Thursday, March 08, 2012

Scripture necessary for sermons?

It occurred to me that Paul uses no Scripture in the Acts 17 sermon to the Athenians.  He does, however, quote a Stoic poet.  Similarly, 1 Thessalonians, which probably was read as a sermon, quotes no Scripture either.

What are some possible reactions to these instances?
1. Paul and the author of Acts were inspired, you're not.
Fair enough.  You can probably hammer a nail with a crowbar, but why not use a hammer?

2. This shows that the word of God is more than just the written text.
I don't see how anyone can even question this.  The truths contained in Scripture can surely be presented in a different form than they appear in the biblical text.

3. It's dangerous to preach too much from what you think the truth is without referencing Scripture.
In other words, is repeated "topical" preaching without recourse to Scripture just begging for trouble at some point?  Do you almost doom yourself at some point to substitute your thoughts for God's? Of course, I would say we substitute our own thoughts for God's even when we're using the text.

But what are your thoughts?


Nathaniel said...

If by "sermon" you mean the homily delivered as a liturgical act, typically following the reading of the scriptures according to synagogue custom, then Acts 17 is not a sermon. Certainly, 1 Thess. would have been read aloud in the community, but we have no evidence that it *replaced* the homily. But even if it did, the writings of Paul have been revered from the earliest of days as scripture anyway.

That being said, there is no excellent sermon which does not quote scripture which could not be improved by its inclusion. Conversely, however, there are many a bad sermon which can be made worse by mishandling of scripture.

Jeremiah Parker said...

Reminds me of something Barth said: "The free theologian, taking the Bible as his starting point, is led by the testimony of the Bible, or more precisely by the origin, object, and content of this testimony. Here Christ spoke ot him, and he let Him speak, through the medium of this testimony. Does this imply his speaking in direct quotation and interpretation of Biblical texts and contexts? Maybe often, maybe not always. The freedom bestowed upon him by the origin, object, and content of the Biblical testimony can and must be asserted through his attempt to think and to relate in his own terms what he heard in the Bible. As an illustration I refrained in this address from using one single direct quotation from the Scriptures, with the exception of the Lord's Prayer at the beginning. It is only right to exercise this freedom earnestly and repeatedly. It is an excellent yardstick for our knowing what we say when we quote and interpret. In regard to church practice we may ask whether this attempt should not be made consistently in sermons, as contrasted to Bible study. The freedom of theology is both freedom for exegesis and freedom for what we call dogmatics." (The Gift of Feedom)

π² said...

Of the three cities Paul visits in Acts 17, it can be argued that he was least successful in Athens. Can we attribute that to not using scripture? Not necessarily, but we'll never know.

JohnM said...

Maybe it's not so important scripture be quoted, but can an appeal be made to scripture in defense of the sermon, if need be? It wouldn't take a proof text necessarily to convince me but the preacher should be able to explain how his sermon comports with the teaching of the prophets and the apostles.

Bill Heroman said...

First, I must echo Nathaniel. Arguing over what a sermon "should" be is a matter of tradition, because it is true that the examples you've cited were not liturgical homilies and are therefore not directly comparable to liturgical homilies.

That said, and realizing that you know this already, I admit you made some excellent points. The options are wide open, it seems, for better and surely for worse.

Ken Schenck said...

Inductively speaking, Acts 17 has to be treated as just as much a sermon as Acts 2. The key is the kerygma and in particular, the line "God raised him from the dead." In that sense, Acts 17 is more complete as an Acts sermon than Acts 7, because Stephen never gets that far in the Christian story.

Weekend Fisher said...

For a Christian sermon, Jesus is necessary, and is ultimately the message and the good news that Christians proclaim.

We don't have any trustworthy sources of information about Jesus other than what the first-century followers wrote, which we've since then collected as Scripture. Now, Paul had access to Jesus' followers; the only access we have to the same is through Scripture.

Fwiw, whenever I see preachers get too far from Scripture, what you tend to get is them riding their own hobby horses, and generally not doing a very good job of it either. Most people aren't quite the insightful intellectual and spiritual giants that they imagine themselves to be. When they leave Scripture behind they invariably fail to rise to its level, rather than surpassing it. I've never seen an exception to that. (I wonder whether that's because here you have a preacher seriously entertaining the thought that he has surpassed Scripture. Egotistical much? I doubt that a true spiritual giant would ever entertain such a thought.)

Take care & God bless
Anne / WF