God Is Not Boring: Preaching to Awaken God-Honoring Emotions

March 24, 2016

What is the difference between preaching that works the crowd and that which awakens God-honoring emotions?

That’s the question Voddie Bauchum, John Piper, and Miguel Nunez tackled in a recent TGC podcast.

As John Piper says, “Every human being is wired with a heart and a head.” That’s why we preach to both. It’s not one or the other.

The danger, of course, is preaching to the heart in a way that is manipulative.

But how do you know when you have crossed that invisible line between God-honoring emotion on the one hand and emotionalism on the other?

Here it is. This one question will help you sort through the difference: Have the emotions been stirred by the truth of God revealed in Scripture?

So there’s a sense in which I don’t preach directly to the affections. I preach to the mind in such a way that the affections are awakened powerfully by the truth.

The ditch on the other side of the road is intellectualism. That happens when a preacher targets the mind at the expense of the heart. The careful, line by line analysis of a text in expository preaching is good, but it is often done in such a way that hearers are left empty and un-affected.

Where’s the balance then? Piper quotes Jonathan Edwards as saying,

I consider it my duty to raise the affections of my hearers as high as I possibly can, provided I raise them with nothing but the truth, and in proportion to the truth.

Why is it our duty? Because God is not boring. Sure, some who hear us preach may be dull of hearing. But let’s hope they are not bored with God because of the way we represent him in our preaching.

If we ever hope to to convey the emotion of a text authentically and powerfully, we must first be moved and affected by the truth of that text ourselves.

In Piper’s words,

Preaching this stuff to ourselves so that we are moved is going to be key to whether people are awakened to that truth. Because if I preach like what I’m saying is of modest importance, that’s what they’re going to think; that’s what they’re going to feel.

So go ahead–“raise the affections of [your] hearers as high as [you] possibly can.” But do so “with nothing but the truth, and in proportion to the truth.”

You can listen to the entire 13:45 podcast here.

 

How would you answer the question, “What is the difference between preaching that works the crowd and that which awakens God-honoring emotions?”

Kerry McGonigal

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In Adam by birth but in Christ by grace. That's my story. Husband to one and father of three. Pastor, homiletics teacher, and passionate proponent of expository preaching. If you like what you've read and want to be notified of future posts, take a second and subscribe via RSS or email (on the right sidebar). Opinions expressed here are my own.

2 responses to God Is Not Boring: Preaching to Awaken God-Honoring Emotions

  1. So there’s a sense in which I don’t preach directly to the affections. I preach to the mind in such a way that the affections are awakened powerfully by the truth.

    I’d put it a bit differently, because when you preach, you can’t help but hit people’s affections “directly” (as if separating mind and heart are really even possible). Your tone, your gravitas, your face, the setting around you and around them—all will impact them at deeper levels than those that are easily articulated. Yes, your preaching, being word-focused, is going to aim primarily at stirring up affections through truth. But then you get to Morgan’s (and Minnick’s) exhorting stage, and it’s totally appropriate to aim at fanning the flames of affection, again, directly.

    Frame has made me resist any attempt to privilege mind or will or emotion. They’re all interrelated; they’re just the person thinking, choosing, and feeling.

    • Thanks for the interaction and feedback, Mark.

      There’s a complexity and dynamic here with the human personality that I do not pretend to understand. Brent Cook and I have had several conversations about this very subject. I am glad to get your perspective, especially since you wrote your dissertation on religious affections! (I proceed with fear and trembling.)

      There is, as you (and Frame) argue, an interrelatedness between the mind, emotions, and will. I agree, and that often makes nice, neat categories unrealistic and crisp, clear discussions about this subject challenging. It’s similar to talking about the traditional “discussion elements” of the sermon–explanation, application, argumentation, and illustration. There’s a sense in which you can discuss them separately and even use them to label the individual paragraphs of your sermon, and yet there are many times when it’s difficult to discern where the explanation ends and the application and/or argumentation begins. There’s a lot of overlap.

      That said, it is still helpful, in my estimation, to think of preaching in relationship to the individual aspects of personality.

      I do think it might help to distinguish the overall sermon from the individual parts of the sermon. When thinking of the sermon as a whole, I think one could argue that a preacher should not preach directly to the emotions. There has to be some kind of truth-content and understanding in the mind of the listener that serves as the basis for any emotional appeal.

      You talk, for example, of Morgan’s exhorting stage and how it is totally appropriate to aim at fanning the flames of affection directly. I would agree. But that’s only a part of the sermon, the exhortation part of the sermon. It presupposes the “word-focused” “truth” component of the message. So in that sense, there is still a priority given to explanation and understanding in the mind. That’s why we don’t typically come out of the gate (in our introductions) and start exhorting or making emotional appeals. Now we do sometimes employ illustrations that engage the listener, but it’s ultimately for the purpose of wedding that emotion to the truth of the passage.

      But if you are thinking of the sermon in terms of its individual parts, then yes, there are parts where you are targeting the affections directly. But when you step back from that part and get a big picture perspective on the sermon as a whole, that direct appeal to the affections is (hopefully) either preceded by a mental understanding of the truth or leading toward it.

      And perhaps it would be helpful to distinguish between what is happening from the listener’s standpoint and what is going on from the speaker’s standpoint. It may be difficult, if not impossible, to sort through the complexity of response a listener has to what we say. The mind, emotions, and will are all actively involved in some sense all the time. However, as a speaker, I can be conscious of my specific objective at any given point in a message. Ie., I can “isolate” and even “identify” what I am trying to target and hit–in some instances the mind, in other instances the emotions or will. Not that I can keep my rhetorical objectives for the mind from bleeding over into the emotions of my listeners (I don’t have sovereignty of the receiver’s response), but I can at least distinguish what I am shooting at primarily.

      Well, I’m not sure if all this rational explanation made sense; I guess I have been appealing directly to your mind. Perhaps I should have thrown in a highly emotional story to win you over to my side. 🙂

      Again, thanks for dropping in, Mark, and for encouraging the conversation.