birthday on August 28. Rest in peace, Calvin.
Andrew Moffatt avatar
Andrew Moffatt
0 days ago
As a New Zealander, I hereby state Australia will never be mentioned in one of my sermons from this day forth. Even when the All Blacks thrash the Wallabies!
Charles Wallis avatar
Charles Wallis
0 days ago
I really enjoyed this article and I have a tendency to put too much emphasis on my experiences, thoughts, and opinions. I also believe some personal illustrations may help. Jesus often used stories, but usually not about Himself. The Bible is story after story, good, bad, ugly, beautiful - preaching is telling the story of scripture. And I would have left a bunch of them out. But we do need to stay focused more on His story more than our own.
Dennis Cocks avatar
Dennis Cocks
0 days ago
There is definately a balance here. I have "confessed" to my church that I used to be heavily into drugs and alcohol in my younger days (I didn't go into the gory details), and some told me that they have also or are now going through the same struggles. They feel that I can understand their struggles better now that they know I have experienced the same things. There is a fine line though, because you need to be an example of how you should live for and follow Christ. Too much "confession might not be all that good. And my wife HATES any illustrations that includes personal details. For example, I will say that all marriages have times of struggle, including ours, but I would NEVER give an example of how. I don't think I would be alive to be writing this right now if I did. : )
Dean Johnson avatar
Dean Johnson
0 days ago
I try to insert a story about my running into every sermon and Bible study.
Sandra Leightner avatar
Sandra Leightner
0 days ago
excellent points
Bryan Thompson avatar
Bryan Thompson
0 days ago
Good points. Who's going to talk to Jesus about his preoccupation with Farming and Sheep? ;)

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