Saturday, September 5, 2009

#42 Three Point Sermons

White Christian pastors know that they have to keep the sermon short and sweet, due to the one hour time limit imposed on the entire church service. After praise and worship, announcements, greeting, and the offering, the pastor has about 15 minutes, tops.

Before the actual sermon begins, the pastor will start with a joke or personal story to break the ice and then read a few Bible verses. The scripture reading is usually followed by a map of Israel on PowerPoint, to show the exact location of the tree that snagged Absalom’s hair or the cave where David was hiding while Saul relieved himself. The remaining nine minutes leaves just enough time to deliver a sermon consisting of three points.

A three point sermon sounds simple enough, but to the consternation of homiletics professors, many pastors will include multiple points within a single point. This is also very frustrating to the church’s committed note-takers. They are listening carefully for the three points so that they can jot them down on the bulletin before pitching it into the garbage on the way out.

Rick Warren rose to prominence by pioneering a new form of sermon with more than three points. Sermons like “The Seven S’s of Stewardship” and “Eight E’s of Evangelism” blew away the status quo. White Christians flocked to Saddleback Church where they could get three or even four times as many points per sermon as their previous church.

Most are satisfied with the three point sermon, with the exception of white Christian children. To better prepare themselves for the obligatory “what was the sermon about” question from their parents at the dinner table, they would probably prefer a one point sermon.

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Luther Zwingli said...

The "one point sermon" is perhaps why every Sunday School answer is simply "Jesus."

SermonFire said...

Spurgeon really pioneered the 3 point sermon, but I'm not sure how long his usual sermon was. It was always both evangelistic and biblical preaching full of strong illustrations and bible stories related to the text at hand.

I'm really enjoying your blog btw, keep it up!

a young white calvinist

Luther Zwingli said...

Thanks for the historical info, SermonFire. If Spurgeon TRULY reflected white Christian values, then we can all assume that his 3 point sermons fit neatly into the one hour worship service time allotment.

Glad you're liking the blog- keep coming back!

Al said...

It used to be '3 points and a poem'.
I guess we lost the poem due to economic cutbacks, or perhaps when the church lost the arts.

Michael Spotts: . said...

Yeah, what is this modern infatuation with three-point sermons? The Puritans didn’t practice it. The Reformers knew nothing of it. Yet some are devoted almost religiously to the method, as though it were as creedal as the Trinity. “Let our outlines be as Thou art, one in substance, distinct in three.” This is not to say, of course, that three-point sermons are bad (many are profound!) but that a hard-line policy of “strictly three points” is poor and narrow. So few points cannot do justice to all subjects and texts.

To be sure, I see the merit of three points. Pre-determined structure and flow in teaching is vastly superior to searching for points while in the pulpit. Some would make an extreme claim in the opposite direction, that the New Testament knows nothing of what we today call a sermon. They claim that the first Christian pastors simply spoke from the heart without preparation or notes, “following the wind of the Spirit wherever it blows.” To the contrary, I would argue that sermons are both implied and present in the New Testament. Chris Coleman notes, “some have argued convincingly that Hebrews is prolonged sermon,” citing Acts 3 and 17 as examples of the Apostles’ preaching styles. Both indicate education and forethought. The culture into which the Church was born had clearly established didactic methods both among Jews and Gentiles. Paul seems to follow these forms in synagogues, house churches, and schools. However, I would guess the structure of sermons was likely longer and more complex, judging from Hebrews and the epistles, and well as from the poor man who fell out of a window!

Rigid insistence on three, no-more-and-no-less, was vogue at the bible college I first attended. Our Homiletics class required us to prepare sermons which would be evaluated according to certain methods. I understand the importance of fitting into time constraints, but the idea of being docked for including a fourth point seemed silly at best. It reflected bureaucratic moors, if not wholesale faith in corporate advertising methodology.

Of course, I would not discourage people from arranging their sermons into three points if that suited the subject well enough. However, we would not have many of our most beloved expositions, say from Manton, Chrysostom, or Calvin, if that rule was as strictly followed as some insist today. And can we forget TULIP, the flower of the Protestant Reformation? It would be a more barren bud had not some dared to add more points than usual!

The point—and I only have one here—is that adherence to a particular homiletical form cannot make up for substance and clarity throughout, nor does any one method fit all subjects. While this may seem like a no-brainer to some of you seasoned men, I’ve known my share of young teachers who were bonded to a strict method. I conclude that sermon quality, like knives and saws, depends most upon the sharpness of each point, and their number should be suited to the task.

— Michael Spotts:.