An excerpt from “Reframing Paul” by Mark Strom
Following on the theme of the ‘Problem of Preaching’, & my article on preaching in July’s NZ Baptist, here is an excerpt from the book “Reframing Paul” by Mark Strom. Mark is now the principal of BCNZ (Bible College of NZ) here in Auckland. His book “Reframing Paul” (IVP, 2000) and is a revised form of his Ph.D. thesis. When I wrote “The Problem With Preaching”, I didn’t know anyone else who had arrived at similar conclusions (apart from a few odd articles on the internet). It was encouraging to come across a biblical scholar who has reached similar conclusions.
In “Reframing Paul”, Mark’s basic contention is that what Paul opposed is what we embrace – that our systems of preaching, ordination, and authority look more like the Greco-Roman world than they do like Paul and his radical communities of grace. Modern Reformed-Evangelicalism has never left Rome at this point; it is still about authority residing in structures, and validated through the preaching of the ordained or those they knight for the occasion. “This book is for those who wonder why people leave churches for alternative spiritual paths – and may even be tempted to do so themselves. More than anything, it is for those who wonder what’s gone wrong and want to learn from Paul how the church can be an attractive community of transforming grace and conversation.” (from the dust cover) If you want to learn more, and have your thinking stretched, I recommend you get a copy to read & work through.
Also on the topic of recommended books, I want to re-recommend the “A New Kind of Christian” trilogy by Brian McLaren. These books, written as novel-like philosophical dialogue, are GREAT. We recently loaned copies of the first of these books, “A New Kind of Christian”, to two friends – both mature, intelligent Christians who have been involved in ‘professional Christian ministry’ …. They both loved the book, and found it helped fit some of the pieces of the puzzle together for them.
And a personal update – our new NZ educational games (Kiwi Quiz & Time Zone) are selling well. Kiwi Quiz has become very popular as a game, and as an educational resource – it is being used in about 400 NZ schools.
Whitcoulls has been promoting Kiwi Quiz over the last month, and have a trial of Time Zone in their top 20 stores (if you’re looking for a game or a gift for someone … get a copy of Time Zone from a Whitcoulls store …. If they sell enough, they will expand it into their other 50 stores in NZ J ). Paper Plus are also interested in stocking Kiwi Quiz.
I’m currently working on the Australian version of Time Zone …. Just need to find an intelligent Australian with a knowledge of Oz history to help review the 250 events I’m choosing for the game……
Here is the excerpt from “Reframing Paul” …. happy reading.
“I once took a seminary class titled “Ministry of the Word” where we were taught the supposed biblical basis of preaching. We were given a list of Greek words for various speech acts used in the New testament. Our group task was to study preaching from these words: preaching as keryxo; preaching as euangelizomai, and so forth. We looked up the references and synthesized our findings as “A New Testament Theology of Preaching.”
It occurred to a friend and me that the exercise was flawed because we had assumed the conventions of preaching, then sought to validate these conventions with texts. But the group would hear no detraction. Apart from our failure to grasp Paul’s repudiation of sophistry among the Corinthians, it never occurred to the group that there is absolutely no evidence for anything like our conventions of preaching in the NT – no expository talks, no pulpits, no ordination, no teaching of eloquence. The evidence does not point to the centrality of a monologue in the early gatherings, let along the conventions of preaching as we have known them for two millennia.
Back in the main group, the professor defended the method. The centrepiece for his argument was the need for authority: “The Word must be ministered with authority,” and this implied the conventions of preaching. My friend and I asked if the Word is always to be delivered with authority. “Yes,” came the ready answer. “Even in Bible study groups?” we asked. “Emphatically yes,” our professor replied. “Then why don’t we insist on the same conventions on Tuesday nights as we do on Sunday mornings?” we responded. “Because Sunday is church.” the professor replied, somewhat less enthusiastically. The rejoinder was obvious, “And what in the NT leads us to distinguish Sunday mornings from Tuesday nights as though one were ‘real church’ and the other something else? If the distinction is simply our construct, why do we persist with it? If the conventions of preaching are unnecessary on Tuesdays, and if the Bible study leader still ministers the Word with authority, then why do we insist on the conventions for Sundays?”
The argument was coming full circle. The case for preaching starts and finishes by presuming preaching, ordination and church as we know them. Without them control, prestige and power lose their footing. The sermon and the service prop up the conventions of eloquence and authority. No sermon, no church service. No church service, no demarcations of authority and control. But church in the evangelical system is about order and control. Leaders must retain the ‘central’ ministries. At the very center is preaching. Therefore preaching must remain the domain of the ordained and those whom they acknowledge. Eloquence and erudition must demarcate sermon from conversation, ordained from laity, truth from mere opinion.
Two years later the conversation resumed with the same professor, this time on the second fairway. “You were right.” he admitted. “Church and preaching as we know it is very little like what happened in the NT.”
“Why then,” I asked, “do we keep teaching this stuff? Most of your students do not see the discrepancy. How will this ever change?”
His answer was as telling as it was unconvincing: “It was my generation’s work to lay out the biblical theology. It is yours to change the system.””
(p.206 – 207)