Is Preaching Outmoded?

Is Preaching Outmoded? September 28, 2015

Different people learn different ways. Some are musical, others are visual, still others are logical/sequential. Educational psychology suggests there are around eight basic learning styles, and effective teachers try to utilize all of them in their instruction.

So what about effective churches? For centuries, preaching has been the dominant vehicle for delivering God’s truth to God’s people. But in recent years, we’ve seen a shift to other methods in the church, primarily visual media like videos and images. 

Here’s where I get a little cautious. It’s not a matter of propriety or tradition. What makes me uncomfortable is the apparent assumption that all intelligences are equally valuable, equally helpful, and equally Christian. And thus, preaching is negotiable. 

I disagree. Christianity places a clear preference upon linguistic learning—i.e., on the spoken word of God. Why do I say that? Two main reasons:

1.  God revealed Himself in a book, more precisely, a book of words and not pictures. Presumably, He could have waited until DVD technology was available; after all, He waited at least until paper was around. But His choice to reveal Himself in a book says something important about what sort of learning best suits Christian instruction. Historically, Christians have always recognized this, demonstrated by the phenomenon that where Christianity increased in a culture, literacy also increased.

2.  God can be known most accurately and  completely through words. No visual representation of Him could ever convey His glory completely. Subjectivity and ambiguity make images unsuitable for teaching us the most important things we need to know about God. We need words from God, not just images. In fact, the Second Commandment actually prohibits us from trying to depict Him visually, a clear argument for the priority of language in communicating about God.

Lest I be misunderstood, let me point out that Christian worship appropriately incorporates every one of the other learning styles in some way or another: cultivating relationships, observing the ordinances, singing, self-examination, etc. All of these are integral to Christianity. But there’s a clear priority on verbal, propositional instruction.

Presumably, if verbal expressions of truth are equal to visual ones, God made a mistake by putting His enduring revelation in book form, since our world has become so visually oriented. But actually, I think we’re the ones who make the mistake when we get a little too creative in delivering God’s word.

Christianity would survive without videos. But not without words.