There is a style of preaching that I think is inherently dangerous and needs to stop. I’m talking about the kind of preaching that jumps from topic to topic, making fun and calling names. I’m talking about the kind of preaching that aims to be boldly controversial in a place where controversial isn’t controversial at all. I’m talking about the fast talking, birdshot-shooting, ranting rip-face kind of preaching. I call it bully preaching.
Before I go further, let me say in the interest of full disclosure, that I know this style of preaching was sometimes used by the heroes of fundamentalism past. I know it was a mainstay, for instance, in the preaching of Billy Sunday and Jack Hyles. I know there are evangelists who use this style as their bread and butter.
Nevertheless, I still think it’s dangerous: It’s constant fodder for scorners, a stumbling block to the faithful, an ear tickling for the self-righteous and some cotton candy thrown out to the malnourished sheep.
As a pastor, if I know someone is prone to bully preaching – I’ll do everything I can to make sure they never stand behind the pulpit of Bible Baptist. When special speakers are invited, I try to make it plain in advance that this style of preaching will be neither appreciated nor tolerated. On top of the reasons above, let me give you four reasons why:
1. Bully preaching is primarily entertainment preaching.
The bully preacher may say “We need to warn the people.” But two things need to be kept in mind: First, there probably aren’t any homosexuals, abortionists, cross-dressers, theological liberals, etc. in the Sunday evening service at the local independent Baptist church. Second, even if they were a thirty second insulting soundbite isn’t going to get them to change their ways.
No matter what anyone says, the main purpose for bully preaching is to entertain a crowd. It’s the preaching equivalent of the popular brat in the fifth grade lunch room doling out yo-mama jokes and making fun of the teacher’s receding hairline. It’s picking yourself up by putting others down.
For a Christian saved by grace, that’s the equivalent of a miraculously cured cancer patient going to the cancer ward at the local hospital to make fun of the bald heads and thin people. It’s totally unacceptable.
2. Bully preaching is rarely truthful preaching.
Don’t misunderstand this point. I’m not saying that the soundbites thrown out aren’t “truthy”, they have an element of truth, but they most often not completely truthful. How can I say this? I can say it because bullying relies on two things that are not coherent with complete truthfulness: exaggeration and generalization. If you remove those two elements from bully preaching, it stops being bully preaching.
3. Bully preaching is almost never loving preaching.
One of the many things 1 Corinthians 13 teaches us about love is that charity “rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth.” One of the things I think the scripture means by that is that a person who has true Christian love is a person that refuses to get any kind of satisfaction out of the wrongdoing of others.
What is bully preaching if not gaining some type of satisfaction out of the wrongdoing of others? Even if this is not the case, it is certainly not what Paul meant when he said we should be “speaking the truth in love.”
4. Bully preaching is always diversionary preaching.
My biggest problem with bully preaching isn’t anything listed above – it’s that the bully preacher isn’t doing what he should be doing: preaching and explaining the Word of God.
Here’s a quick homework assignment: look through the New Testament and catalogue what percentage of the teaching and preaching there could ever pass as bully preaching.
I can think of two passages: Jesus’ famous denunciation of the Pharisees and Paul’s admonition about the Cretans in Titus. I don’t think these passages are normative and I don’t think they are adequate excuses for bully preachers. First, because they both Jesus and Paul were under inspiration we cannot claim and were therefore perfectly truthful. Second, because they make up such a small percentage of the recorded teaching and preaching of scripture. Third, because both of those instances were focused on a singular issue or group and balanced out by commands for Bible based teaching.
People don’t need a running commentary on what’s wrong with the world, modern Christianity, the democratic party, and blue dress shirts – they need the scripture – read, explained and applied. It’s bad enough when a traveling evangelist does this, but when a pastor does this week by week, it’s a tragic setup for malnourishment.
I think we should treat bully preachers the same way we treat bully fifth graders in the high school lunch room – remove their audience and let their fire die out from lack of air. Let them go back to their corner and deal with their own insecurity. Eventually they’ll learn, like all bullies should, that bullying gets you nowhere worth going.