- That it is unapplied, leaving the hearer floundering to know what to do with it
- That it is poorly constructed. Even where it is accurate, it can be thoroughly uncaptivating.
Hamlet complained to Horatio that
the world is just constructed by words, and that words were hollow,
unattractive and meaningless to him. Of course, being Shakespeare, Hamlet has the ironic
fate of expressing his disappointment with unattractive words in some of the
most beautiful, cleverly constructed and memorable words ever written!
My two biggest complaints with a lot of contemporary preaching are:
Some comments on this second one. Words matter. Words don't just communicate information. Words create things. Good words do, anyway. They enthrall, they capture the affections. Literary critic Roland Barthe said that words seduce. That text done well is pleasurable. Napoleon said that men don't throw away their lives for half pence a day or petty distinctions, but that one has to appeal to the soul to engage them. And didn't he just.
It is for this reason I really dislike preaching that is dispassionate. The argument goes that the Bible speaks for itself. For the preacher to find ways of presenting the message that are more than just giving raw, unmediated text, is to distort or take away from the Bible speaking for itself. I agree the Bible speaks for itself, but if we believe that argument we might as well not preach at all. Just read the Bible instead.
But God has given preachers and teachers. Urgers, exhorters, encouragers, systematisers, communicators, heralds. It isn't possible to be any of these things dispassionately, for that implies not having been affected by the word we are preaching. Which is foolish idolatry. And so preachers must work at words that reflect the fact that they are captured by the Word of God. To do less is simply wrong-headed. To tell people of the Almighty God from His almighty word and not seek to do so in almighty ways is almighty strange.
We are not just communicating truth, information and facts. We are presenting the Lord of glory and exposing Christ to the heart. We are bringing rebels to be worshippers, we are inviting believers to take next steps in submitting their lives. We are insisting that the King deserves homage. For sure we, ourselves, are not producing spiritual life in the heart. But the Holy Spirit is, through the Bible word preached, and we are involved in that gobsmacking purpose, as His servants. Let's never, by a dispassionate manner, let people think that it isn't true, that we don't really believe it. Let's never, by our demeanor, contradict the content of our words. Let's never think of preaching as less than it is: participating with, and serving, a creative act of God. Faith comes from hearing. Faith is being created by God as the Word is preached.
Figuring out what the Bible means is only half the job. Work at your words. They matter. If Napoleon thought his words important enough to get men to throw their lives away, shouldn't ours be an order of magnitude more weighty and wonderful?