Thursday, August 30, 2007

Preaching as to Convert Nobody, Charles Finney (Part 1)

Charles Finney was one of the greatest revivalists that America has ever produced. He lived from 1792-1875 and was instrumental in the Second Great Awakening. For many years I have known of his list of How to Preach So as to Convert No-one. I thought it would be good for me to review them for myself and share them here. I intend to make a few comments in this list. I will mark what I add by CPH: followed by italics. Otherwise what you see is what he wrote.

Preaching as to Convert Nobody

The design of this article is to propound several rules, by a steady conformity to any one of which a man may preach so as not to convert anybody. It is generally conceded at the present day that the Holy Spirit converts souls to Christ by means of truth adapted to that end.

It follows that a selfish preacher will not skillfully adapt means to convert souls to Christ, for this is not his end.
CPH: Obviously he is dealing in the realm of sarcasm in order to persuade to quite the opposite point of view.

Rule 1st. Let your supreme motive be to secure your own popularity; then, of course, your preaching will be adapted to that end, and not to convert souls to Christ.

2d. Aim at pleasing, rather than at converting your hearers.

3d. Aim at securing for yourself the reputation of a beautiful writer.
CPH: Ouch! There are times I have to decide if I am a writer or a preacher. I fear there are too many times when I am the former.

4th. Let your sermons be written with a high degree of literary finish.
CPH: Again, ouch. As someone who loves words and who preaches from a manuscript, I know that I work to polish the grammar and the structure. I am not totally convinced that is wrong, however. If poor grammar or poor sentence or argument construction detract from the point of the sermon, then why not do the work on it? The real question may be, "Do I spend an equal amount of time in prayer and petitioning God to make the sermon effective?" Usually, no.

5th. Let them be short, occupying in the reading not to exceed from twenty to twenty-five minutes.
CPH: So the length of sermons was an issue then as now!! The cry today is still: "Keep it short; 20-25 minutes." The reality is that it takes time to weave an argument and it takes time to drill past the hardened crust into the heart.

6th. Let your style be flowery, ornate, and quite above the comprehension of the common people.

7th. Be sparing of thought, lest your sermon contain truth enough to convert a soul.

8th. Lest your sermon should make a saving impression, announce no distinct propositions or heads, that will be remembered, to disturb the consciences of your hearers.
CPH: It is important to remember that there is a difference between speech-making and preaching. In preaching you are trying to present the Gospel so that

9th. Make no distinct points, and take no disturbing issues with the consciences of your hearers, lest they remember these issues, and become alarmed about their souls.

10th. Avoid a logical division and sub-division of your subject, lest you should too thoroughly instruct your people.

CPH: More tomorrow.

1 comment:

Ryan said...

Re: points 3 & 4.

I think it is possible to preach an inspired sermon from a well-prepared manuscript. Here's a video with a couple excerpts from the session at the WCA Leadership Summit where John Ortberg spoke (the conference I told you about...I attended at OCC, which was a satellite site). I wish I could get ahold of the video from his entire message, but I thought it was a great example of someone who is obviously a writer, but is able to communicate what they have written in a way that was very compelling.

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