Creative Preaching and Teaching

To what extent is the total effect of our methods of preaching and teaching upon the personal­ity and the life of our people a genuinely Christian effect?

Edward Heppenstall, Professor of Christian Philosophy, S.D.A. Theological Seminary

A question of prime significance for Seventh-day Adventist preachers and educators is: To what extent is the total effect of our methods of preaching and teaching upon the personal­ity and the life of our people a genuinely Christian effect? To what ex­tent are developed religious ideals and convictions that furnish the strongest sanctions for sound morals and Christian living? How far is the religion taught a vital ele­ment in human experience, a dynamic in­fluence in the motivating of conduct and the determining of character?

Are our methods of imparting truth transmissive or creative? The assumption has prevailed to a very large extent, that the work of the preacher and the Bible teacher is to transmit a religion; that there is a body of most important beliefs, a neat bundle of foolproof doctrines, a set of in­controvertible dogmas, which are to be drilled into the memory that the learner will become conformed to the content that we teach.

Creative methodology in the dissemina­tion of Christian truth cultivates as the prime essential an inner realization and transforming experience of God. The teacher's or preacher's job is to present sav­ing truth in such a manner that it enters creatively into present everyday experi­ence. The creative principle puts the in­dividual person at the center rather than the content and subject material. The teacher or minister is a personal counselor and guide in mutual friendly fellowship with the individual, inspiring the free spirit of the learner into a fuller, personal expe­rience with God. Creative preaching and creative teaching are Christian relation­ships between persons and not the exercise of arbitrary dogmatic powers over others. One cannot be reverent toward another personality and arbitrary toward it at one and the same time. To value personality is to value self-activity in all persons. If persons are of final worth, then every par­ticular instance of self-activity has within it something of unimpeachable validity.

The minister as well as the teacher is an educator, and all true higher education has its source in God.

In a knowledge of God, all true knowledge and real development have their source. . . . The mind of man is brought into communion with the mind of God, the finite with the Infinite...In this communion is found the highest education. It is God's own method of development.—Education, p. 14.

The real objective, then, is to bring about a personal encounter between God and the individual, thus establishing a vital, living fellowship between God and man.

The Rightful Place of Doctrine

This does not mean that we can exist without doctrines or that we should quit teaching them as thoroughly as hitherto. This is a time when doctrine is in disrepute. It is regarded as sectarian, divisive, con­cerned with the minutiae of Christian be­liefs. The liberal position declares that this emphasis on doctrine transformed early dy­namic Christianity into a system of creeds. Now liberal Christianity is said to be more concerned with life than with truth as a doctrine. This is one of the crucial issues today. It is said that all that really matters is conduct, and it does not make much dif­ference what a man believes.

This is not our position. We have a hier­archy of doctrines that we believe are as in­fallible as the Word itself. But doctrines are formalized aspects of living faith. The Bible was not written to give us a chapter on the Trinity, the state of the dead, the sanctuary, the Sabbath, or the second com­ing of Christ. What we teach is much more than mere doctrine; it is a confession of faith on the part of the people who ven­tured their lives on these spiritual essen­tials in the Bible. And we are to understand and to teach the faith and the experience involved in these great truths of divine-human relationships. To believe in God the Father and in Jesus as Lord and Saviour is to stake one's life on the reality for which those words stand.

We must have doctrine and teach it. For unless we do teach and know our doctrines well enough to keep the faith pure and true to its divine intention, the "faith which was once delivered unto the saints" may be perverted.

The Need for Creative Teaching

In all His teaching, Christ brought the mind of man in contact with the Infinite Mind. He did not direct the people to study men's theories about God, His word, or His works. He taught them to behold Him as manifested in His works, in His word, and by His providences.—Christ's Object Lessons, p. 23.

In this statement Mrs. White dis­tinguishes between mere transmission of theories and the divine-human encounter. It is at this point that we, as Christian ministers and teachers of religion, of the doctrines of the Adventist faith, need to examine critically our preaching and teach­ing methodology.

For ages education has had to do chiefly with the memory. This faculty has been taxed to the utmost, while the other mental powers have not been correspondingly developed. Students have spent their time in laboriously crowding the mind with knowledge, very little of which could be utilized. The mind . . . becomes incapable of vigorous, self-reliant effort, and is content to depend on the judgment and perception of others....

The education that consists in the training of the memory, tending to discourage independent thought, has a moral bearing which is too little appreciated. As the student sacrifices the power to reason and judge for himself, he becomes incapable of discriminating between truth and error, and falls an easy prey to deception. . . . The mind that depends upon the judgment of others is certain, sooner or later, to be misled.--Education, pp. 230, 231.

Every human being, created in the image of God, is endowed with a power akin to that of the Creator—individuality, power to think and to do. The

men in whom this power is developed are the men who bear responsibilities, who are leaders in enterprise, and who influence character. It is the work of true education to develop this power, to train the youth to be thinkers, and not mere reflectors of other men's thought.—Ibid, p. 17.

Thus the need for creative teaching and thinking grows out of the very needs of man. These needs are not merely those of the intellect alone. Too much of educa­tional and ministerial methodology is based on the assumption that it is intellectual ac­tivity that constitutes the basic material of education and of what is frequently called indoctrination. Mere intellectual ex­ercise is neither education nor conversion to truth. Consequently, such a view held by any teacher or preacher results in the logi­cal organization of subject matter, and the transmission of that material. The dynam­ics of learning, however, have, to do with experience, with the whole being of man, and this demands not only logical organi­zation of subject matter and the transmis­sion of that material, but spiritual orien­tation and psychological organization with the living person at the very heart of all ministerial or educational objectives and methods. The fundamental issue is per­sonal participation, purposeful and whole­hearted active experience, as well as reflec­tive thinking.

We are constantly confronted with the charge of indoctrination; and there is dan­ger, with the view of education as intellec­tual exercise, that Bible teaching may be reduced to this. There is, however, a type of indoctrination that is acceptable. The con­scious development of ideals such as democ­racy, freedom, and tolerance, the inculca­tion of habits of cleanliness, punctuality, and courtesy, cannot be considered impo­sition. Least of all can instruction in sci­ence, the transmission of facts or principles accepted in a particular field be termed imposition.

The issue of indoctrination arises only when there is a true controversy with ref­erence to the question under discussion. We have a genuine case of indoctrination when the teacher or preacher attempts to impose one view in a controversial situa­tion without permitting other views to be entertained. Indoctrination may be accom­plished when only one point of view is presented or when the contrary views are unfairly or inadequately presented; when emotional conditioning is used to the exclu­sion of rational analysis or evidence, when fear of disapproval or punitive action is aroused. Indoctrination, as far as teach­ing method is concerned, means short-cir­cuiting the reasoning processes in situations where it is important to cultivate them.

Teaching doctrines or religion may fol­low the method of presentation of facts and principles, but if supported by evi­dence and logical analysis that both stu­dent and teacher understand, then instruc­tion is no more indoctrination than if the conclusions had been arrived at by the method of free discussion. The important thing to remember is that indoctrination alone will never succeed in bringing about a personal encounter between God and man.

Preaching for Dynamic Christian Living

The type of preaching that we are seek­ing must be both a transmissive and crea­tive process. It values the absolutes and the eternal doctrines of the Word of God and seeks to thoroughly acquaint individuals with Christian truths. We must not for one moment believe that any mere intellec­tual knowledge of doctrine can take the place of creative decisions. Each man's faith must rest on his own experience; and any help he gets from the preacher or teacher must be personally reinterpreted and re­evaluated before he can make it his own.

People are of first importance, and the object is not merely to adequately cover the necessary doctrines or lessons on the Bible. Though God's eternal truth is the same in all ages and for all people, there is no justi­fication in a fixed program to which every­one must conform, irrespective of needs, capacities, and other experiences. Our teaching of the Bible must be adapted to given situations and graded to individual and group needs.

In all true teaching the personal element is es­sential. Christ in His teaching dealt with men in­dividually.—Ibid., p. 231.

What does it mean to put the individual person at the heart of preaching and teaching procedures? It means freedom for the expression of the individual's actual emotions and feelings. The student, or con­vert as the case may be, should be consid­ered as an equal in the search for, or study of, truth. He should have freedom to work out solutions to his individual problems. A sense of real personal participation should be experienced. This includes the freedom to think about God and Jesus and Christian living as one's experience reveals.

Effective teaching involves individual counseling. Mass education is not enough. The minister, the Bible instructor, and the teacher must deal personally with each in­dividual to discover what he is learning, his problem, and what help he needs. Per­sonal counseling helps men and women to find themselves, to use their resources, and to rise above their circumstances.

A primary attitude in the preacher or teacher must be that of humility and not dogmatism. There is sometimes a tendency to resort to authoritarian methods, depriv­ing the individual of free inquiry and hon­est criticism. Exhortations to love, faith, justice, kindness, and all the fruits of the Spirit lack motivating power, unless such qualities are discovered in the process of personal relationship between God and man, and between the teacher of truth and the student of truth. The Christian teacher must be an exponent of the true Christian process by which conversion and sanctifi­cation take place, and he must witness to these doctrines himself.

In creative teaching the drive toward understanding is persistently strong. It stimulates creative activity, which avoids purely surface considerations, platitudes, and mere memory work. Bible lessons should not be covered with feverish pace. Opportunity should be given for discussion and participation. Unless both teacher and student know what the purpose of the lesson is and strive toward that end, we do not succeed.

Truth has not really been learned until it becomes an automatic part of the per­sonality. Anger is not mastered when one has learned that it ought not to be, but rather when motivated by the grace or power of God the individual develops the necessary change in behavior. Biblical ma­terial is much more difficult to present when its purpose is character education than when it is mere content instruction. If we wish the student simply to know the Bible as such, we have only the laws of learning to obey. But no Bible story, event, or doctrine has effect on character until its power has become a part of the personal experience of the individual.

We must avoid preaching and teaching over and over again a few ethical and spir­itual principles—a superficial overidealism that is of little or no practical use in daily life. It is not enough to emphasize such principles as service, honesty, and the like, unless these can be given a depth of mean­ing motivating life. Mere exterior patterns, which develop a negative attitude toward the church and the faith, make a person callous to Christian doctrine and ideals, gospel hardened, and indifferent to true Christianity itself.

We should preach and teach in such a way that truth can be embraced without a self-righteous and pharisaical attitude. Too often there is the danger that the Bi­ble, its doctrines and messages, may be so taught on the level of legalism, that if the student accepts them on this level, it places him in the category of the Pharisee who thanked the Lord that he was not as other men. The answer must be found in pre­senting truth in such a way that it is hum­bly and gratefully received as a personal experience in practical daily living.

The Goal of Preaching and Teaching

Let us fight with might and main any tendency to make religion a thing apart from life and living. The great concepts of this message must become living attitudes that govern the everyday behavior and thinking of the individual, to merit the name Seventh-day Adventist. This means that we will not confuse Christianity and culture. Much education tends to become tyrannized by a cultural highbrow attitude in which the higher the brow becomes, the more humanity has come to fruition.

Time must be redeemed from things temporal, for meditation upon things eternal. He must resist an encroaching world, which would so press upon him as to separate him from the Source of strength. . . . He is to live in hourly contact and conscious com­munion with the principles of truth, righteousness, and mercy that reveal God's attributes within the soul.—The Ministry of Healing, p. 136.

We must so teach the Word of God as to integrate it into all phases of life and ex­perience. When religion is taught from a transmissive angle, or merely as another specialized interest with a self-contained subject matter, it loses, in practical life, its Christian and religious quality. Hav­ing, for example, a department of religion in our colleges, however competent, by no means in itself guarantees that religion will pervade the campus as a vital and creative influence. Indoctrination in evangelism is no guarantee of a vital Christian experi­ence. Intellectual emphasis will be effec­tually balanced with emotional needs and the personal hierarchy of values. There is a limit to which we can go in indoctrina­tion. Drill and formal instruction have their places. But to have them out of their proper sphere tends to fossilize what is meant to be personal and vital. It conceives of knowledge as the equivalent of faith. It misconceives the meaning of doctrine altogether.

We must rethink our method of teach­ing doctrines with a view of understand­ing what it means to make them relevant to life. The ultimate goal of our preaching and teaching is the full salvation of the individual through an exposure of his en­tire being, his mind, his affections, his emo­tions, and his will to the revelation of God's purpose, claim, love, and power to the end that he may be continually conformed to the image of Christ. To do so is to so in­fuse his personality with the love of Christ that his life consciously and unconsciously will manifest that true Christlike love to all his fellow men.

Therefore we must teach Bible so as to have our hearers see the major issues of faith for themselves. Christian teaching must always center in a person, Jesus Christ. It is associated with personal fel­lowship with Jesus Christ and with Chris­tian believers. It is the truth and love in­carnate in Christ that is to motivate Chris­tian teachers and their hearers. Let doc­trines be really taught but not imposed. Let us see to it that the great assumptions of our faith are impregnated with the au­thentic motifs of the things that are most surely believed and lived by all of us, that those who come under the influence of Adventist preaching and teaching may not be coerced with outward forms but rather impelled with the compulsion that is char­acteristic of living truth and love.

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Edward Heppenstall, Professor of Christian Philosophy, S.D.A. Theological Seminary

September 1958

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