On Preachers and Preaching: The Divorce Between Theology and the Pulpit

Preaching and theology were lovers once. Though inseparable and mutually devoted to one another at the beginning of their relationship, in these latter days they have become estranged. They are not exactly enemies, but they are hardly friends any more and they are certainly no longer partners.

As is so often the case in these matters, each is inclined to blame the other for the separation. And as is also so often the case, there is some truth in the complaint that they make. Both are guilty of mutual neglect. And both, sad to say, have at times been unfaithful to the other.

Still it must be recognized that if preaching and theology have since found more interesting companions, it was not their original intent. They began their relationship with a common sense of purpose, supported by vows of mutual fidelity. In order to better accomplish their goals, they decided to divide the work between them. Theology was to focus its attention on the higher matters of God, creation and redemption, while preaching would devote itself to the “lower” but equally important concerns of the flock. They did not at first see these tasks as being mutually exclusive. Indeed, they believed that they contributed to one another.

Yet in time the two “grew apart.” The noble questions which first occupied the attention of theology have given way to more obscure matters, many of which prove to be at odds with the bread and butter interests of preaching. Theology prefers the thin air and heady conversation of the classroom and the philosopher’s salon to the dishrag speech and knee scrape anxieties which so often seem to occupy the attention of preaching. Preaching, for its part, has grown impatient with the endless speculation and impractical theorizing that theology loves so much. Preaching criticizes theology for being too detached. Theology accuses preaching of being too parochial.

The sad truth is that neither is very far off the mark.

2 thoughts on “On Preachers and Preaching: The Divorce Between Theology and the Pulpit

  1. Jeremy Writebol June 14, 2010 — 3:51 pm

    Great perspective.
    Next question: what will bring the spark back between the two?

    1. Jeremy:

      I think preaching needs to re-discover the practical value of theology. Sermons whose applications that are not rooted in theological truth differ very little from motivational speaking. Theology needs to re-capture its mission. Theological constructs are meant to be integrated into ordinary life.

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