Preaching and the Caffeine-Free Diet Coke

Has our preaching slid into emptiness? Is there any flavor, nourishment, or sustenance to our offerings?

David Fitch, writing in The End of Evangelicalism, quotes cultural theorist Slavoj Zizek. In Zizek’s book, The Fragile Absolute, “he narrates how Coca-Cola was originally concocted as a medicine (originally known as a nerve tonic, stimulant, and headache remedy). It was eventually sweetened, and it’s strange taste was made more palatable. Soon it became a popular drink during Prohibition that still possessed medicinal qualities (it was deemed ‘refreshing’ as well as the perfect ‘temperance drink’). Over time, however, it’s sugar was replaced with sweetener and its caffeine was extracted, and so today we are left with Caffeine-Free Diet Coke: a drink that does not fulfill any of the concrete needs of a drink. …”

Fitch wonders whether this is a suitable metaphor for what has happened to the evangelical church. I wonder, similarly whether this may be what has happened to our preaching. We have added (humor, story, presence) and we have subtracted (doctrine, detail, precision), but does our reaching still fulfill the concrete needs of a sermon?

I raise the question with humility, knowing that I value some of the new elements brought to preaching, just as I appreciate what some of the new dimensions of a Coke has made possible for me. But still one has to wonder, whether in our movement toward a more sophisticated sermon, we have lost much of what makes our sermons worth the listening

This sounds a little cranky, and maybe it is. I’ll admit that I’m uncomfortable with the trajectory of the question, leading as it seems toward a more tiresome preaching that might be good for me, but far less attractive. And, of course, I recognize the weakness of the metaphor. Coke never was much good as medicine.

Still one has to wonder. In our efforts to enhance the sermon for (post)modern sensibilities, have we lost the very essence of what it means to preach?