James Grier on preaching in a postmodern culture

Spent the day at Heritage Seminary yesterday listening to James Grier talk about “Preaching in a Postmodern Culture”. This is a subject that could go horribly wrong if it fell into the wrong hands. Turns out that I didn’t need to worry. Grier did an outstanding job and got me pumped (again) about theology when it’s done right.

My only complaint was that there was so much packed in. His material was excellent, but he gave in five minutes what could take an entire semester to unpack. I would love to take a class with this man. The best parts were tangents when he got off on a topic about which he’s passionate, of which there were many.

He also gave the best critique of the emerging church that I have heard. In conversation after the seminar, someone told him that they couldn’t get their mind around post-modernity and the emerging church. Grier responded by saying that they’re trying to get the wrong part of their bodies around the emerging church. It’s much more holistic and relational. He then gave a defense for why this isn’t a bad approach, much better than our modern view which sees people as component parts (spirit, soul, and body) rather than holistically, which is more Biblical. I have his slides from the section on the emerging church – I don’t feel like I can post them but I may share them with you if you ask nicely.

He’s also in touch with those he talks about. He hasn’t just read a few books and responded without becoming conversant with the people behind the books.

So what about preaching? Grier talked about modernity and the enlightenment and all the bad stuff this has brought into the church (individualism and autonomy, church as a voluntary organization, supply side ecclesiology and the marketing of religion, and a reductionistic gospel). He told us that as the culture of enlightenment is collapsing, the church is grasping enlightenment ideas in order to survive (e.g. business practices and therapeutic ministry). We have adopted standards for church success from the wider culture and have become culturally captive. We’re “seduced to turn the world into the kingdom that avoids the cross, conversion, and good news.”

He then outlined post-modernism and post-modernity, the latter being a more general term, less philosophical than cultural. In response, he called for the church to be “a faith community that demonstrates that the gospel is true in practice and this in reality.” If someone asks what the kingdom is like, we should be able to point to a church community that is not like the surrounding culture, a community of forgiveness and reconciliation – not a church that keeps me happy by meeting my needs.

As for preaching, we need to do our theology more in the context of the narrative rather than using the narrative “only for illustration, application, numerology, or morals.” We need to show the internal coherence of the Scriptural narrative and let it speak for itself rather than trying to help it so much. We need to stop preaching “analytical outlines that turn the sermon into a legal brief” because the church is not a “head shop where the only thing addressed is the cognitive function with logic with demand for a verdict at the end.” Preachers must learn to “let the beauty of the text speak in your sermon…Let the significance of the text for life today with all its nuanced address to the whole person seep through every aspect of the act of communication.” And he reminded us that preaching is not a lecture and it is not a running commentary through a text.

Then he gave us an example of how it is done.

Can’t say enough about the day. The school is selling audio from the day (CD and MP3) if you’re interested.

Darryl Dash

Darryl Dash

I'm a grateful husband, father, oupa, and pastor of Grace Fellowship Church Don Mills. I love learning, writing, and encouraging. I'm on a lifelong quest to become a humble, gracious old man.
Toronto, Canada