Monday, July 6, 2009

Sermon Series = Prooftexting?

This summer I have ventured into an 11 week sermon series. I asked people to give me questions they have had on the Bible, God, United Methodism, or whatever. The worship team and I picked 11 of these questions and those are my sermons for the summer. I am 3 weeks in now and I have been enjoying it. I usually preach the lectionary but I have ventured off here and there for a couple of weeks. This summer though is the longest I have been away from the lectionary.

As I have been preaching this series I have felt that I am connecting more with the congregation. One reason is that I am answering some questions they have about faith and God but also because the sermons seem to be coming from a different part of me. For example, this week's sermon was on Why did God make mosquitoes? This is a great question and enabled me to talk about the fallen nature of the world and how we are soaked in sin.

My dilemma though is finding the right scripture to go with each question. Some have come easy others I had to search. It is in that searching that I had to question myself, am I prooftexting? Wiki defines prooftexting as "the practice of using decontextualized quotations from a document (often, but not always, a book of the Bible) to establish a proposition. Critics of the technique note that often the document, when read as a whole, may not in fact support the proposition."

I want to tear my cloak when I hear ministers taking scripture out of context to defend arguments or ideas (I have talked about this with Joel Osteen). I can deal with it if it is scriptural but when prooftexting is present I get turned off. Is finding scripture to go with a sermon prooftexting? That questions keeps coming to my mind.

If I take what Wiki says about prooftexting I guess I am not. I don't decontextualize these pieces of scripture. I make sure they are sound in their theology and not taken out of context. I guess I am answering my own question here, but it is something that has been on the fore front of my mind as I have gone through these sermons thus far.

Anyone else feel the same way? Does anyone else feel dirty picking cherry picking scripture to define the points of your sermon?

With this said, what scripture would you use to answer this question (this week's sermon) - Was God Lonely When He Made People?


Anonymous said...

I am with you 100%. This is exactly how I feel every time I preach off the lectionary.

Perhaps it indicates I do not have enough prayer in my work or enough guidance of the Holy Spirit, but you sum up my feelings exactly.

larry said...

I think it largely depends on how you see the Bible and its message(s), guidance, and applications. From my perspective, for example, it is a completely legitimate question to ask "What does the Bible teach about marriage and family life? (or fill in topic of your choice)" and then seek the scriptures for the answer(s) to that question, and present that to a congregation through the preaching I do. It so happens the Bible says some challenging things about marriage (and a hundred other topics, of course), and an honest topical preacher will not avoid those harder texts. As an aside, there are multiple ways of doing sermon series other than topical, such as preaching through a book of the Bible or doing a study of a particular individual.

On the other hand, for me, using the lectionary was never suited to my gifts as a preacher . . . I tried it, and my PPR committee suggested that I return to doing sermon series . . .

I found myself doing one of two things with the lectionary when I attempted it, which I suppose good lectionary preachers learn to avoid. I would either try to force an unnatural connection between the multiple texts for the day, or I would cherry-pick the one that was easiest to make a sermon from, and thus avoid the harder texts anyways.