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Suggestion from the Balcony

By Chet Harris

Dr Chet Harris

When I was serving full time as a parish minister I was always thinking about the next sermon or sermon series. I kept a journal of sermon ideas gleaned from daily devotions, blogs of colleagues, sermons from historical Wesleyan preachers, and of course the prompting of the Holy Spirit. Illustrations were gathered from life experience, reading, and media. I seriously attempted to stay away from the canned sermons sold online, although I occasionally previewed a selected service for inspiration, but never bought a sermon to preach as my own. I admit using illustrations from preachers like Chuck Swindoll and Ravi Zacharias. Not surprisingly many sermons were birthed from listening to academic teachers.

They invest countless hours studying the Bible in the original languages and read far more widely than I had the time as a busy parish minister. John Stott, N. T. Wright, Ravi Zacharias, John Oswalt, Allan Coppedge, Kenneth Collins, Billy Abraham, Thomas Oden, Bill Arnold, David Watson, and a host of others contributed to the process of churning out sermons and Bible Studies.

Recently, Dr. Dan Hawk of Ashland Seminary came into my sermon radar. He is a formative thinker and one willing to address timely topics with a sharp academic mind as well as a deep personal conviction to the cause of Christ in our sin saturated society. I want to share a brief reflection or insight Dan made and posted on Facebook. His thoughtful words sparked my desire to dig deeper, consider the truth of scriptural contextually, and form my personal view.

Agreement is not the goal, rather allowing his words to begin to chisel an inspired sermon that speaks to the heart and soul of the people I serve is my goal. His brief account is sterling and yes painfully concise as I truly desire him to elaborate. The following is shared with his permission.

“The Bible employs the language of emotion – joy, compassion, sorrow, jealousy, anger, and above all, love – to speak of God’s disposition toward human beings and of how human beings relate to God and to each other. For the sake of maintaining a religion defined by principles, however, modern Christianity has effectively sucked the emotive content out of emotive language and redefined its terms as expressions of the intellect. Love becomes “an act of the will” to choose another’s good. Joy is a state of mind produced by faith. Anger signifies a determination to confront evil.

The result is an intellectualized Christianity fixated on right ideas and principles but devoid of the emotional openness that binds human beings to each other. Intellectualized Christianity allows the believer to maintain a moral stance while standing aloof from others. It removes the need to empathize: to enter the experience of others, to be gripped by that experience, and to be changed by it. It allows the Christian to feel close to God while maintaining a safe emotional distance from neighborly others.

The biblical God speaks in the language of emotion, not because God *has* emotions like human beings do, but because only the language of emotion can convey the intensity of God’s commitment to God’s creatures. Emotion affects the totality of one’s being to an extent that the intellect does not. One can be persuaded by an intellectual appeal but won’t necessarily act on it. Intellectual assent only goes so far. If, however, something connects on an emotional level – if our “heart is in it” – that emotional energy moves us to do something that flows out of our very being.

Jesus distilled the message of the Bible into two equivalent commandments: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. And love your neighbor as yourself. We all know what love is. We know what it feels like. We recognize when we’ve experienced it. One can only wonder what American Christianity would look like if we Christians actually took Jesus’s words to heart.”

It is my hope the reader is wrestling with the words shared by Dan and as the Holy Spirit guides us to relate these words to one’s life and just maybe a sermon or two. To the laity reading this post I commend serious consideration of Dan’s words and a challenge to read and study. You ae the present and future of the Methodist movement of Scriptural holiness.

All for the Kingdom.

Dr. Chet Harris, East Ohio WCA Director


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