Scot McKnight Gets it Right

kinnon —  October 6, 2009 — 10 Comments

Not to suggest that Scot normally doesn't or anything. (And I really don't think it's my place to suggest who is wright right and who isn't.) But when I read his post from an hour ago on Third Way Preaching, I wanted to stand up and cheer.

I received Jim Belcher's book, Deep Church yesterday. (Actually, two copies. One from Amazon and one from IVP. Don't ask.) Having been under the weather for over a week, and with work backed up, I figured I'd get to his book next week. Well. I'm on page 164 of 210 – not including the Notes – which I read first. (That's a quirk of mine.)

I like Jim's book a lot and think you should buy it and read it. That doesn't mean that I love every jot and tittle. In fact there are a number of tots and jittles that I struggle with – primarily around his "deep preaching" sermon concept and it's particular emphasis.

Jim advocates what he calls Centre-Set Preaching – which follows a Homiletical Plot – over against Doug Pagitt's "progressional dialogue" preaching (Deep Church, Chapter 8). I find myself nodding in agreement as I read Jim's deconstruction of Pagitt's style – but then I'm oddly left cold by his own approach.

Scot McKnight gets it right explains my discomfort.

What is most needed is a complete spiritual formation approach to the entire church and for each person; outcomes need to be formulated by the leaders and the church so that the whole approach is embraced. Within the overall approach to realizing outcomes, which I would say are loving God, loving others and a life of holiness, sermons play a role and sometimes an important one. But serious formative changes occur when the individual and the group participate in, activate, and integrate what is being taught. (By the way, that last sentence requires pages of discussion.) And these formative changes take place within a set of outcomes. And, perhaps most importantly, they take place with spiritual directors, pastors, teachers and friends who come alongside to help a person.

The biggest issue here is not preaching; the biggest issue is the weight given to preaching in the overall mission of the local church. Emphasizing the weight of preaching is the Third Way.

All of this, of course, within the parameters of the work of God's Spirit through Word and Eucharist, which means respect for the Great Tradition of the Church. There is no Third Way preaching until we get beyond the Sunday morning service as the primary form of education and formation in the church. [Emphasis added]

The whole concept of spiritual formation in the western church seems to be centred around the sermon. My friend, John Frye, in the comments on Scot's post says, People expect the sermon to be the magic bullet for personal and family transformation.

Another good friend of mine who lives in the midwest, once led a thriving youth ministry which saw hundreds of kids profess their faith in Christ. When my friend asked the senior pastor how they were going to disciple these kids, this "pastor" stated they just needed to come hear him preach on Sundays and Wednesday nights. Would that this "pastor" be one of a kind. He's not.

Imbi was recently in discussion with a friend who had seen a woman in her late 30's become a Christian. His profound lament was that he did not know a church or ministry in Toronto where this woman could become properly grounded in her faith – where people (who have an expectation of outcomes – see Scot above) would work with her to see her established in the faith whilst they walked along side of her. She is hearing good sermons on Sunday mornings though.

It may be a start but it's not enough.

UPDATE: Jim has a good response at Scot's post (comment #9) – delivered in his usual irenic, winsome style.

UPDATE 2: Read Tim Sokell's comment/rant in my previous post, Drive-By Church – it fits rather well with this one.



A television editor, writer & director since 1978. A Christian since 1982. More than a little frustrated with the Church in the West since late in the last millennium.

10 responses to Scot McKnight Gets it Right

  1. I dont believe there is any “third way” anything until we get past the consumer/provider model of church. We can re-configure until the day of doom, but until we stop dividing the church into those that provide services and those who are there to consume them, we are just going around the same block again and again. Whether you’re there to receive the Eucharist, or there to receive a Sermon…what’s the diff?

  2. Bill, I really enjoy your posts. I’ve been passing them along. I’m wrestling through these issues myself (aren’t I always?). The way I’ve decided to manage it is to stay connected to the church I’m a part of and it’s structure, but also differentiated from it when it threatens to interfere with my spiritual formation. I seek to serve as a part of the community, but take responsibilty for the outcome of my own spiritual formation in cohort (or cahoots) with other likeminded disciples wherever they may be.

  3. Wow! what a breath of fresh air. It really is the way forward.So much of preaching is 3 points, a prescription of three magic pills that you can take home and take daily and some how life will be better. Not only is there no Spiritual formation, we are, the community is removed from the story.If it is a Kingdom story, of sin, redemption, restoration and of a new creation…how does the community see itself in the context of that story…and how does it live it out. I found it interesting in one of your recent videos with Ed Stetzer and David Fitch, and Ed talking about Missiology, an emergence ( oops loaded word ) of theology and mission. God does have a mission, and surely in our search and knowledge of God, we need to find ourselves in the story.The attraction shouldn’t shouldn’t be clever preaching…the attraction should be the mission, Jesus and His Kingdom. Do we have the faith that that might attract?

  4. Oh Bill, please don’t tell me that you’re borrowing McLaren’s “…gets it right” meme.

  5. Susan,
    My take is that that is where Scot is attempting to go with this. Perhaps I’m wrong.

    Ron Mc,
    Good to know you are dropping by and enjoying. Hopefully we can catch up in the flesh in the next year or two.

    Ron C,
    Thanks, man.

    You noticed. Heh, heh, heh, heh.

  6. You know you are singing my song! Let’s lose the sermon and get back to real interactive discipleship and spiritual formation! What could it hurt?

    One additional solution is to send your American friend your extra copy of the book so he can join in the discussion and feel special to have a book gifted by his Red Tory friend!

  7. I read Scot as saying that the sermon as central (in any form — good, bad, too long, too short, monologue or dialogue — doesn’t matter) is the problem and that it needs not to be central but rather, complementary to an overall program of spiritual formation. I might be wrong, too, but it still sounds like two groups of people: those who provide this program of spiritual formation and those who are showing up at church in order to be the beneficiaries of said program. I’m just noting that there seems to be a persistent split between those who are professional religious-commodity providers, and those who consume them.

  8. Susan,
    Perhaps you’re reading Scot correctly and I’m not. My concern is this; we have an illiterate western evangelicalism that knows nothing of the history of the church (reasons for the Creeds as but one example – and most don’t even know what the Creeds are) nor the traditions of the church. Most evangelicals have been taught particular proof texts for there peculiar evangelical brand and could not place those verses within context if they tried. For too many, it’s as if evangelicalism emerged fully formed in about 1950.

    Jesus spent three years with his disciples teaching and modelling his teaching with them almost constantly. They were immersed in him, if you will.

    We need to begin to take seriously the need for believers to understand where they come from, if you will. And that won’t happen when the primary teaching/spiritual formation happens around the sermon. Especially when too many western sermons practice eisegesis rather than exegesis.

    I see us in this all together – rather than creating a professional class of clergy and an amateur class of consumers.

  9. Just a thought. I was involved as part of leadership in a very Pentecostal church for a few years. These folks could apply scripture to any circumstance in their lives, like most households us a first aid kit. But, sadly, they had no sense of the ” Big Story.”I think when a community looses their identity in the story, they loose the reality of what their mission is. I think when we keep the community in the story, it does shape them. Like many have said before, it becomes spliced into the DNA of the community. Any ministry will reproduce this sense of mission. It has to, because it will be in everything is.

  10. Good thoughts for me to consider, Bill. I would definitely recommend everyone read the texts we use here at the Seminary for Church History. When I was a student, that class was critically formative in my journey. It is indeed a great need out there to know some history.


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