Sep 28, 2011

Vantage Point: Sermons and Peter the Pulpit Preacher - Part 1

The sermon is under attack. Its accusers claim that it is ineffective or out of date. In contrast to such criticism, the sermon is heavily emphasized and utilized in many Christian meetings to communicate biblical data to the masses, and as a brother from our assembly points out,
"The Sermon is so central to many groups that its delivery is one of the main duties of a professionally trained and salaried individual, the pastor."
The same brother, in his post, "In Defense of the Sermon" highlights not the problems with sermons, but the specific problems affecting today's sermons in our modern context. The post will in turn draw your attention to biblical anecdotes, the effectiveness of a good sermon, and even how to benefit as a listener.

The post offers a highly insightful and well reasoned presentation in defense of the sermon. It may even surprise you that this brother's idea of a sermon allows for questioning and verbal interaction. In the end, the post itself rests upon the premise that sermons are biblical, and have precedent through scriptural reference. I will not argue against the points made in the above post but will instead direct us to consider the nature of Peter's message in Acts 2:14-36. Was it extemporaneous, or was it carefully planned as the author states in the following?
To be clear: what I mean by “sermon” is an extended lecture on a biblical text or theme, prepared in advance by one individual who delivers it orally to a group of people. Unlike a discussion, the presentation is asymmetric (primarily from the teacher to the congregation, though it may be interrupted by questions). Unlike a meditation, it develops its content with an argument that usually takes some time to present. Unlike an extemporaneous address, the teacher devotes effort to preparing it in advance.
Before reading on, please be sure to have read the original article. When you finish that, read a follow up to one reader's comment "Peter's Planned Presentation."

My observations of the oratory given by Peter lead to another conclusion. Peter's 'sermon' was not a sermon at all. It should be noted that the schema in which we process the idea of a 'sermon' must be addressed. A sermon from the perspective of modern day pulpit preaching comes to mind, and the presentation places the deliverer in front of his audience. This same schema connotes planned preparation and crafted rhetoric. Reading such contemporary perceptions back into the texts of scripture can easily lead us astray.

I do not wish to offer a refutation of the above articles or point out invalidity of any of this brother's statements. What I would like to offer for you is a series of posts that will highlight some points from the book of Acts that provide evidence of genuine apostolic doctrine in action. While this brother's conclusions result in a case for careful preparation prior to confronting the masses with rhetorical structuring and systematic exposition, what I have found is that Peter was more of an opportunist and evangelist than a trained exegete or sophist.

What do you think? Do you think that Peter's sermon in Acts 2:14-36 was a prepared sermon? What indicators in the text lead you to this conclusion or disagreement? I hope to offer more in the next post in this series, Vantage Point: Sermons and Peter the Pulpit Preacher - Part 2.

*Arthur Sido asks a similar question at his blog - "A different perspective on sermons."

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