October 28, 2020

“No Sauce Please, We’re Expositors”

My Instagram following is bigger than yours

My favourite theological college lecturer tells of the time he was doing his PhD at Durham University when he was asked to preach on Romans at his local church. Slightly rushed, slightly distracted he said “Yes”.

So on the Sunday he dutifully got up to preach. He scanned the crowd and there sitting waiting to hear God’s Word from the book of Romans, was CK Barrett, a godfather of Roman commentaries and scholarship.

Funny thing is, if that same favourite lecturer were sitting in the seats when I got up to preach Romans, I’d be feeling the same.

Now imagine, every funky sermonising wordsmith with all the flare of Furtick, all the passion of Piper, all the charm of Chandler, (and all of the mash-up of McAlpine?) standing up and seeing Kanye West sitting row five, (two suits with ear pieces sitting behind in row six).

I mean how can you compete? How can you soar to the verbal dexterity heights of

“Back before anybody wanted K. West beats, me and my girl split the bucket at KFC”

or …

“I went to the malls and I balled too hard ‘Oh my god, is that a black card?’ I turned around and replied, why yes but I prefer the term African American Express”

and how about this doozy …

“Sophisticated ignorance, write my curses in cursive

All written before his conversion, and some say his lyrics on Jesus is King don’t match the quality of the early stuff (I like your old stuff better than your new stuff).

That aside, when the equally famous Joe Rogan interviews Kanye about his church and about preaching we kinda expect the bloke to want it laid on thick when he walks through the doors and takes his seat. We kinda think he wants a Steve Martin experience from the excellent Leap of Faith.

Yet here’s what Kanye says:

One of my pastors, pastor Adam, the way he preaches is called expository. It’s like one-to-one by the Word. I like all different kind of preachers but there are some type of preachers they get up, they have the bible in their hand, and they close the bible and they just talk for two hours.

And some do have anointing, but expository preachers go line for line, and for me it’s like I come from entertainment. I got so much sauce, I don’t need no sauce on the word. I need the word to be solid food that I can understand exactly what God was saying to me through the King James version, through this, you know, this translation or the English Standard Version.”

He don’t need no sauce on the word. Which probably means he don’t need no pastor in thousand dollar sneakers either.

Kanye knows entertainment inside out. If he were looking for entertainment he wouldn’t be looking for it in church. And of course, the church that thinks it can compete with the world in the entertainment world is kidding itself and needs to get out more.

So Kanye is saying he’s more this:

Hey homies, preached for fourteen years straight on Romans. Bring it on!

Than this:

My shoes cost more than my whole commentary section

A couple of things. First up, even the good Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones (pictured above) who was revered among the “verse by verse, line by line” guys, and who took all that time to preach through Romans in his midweek meetings, still insisted that preaching was truth through personality.

In other words if your expository sermons are beyond boring, or you test your orthodoxy on your ability to strip your sermon back to an exegetical essay, then perhaps you have missed the point. Perhaps you don’t get the wonder and beauty of the gospel. Perhaps the wonder and beauty of the gospel haven’t gotten you. Perhaps you are not captivated enough by Jesus who is the “Yes and Amen” to all Scripture, to ensure that the Word of God sparkles like the diamond it is when you preach.

Honestly, too much expository preaching is like the moon; clear, bright and cold, when it should be like the sun; warming and enlivening.

There’s nothing noble about a sparse sermon that has no life, and cannot land an application beyond “Read your Bible more and, oh, don’t forget to evangelise!”

Perhaps Kanye – young Christian that he is – will realise too that there is much rhetorical depth to a good sermon, and that ensuring that the gap between the proclaimer of the Word and the hearer of the sermon needs to be bridged. There are enough books showing how that needs to be done.

And Kanye’s eager faith will realise too at some time, that there is ebb and flow to a text. Sometimes the meaning of a text comes through a verse. Sometimes the meaning is only discovered in the flyover of a whole chapter or even a short book or letter. He’ll learn. Expository sometimes means big chunks at the one time.

And clearly, if Kanye is as into the Word as he says, then whatever people have sniffily claimed about his Christian faith, it certainly seems solid. Certainly more solid than the Christian celebs who have junked their faith in recent years, running into the welcoming arms (and sauce) of the secular culture’s entertainers and influencers, and are asking with faux-intellect “Did the Bible really say?”

But back to the thousand dollar shoes. Kanye’s comment also confirms what we’ve been realising for some time now in this age of distraction: that we can’t entertain people into the gospel. In fact what we draw them with, is what we draw them to. Draw them with entertainment and you’re going to have to keep them there.

If the most globally recognised entertainer in the world, who has laden his songs with the most sauce ever, isn’t taken with the preacher’s efforts to do sauce, then the whole “seeker friendly/give them something that they recognise from the world” approach (only far less hip and much more lame), probably isn’t going to cut it.

At least not in a world in which the ability of a non-Christian to sniff a bait and switch is up there with a pig hunting truffles. And that’s if it even gets beyond the bait! So much that passes as preaching is all bait and no switch.

Time was church had to do the entertaining for you cos the rest of the naughty world was out of bounds with all that crazy dancing, loud music and stuff. To which I say, line up, buy tickets to the concert, mosh your brains out, and then figure out the grown up stuff in church. Give people the simple, homely meal of not just preaching, but prayer, loving conversation, the sacraments, some quiet space, and an assurance that the community will love you and keep you going in the midst of the tough times.

And if the meal is good, then some sauce is okay. But don’t think you can fudge it and cover an empty plate in sauce. Don’t mind me mixing my metaphors, but that won’t cut the mustard.

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There is no guarantee that Jesus will return in our desired timeframe. Yet we have no reason to be anxious, because even if the timeframe is not guaranteed, the outcome is! We don’t have to waste energy being anxious; we can put it to better use.

Stephen McAlpine – futureproof

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