by Kent Anderson
This year’s meetings were held at Southern Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. The theme of the event was Preaching and Biblical Literacy. The keynote speaker was Al Mohler, president of Southern.
Dr. Mohler chose to speak chiefly on the ubiquity of secularization and the place of
preaching as a “survival strategy” within such times. Mohler was thoughtful and well informed on the subject, particularly on the matter of the spread of the secular. He spoke of how we need to encourage our best and brightest to move to the cities, the coasts, and the campuses in order to continue to have influence. The period of Christian dominance, however, he said is clearly over. The fact that a man like Mohler, from his position at Southern would observe this was striking. There is perhaps no place in a North America where an evangelical Christian faith is more fully ensconced than in the south (and in this seminary). If Mohler is feeling it in Louisville, than the phenomena has truly spread everywhere.
I had the privilege of offering a formal response to his addresses, which I found to be helpful given my location in Vancouver, one of the most secular cities on the continent. I mentioned that in my experience, secularity was not something new to be survived, but a normal way of being. This does not mean, however that God is absent or that the Kingdom is not present. Some of God’s most profound works are seen in these places where the contrast is most deeply felt.
Still, I understand the sense of loss that many feel. No doubt, there is something here that could be grieved. Cultural dominance was never promised us nor described for us in the Scriptures. Still, such a privileged position has had its benefits, not to mention its comforts. From my perspective, however, such a way of being seem curious in the way that might a foreign culture or a museum exhibit. Mohler used this metaphor himself, suggesting that this is how people in the broader culture now look at Christians generally. We are reduced to curiosities, not even generating hostility any more. If that is so, and it probably is, I guess that I am used to it.
It is not so bad. Secularization of the culture is not the end of the church or the demise of the Kingdom. On the contrary, it might offer opportunity for it. The Bible has not promised we would achieve the Kingdom, as it if would come through the sweep of our cultural influence. Preaching will always be heard by those who have an ear for it. There might be here a need for some adjustment in our attitude and our approach, but there is no reason to despair for preaching or for the gospel. Mohler knows this and it was good to hear him say it.
As to other aspects of the conference, the papers presented were well conceived and very helpful. I was particularly appreciative of Ben Walton’s fine work on communication theories and their potential for preaching, Rod Casey on the leading questions that can help a sermon move, and Glenn Watson, who wrote helpfully on the place and use of metanarrative. Many other excellent pieces were presented. Fifteen papers were accepted from 53 proposals.
The Society seems to be maturing as it approaches its 20th year. While preaching must always be more than academic, it can be helped by those who are willing to examine its practice closely. To find out more or to learn how to join us in Texas next October, go to www.ehomiletics.com.