On Friday I wrote about whether or not Christian publishers should be putting new books out there when the topic concerned has already been covered helpfully and sufficiently by another book. This was in response to this tweet from my friend Alistair Chalmers.
One of Alistair’s main reasons was that he observed as he read, that an awful lot of books were not only covering the same territory but in effect, repeating the same things in very much the same style and content. They weren’t particularly adding anything to the conversation. Now, I’ll trust Alistair’s word on this as he reads far more than I do. It’s an important point because I personally see no problem in a number of books covering the same topic, sometimes someone will pick up and read a book from one author but not get on with another. However, if the books are pretty much the same in style as well as content, then you pretty much lose that benefit.
The thing is though, that if we are cloning authors/ writers, if we are picking up books by different authors and thinking that they could have been written by the same person, indeed, let’s be honest if we pick up three different books by three different authors, allegedly covering different topics and we realise that they all pretty much read the same, then that is perhaps indicative of a deeper problem.
You see, exactly the same complaint has been made about contemporary preaching. There are two aspects to this. First, that people complain that preachers sound the same, so that you can work out which tradition they are from, where they attended church prior to training for ministry and where they trained. We are in effect producing clones. This isn’t particularly new, there was a period of time when every non-conformist tried to sound like Martyn Lloyd Jones and I suspect before that, many would have aped the style and mannerisms of Spurgeon.
So, it’s important both for those training to preach and those doing the training that we watch out for this risk. We should not aim to replicate ourselves when training preachers. So, I think it’s important for a trainee preacher to be encouraged to do two things. First to listen to a variety of preachers, as well as secular public speakers such as politicians, lecturers, TV presenters, comedians etc. It’s harder to be cloned by one person if you are listening to many. Secondly, we want to encourage them to find their own voice, to be confident to speak as themselves, to talk naturally to a group of 50 people in the same way that they would to 3 or 4 in a group.
The other issue raised is that sermons often sound the same because they seem to follow the same pattern. Like books, it seems that if you just swapped a couple of words around then this week’s sermon would be exactly the same as one a few weeks back with pretty identical observations and applications. This is because the preacher has fallen into the trap of preaching to a framework. This is I think a particular danger since the take off of Biblical Theology. This discipline is helpful in getting us to see the unity of Scripture and the big themes but my job when preaching is not to keep preaching the framework of Biblical Theology. If I do, it has become a hindrance instead of a help.
So, the other way that we help people escape from the cloning pressure is by encouraging them as they preach to do two things. First to make sure they have engaged the text, that they have fully immersed in it and so are expounding what that specific verse or passage says. Secondly, we want to get them to engage their congregation, to understand where the people are at in their walk with God, the hopes they have, the challenges they face and the dangers they need to avoid. This will enable the preacher to speak specifically to them and their situation, applying God’s Word to the needs of the people.
We don’t want preachers who are original, coming up with novel ideas but nor do we want clones. We want the preaching of God’s Word to be fresh.