Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Contemporary Preaching's Infatuation with Technology

Yesterday I received from a friend a copy of Al Mohler's new book on preaching - He Is Not Silent. If you are a preacher then do yourself and your congregation a favor and read this book. I have been devouring it. In the opening chapter Mohler makes a point about a current trend in preaching that for many is simply a fresh and effective way to communicate with contemporary audiences. The issue is the use of video and various other images in the preaching event.

Mohler writes:

Contemporary preaching suffers from an infatuation with technology.

The French philosospher Jacques Ellul was truly prophetic when he pointed to the rise of technology and technique as one of the greatest challenges to Christian faithfulness in our times. We live in a day of technological hubris and the ubiquity of technological assistance. We are engaged in few tasks, physical or mental, that are now unassisted by some form of technology. For most of us, the use of these technologies comes with little attentiveness to how the technology reshapes the task and the experience. The same is true for preachers who have rushed to incorporate visual technology and media in the preaching event.

The effort is no doubt well intended, driven by a missiological concern to reach persons whose primary form of 'mental transport' has become visual. Thus, preachers use clips from films, dynamic graphics, and other eye-catching technologies to gain and hold the congregation's attention. But the danger of this approach is seen in the fact that the visual quickly overcomes the verbal. Beyond this, the visual is often directed toward a very narrow slice of human experience, particularly focused on the affective and emotional aspects of our perception. Movies move us by the skillful manipulation of emotion, driven by sound track and manipulated by skillful directing techniques.

This is exactly where the preacher must not go. The power of the Word of God, spoken through the human voice, is seen in the Bible's unique power to penetrate all dimensions of the human personality. As God made clear, even the Ten Commandments, He has chosen to be heard and not seen. The use of visual technologies threatens to confuse this basic fact of biblical faith.

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