He was, I knew, quite an experienced, and well-known, Christian speaker. He had a reputation for clarity, and I was looking forward to hearing him.
And with three words, he lost me.
‘My first point…’
When did we start making ‘points’? And when did we start telling people that that was what we were doing?
Those are separate issues, by the way, and they contain the clue to what’s gone wrong. One is a list of observations on a pad in your study – the other is what you’ve actually decided to say. The journey between those two moments ought to be a long one, but when we’re short of time we just microwave our first observations. You know what I mean. We’ve all done it.
But there’s a problem. Because it feels to me as though what we’re doing, by default, is reducing every biblical form into one shape, and a rather boring one at that.
Points can’t tell a story. They can’t capture our imagination and take us to the campfire, the palace, the exile by the Euphrates. They can’t distinguish Cain and Abel. They can’t capture Jacob’s tension as he returns to his brother.
Points can’t capture a poem, its delight, its danger, its power.
Points can’t even make an argument.
You see, even when the passage in question is tightly woven, and logically an argument, it is still making a case, answering, countering, proving, deducing, and moving towards a conclusion.
Points don’t do that. Like a report in a board meeting, they are observations, discrete. Points present information flatly, for information.
Now you’ll say, but I wasn’t doing that! I was proving, deducing, arguing. I’m a regular Poirot in the pulpit.
In which case, make that clear to yourself, and to your hearers, that that’s what you’re doing. Make us hear the argument, join it, hear our objections overturned, and our idols brought into the dock. Work to engage us.
Let me give you an example. Billy Graham’s best known phrase is probably, ‘The Bible says…’ And there’s a little squad in second position: ‘I want you to get out of your seats…’ ‘Don’t worry, the buses will wait…’ But right up there is, ‘But, Billy…’
He voiced our objections, anticipated them and answered them. It was an argumentative dance, in which he held us and won us over.
He didn’t just make a series of points.
So what could replace ‘points’? Well, I could suggest using the language of ‘plot’. Allow yourself to look at your material and ask about variations of pace and intensity, light and shade, engagement and exposition. When can you assume our interest, and when will you have to work for it? Where’s the drama? What’s at stake?
Try it, and let me know how it goes.