Why We Still Need Propositions in our Preaching

It is the way of things, that in order to champion something that has been under-appreciated, we feel the need to knock down the thing that has been appreciated. This has no bearing on whether or not the more valued piece has found appreciation on the basis of its merits. It is simply the zero-sum approach we humans tend to favor, whereby we believe in the scarcity of favor such that to escalate one side, we feel we must dissipate the other. 

This is a foolishness, based on a lack of imagination sufficient to conceive that we could find the capacity to appreciate both aspects without forcing unhealthy competition. The best preachers, fail to succumb to this malady, emphasizing both the head as well as the heart within their preaching.

Propositional preaching has been ascendant for so long that I sometimes find myself neglecting it simply so as to emphasize other aspects of the preaching task. I have found that I love the affective aspects of preaching. I value story and emotion. I appreciate aesthetics, finding them to be compelling in the pursuit of godliness through preaching. I find the kind of preaching that avoids these aspects of the task to come off dry and unappealing. Preaching that communicates truth without creating a heart-level connection with the truth feels incomplete to me.

Of course, this is a false construction. There is no need to play the two against each other. I have noticed, for example in Acts 16, how the Berean Jews were commended for putting everything that Paul had to say up against the Scriptures, testing what he had to say against the propositional teaching of Scripture. Two chapters later, Apollos is commended as one who had been carefully instructed in the faith , and who himself taught the Scriptures accurately. He is described as one who refuted unbelievers. In short, it was the propositional presentation of the gospel that communicated power and that commended these servants for their faithfulness.

The truth is, I love a meaty proposition and get frustrated by its absence. For all my love of story, a sermon that does not offer something of substance for me to chew on, is easily dismissed. People love a good story, but not at the expense of a deeply informed articulation of the truth.

I love how the two feed and discipline each other. Narrative without proposition is like music without lyrics, beautiful perhaps but without intellectual substance. It is like a cartoon without a caption, like a joke without a punchline. Such preaching is suggestive, but without substance.

It is also unnecessary. Preachers need not choose between aesthetics and articulation. The two complement each other. In the service of the gospel, preaching that integrates the two speaks truth to both head and heart. We need not displace one so as to give place to the other.


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