In an essay entitled “Beauty, Sentimentality and the Arts,” Jeremy Begbie discusses the “pathology of sentimentality.” This is a pathology marked by three traits. It misrepresents reality by evading or trivializing evil, is emotionally self-indulgent, and fails to take appropriate costly action.
Sentimentality is not confined to the arts. It can also afflict the sermon. When the sermon becomes sentimentalized the preacher’s need to feel good about the experience of preaching leads to manipulation. Emotion is the sermon’s primary aim and weeping at the altar is equated with repentance. Because the preacher fails to deal honestly with the reality of evil, problems are romanticized and pat answers, slogans or clichés are offered as solutions.
What is the remedy for sentimentalism? According to Begbie, it is the cross, proclaimed in all its horror and glory. “In a nutshell,” Begbie explains, “Christian sentimentalism arises from a premature grasp for Easter morning, a refusal to follow the three days of Easter as three days in an irreversible sequence of victory over evil.” Preaching that deals honestly with the reality of the cross acknowledges the darkened sky of Good Friday and the awful silence of Holy Saturday, as well as the bright dawn of Sunday morning.
Begbie’s excellent essay can be found in The Beauty of God: Theology and the Arts, edited by Daniel J. Treier, Mark Husbands and Roger Lundin (InterVarsity).