We have now finished going through the seven main points of Christopher Ash’s booklet, Listen Up! A Practical Guide to Listening to Sermons (Good Book Co., 2009), on how to listen to good (that is, biblically faithful) sermons (cf. my Saturday and Sunday posts in January and February of this year).
But, as we pointed out at the beginning of this series of posts, Ash also has an “appendix” section in which he deals with “how to listen to bad sermons” (pp.24ff.). Ash recognizes that sometimes God’s people are subjected to bad sermons, and he wants us to understand that in these cases too we have a responsibility to listen well. So, it is worth our time to face this as well, since we have all heard at one time or another bad sermons.
Let me add this disclaimer at this point. It has been a long time since I heard a bad sermon. The PRC is blessed with good preachers and preaching, something I am thankful for each Lord’s Day. Today, too, we heard two wonderful sermons – one from our pastor (Rev. C. Spronk) and one from Seminarian Joe Holstege.
With that understanding, let’s return to Ash’s counsel about “bad sermons.” You may recall that at the outset of this section, the author divides “bad” sermons into three types: sermons that are “dull,” sermons that are “biblically inadequate,”and sermons that are “heretical.” Having considered “dull” ones last time, we turn to “biblically inadequate” ones in this post.
According to Ash, this is the kind of sermon in which you as a listener question where the the pastor got his thoughts from. “Somehow, the sermon seems to import all sorts of things not in the passage, or to screen out important things in the passage that do not feature in the preacher’s understanding of biblical truth. The sermon seems to be wrong in places, and to lack the Bible’s balance in other” (p.26).
How do we respond to such sermons? Ash advises us to avoid two dangers:
- “The first danger to avoid is developing a critical spirit.” Here, he references those in Jesus’ time who listened to Him, but only because they were trying to catch him i his words (Luke 11:54). We don’t want to be like that, “fault-finders”, because then we will only “feel good about ourselves, how clever we are or how well we know our Bibles; but it will never move us to repentance and faith.”
- “The second danger to avoid is being gullible and credulous, believing whatever any preacher says, so long as they say it plausibly and well.” Here, Ash references the Bereans, who tested even what Paul said by the Scriptures (Acts 17:11). But here, too, he advises us not to dwell on the parts of the sermon that were wrong, but on those areas where the preacher was correct, biblically: “Let’s pray for God to apply the bits that came from the passage to our hearts and lives” (p.26).
Does that mean the minister is above questioning or beyond being helped? No, says Ash. If Priscilla and Aquila could help Apollos (Acts 18:27,28), then we may be used by God to help even a pastor grow to be a more biblical preacher. And, as he adds, ” a wise preacher will always be glad to be gently challenged and questioned by honest enquirers” (p.27).
Which also leads us to ask, Are we praying as diligently for our pastors as we ought? Do you want better (more biblical) sermons? Pray for your preacher daily! Listen well to what he brings each week! And encourage him in his work. What a calling he has as the mouthpiece of Jesus Christ!