By Sherman Cox on Jun 18, 2014
Doctrinal sermons are fine, but do they connect to human experience?
The sermon is not a biblical lecture designed merely to inform the hearer of some interesting facts. It is not merely a place where you can learn different stories from the Bible. Certainly it includes that, but no, it is more than that. The sermon is a vehicle for an encounter with the Most High God. This encounter does “inform,” but it also provides hope, healing, direction, salvation, etc. Because of this, preachers should embed in the sermon an expectation of a response from the congregation.
This response may be a heartfelt question like “What must I do to be saved?” The response might be an assurance that God will be with us through a painful circumstance. The response might be a resolve to live with more loyalty to God’s coming Kingdom. There may be other responses, but the point is that the encounter with God changes humanity, and that change will manifest itself in some way.
Every sermon should ask the people for some sort of response. However, before one can ask such a thing, the preacher must connect what is taught to the lived experience of the congregation.
Doctrinal Sermons Need to Connect to Human Experience
Many sermons, especially “doctrinal” ones, neglect this connection to human experience. We preachers sometimes think that preaching the “truth” is all that is needed. So we preach sermons that follow an outline much like the following:
1. Teach the doctrine.
2. Defend the doctrine from a few angles.
3. Tell people they need to believe the doctrine.
I heard a sermon on the trinity like this. The preacher read a few texts that taught the doctrine of the trinity. The preacher then defended the doctrine from a few attacks that are sometimes heard. The preacher then closed by calling us all to hold on to this doctrine. He then sat down. Note that the people don’t know why the doctrine is important. They do not know how to apply it in daily life.
Lowry’s Homiletical Plot Approach
In contrast, I read where Eugene Lowry stated the following on page 18 of the book The Homiletical Plot:
I am considering the possibility of a doctrinal sermon on the Trinity; the preliminary question to be asked is: What problem or bind does the trinitarian formula resolve?
Here the preacher will be looking at how the doctrine does solve some problem. Does the trinity tell us something about community? Does the trinity guide us in some way? Perhaps the trinity provides a vehicle for understanding God’s total investment in humanity’s salvation. Whatever the case, when we go to preach a doctrine it should be connected to human experience if we expect to be able to make an appeal to the importance of the doctrine.
Now it is true that some people neglect doctrine as if it is unimportant. That is another issue we shall take up later. But when you preach doctrine, informing others is important, but helping the people to understand the doctrine in such a way that it will change the way they live is also important. And most important is to allow the doctrine to facilitate the encounter with the God that we hope to experience in the worship service.
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