Oops, my sermon just went anthro
No preacher sets out to be anthropocentric. It usually happens when preachers try to be relevant by crossing the gap between the world of Scripture and the world of today, but fail to bridge this gap properly. They end up transferring isolated elements of the text rather than its central message.
This leads to preachers, for instance, using the story of Joseph being thrown into a pit to talk about the pits of depression, or of David’s lamenting of the death of Absalom to talk about parenting.
Here, according to Sidney Greidanus in The Modern Preacher in the Ancient Text, are the ways that sermons go off the track and become anthropocentric:
- Allegorizing, “which searches beneath the literal meaning of a passage for the ‘real’ meaning.” For instance, The Song of Solomon is understood in this approach to be about the love between Christ and the church.
- Spiritualizing, which “discards the earthly, physical historical reality the text speaks about and crosses the gap with a spiritual analogy of that historical reality.” For instance, the story of Jesus stilling the storm is taken as a lesson on how Jesus handles “storms” on the “sea of life.”
- Imitating Bible characters, which uses the characters of the preaching text as “examples or models for imitation.” For instance, Abraham is preached as an example of faith, or Joseph as someone who moves from pride to humility. Among other problems, this approach “tends to shift the theocentric focus of the Bible to an anthropocentric focus in the sermon” and is a “dead-end road for true biblical preaching.”
- Moralizing, which emphasizes “virtues and vices, dos and don’ts” without “properly grounding these ethical demands in the scriptures.” This is common in biographical preaching, ignores the intention of the text, can turn “grace into law by presenting imperatives without the divine indicative,” and transforms “the theocentric focus of the Bible into anthropocentric sermons.” It transforms the Bible into a set of moral precepts and examples.