How come a dazzling gospel produces such predictable preaching?

Artists and musicians produce dazzling and original works from a limited source. We have a dazzling gospel – so how come it produces such predictable preaching?


Monet only had three colours –  the same as any artist.  Yet from them he produced brush-3050134_1920shimmering, gorgeous paintings, beautifully observed, and dancing on the eye, no two alike, even though he deliberately painted some of them from the same viewpoint, at different times of day.

And not one looks like a Leonardo da Vinci.

Who used those same colours to produce subtle, groundbreaking paintings – none of which look like Turner.  Whose paintings don’t look like Picasso’s, or Vermeer’s, or Jasper John’s.

Mozart had only twelve notes – the same as any composer. Yet from them he produced piano-1835179_1280shimmering, gorgeous music, beautifully observed, and dancing on the ear, and none of them sounds like Strauss. Or Puccini. Or Ed Sheeran.

We have a dazzling, shimmering gospel, encased in a gorgeous library of books – poems, stories, logic, proverbs, law, love story and prophecy. We can speak of Christ as prophet, priest and king. We can talk of bring born again, justified, sanctified, adopted, dying with Christ, being raised with Christ, seated with Christ, filled with the Spirit.

So why does our preaching keep sounding the same?

One preacher sticks in my mind, because of the way he used to pronounce the word ‘gospel’. Gos-pel.  Wherever it appeared in a sentence, it always had the same, slightly odd, emphasis to it. Gos-pel.

And he sticks in my mind, because what he did with the word, was what he did with the gospel itself. Whatever the text, whatever the genre, he always came back to explaining the gospel in exactly the same way.  It’s as though Mozart only knew one tune, or Monet only knew how to paint one haystack.

He’s not unusual.  People who’ve been brought up one grouping can only present the gospel in terms of rebelling against a king.  A second group only speaks of idolatry.

What’s your default?  Passing a book from hand to hand? A judge letting a prisoner go free, by paying his debt?

So, give yourself a challenge.  Try explaining the gospel as if the person listening had already heard your best stories and illustrations.

I’m not saying we need another gospel – don’t mis-hear.

But sometimes we need to pronounce it differently.

Pile in!

Footnote – yes I know there are more colours than that (black and white both come in tubes, and you’d have a hard time mixing the rest consistently from primaries).  And – yes, there are half-tones, and quarter-tones.  And sometimes Mozart, Beethoven and Haydn sound very similar, and you can’t tell a Picasso from a Braque.  I know that.  Just allow me a rant.

5 comments on “How come a dazzling gospel produces such predictable preaching?”

  1. Chris – this is so true.

    In my years at Cornhill Scotland I used to do a session called “Why are we so boring?”

    Among other things I argued that too often proclaiming Christ was collapsed into explaining the passage.

    We are often so afraid of emotion that we talk true things robbed of power and bite.

  2. Amen amen amen!!!

    But actually I disagree with your footnote – they only seem the same to the untrained eye/ear! And Bob’s comment is right too.

    But it’s not just emotion we (some) are scared of; it’s creativity and imagination.

    I think every preacher needs to go through a boring phase – while they’re learning the trade. It’s only when they’ve mastered the basics (and begin to be mastered by The Book) that they can break the ‘rules’. The problem is people are not *encouraged* to go beyond them.

  3. I thought Picasso and Braque went through a close phase where they were determined on principle that no-one would be able to tell them apart! But I digress. Yes on creativity and imagination. The trouble is that training preachers is a bit like getting them to learn the piano – it’s all scales and practice and Moonlight Sonata for ever. You long for them to be able to play some blues or jazz, but there’s a long road to take before that can happen. They have to learn the piano before they can play it. What happens, though, when their senior hero is tone deaf, and can’t tell a putz from a Brendel playing the Moonlight?

    1. I didn’t know that about Picasso and Braque – but that actually reinforces the point all the more! They did this deliberately.

      As a pianist married to a vile-din teacher, I completely get the point – it’s agony!! At least most novice public speaking doesn’t screech…

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