When I tell people that I got a C in my seminary preaching class, some simply don’t believe it. Others say that there must have been something wrong with the preaching professor. I appreciate their comments, because they show that they like me and my sermons.
While I’ve said on various occasions that I got a C in preaching, I’ve never explained why I got that grade.
The professor who taught preaching at Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary was more interested in the techniques that made a “good” sermon than the Bible passages they were based on. As a result, the sermons he preferred had little to do with the Scripture texts. In contrast, I believed then as I do now that the primary role of a preacher is to convey the intentions of the original Biblical authors as best as possible.
Up until the final, I had a good grade in the class. But then came the last exam, which presented a few verses from II Kings and asked the students to construct a sermon based on them. The verses were simple records of a historical event. I was faced with a dilemma: if I tried to simply convey the Biblical writer’s intention, the sermon would be dry, and could be seen as superficial, just repeating what was stated. But that was what I believed preaching should do. Should I be strong in sticking to my convictions about preaching or make the kind of sermon my professor favored to receive a good grade? After struggling with it for a bit, I chose the former. As a result, I got a C in the class.
A while back, a seminary professor criticized my sermons in a prestigious Christian journal as being full of life applications but lacking in Biblical content. In general, I don’t mind when my sermons are criticized, but it bothers me and I feel it’s unfair when they are said to lack Biblical content. I value faithfulness to the Biblical text so much, I was willing to sacrifice my seminary grades!
Although I felt I was misunderstood, I decided that there was some merit to what he was saying. So I’ve slightly adjusted my sermons. Before, during my sermons I only gave applications based on the passages of the day, because the passages should already have been studied during the most recent house church meetings. Now, I also deal with the text during my sermons. I had a sermon series on the Psalms a few years ago and am doing another one now – some people may see the difference.
Ultimately, I believe that whether a sermon is good or bad depends on the fruit it produces. If it doesn’t produce changes in the listeners’ lives, it’s a bad sermon, no matter how polished or eloquent it is. If it does bring life changes, it’s a good sermon, no matter how technically incorrect or crude it is.
People have told me that their lives have changed as a result of my sermons. That’s what matters most, and I am not ashamed to say that I got a C in my preaching class.
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