Thursday, February 02, 2006


There's a semi-popular tactic of Christian preaching and devotional writing that I despise. I call it spiritualizing, that is, taking a real-word problem and drawing a spiritual analogy. Let me give you a generic example.
Brother's and sisters, today more than 40.3 million people are living with HIV/AIDS, 96 percent of them in sub-Saharan Africa. Western drug companies are refusing to allow inexpensive copies of patented drugs to be sold there, making the mortality rate much higher than in Western countries. You know...sin is like AIDS, but God offers his cure for free.
I wonder how people dying
of AIDS in Africa would respond to this homily. Perhaps they would appreciate the analogy between sin and AIDS, but it's more likely that they would wonder how such shocking information about their plight could pass through our ears without us being motivated to do anything about it. This rhetorical device may work in small doses, but in large quantities it leaves the listener wondering if Christians are able to make a practical difference in today's world.

We need less spiritualizing of problems and more motivation to do something about them. After all, the Kingdom of Heaven is not only something we proclaim will come, but also something we seek to implement in the here and now. Therefore, we should be at the forefront of proclaiming and implementing practical solutions to the pressing problems the evil brings into our world.
But if anyone has enough money to live well and sees a brother or sister in need and refuses to help--how can God's love be in that person? Dear children, let us stop just saying we love each other; let us really show it by our actions.
(1 John 3:17,18, NLT)


  1. It may come as a surprise to some, that God actually cares about this earth and real people.

    Maybe the somewhat luxururious problem of sin for the 1st world Christian is of less concern to God than the AIDS epidemic in the 3th world killing millions of his children. (Just to turn the sermon illustration up-side-down as an experiment.) Not to suggest that sin is not a problem - but to illustrate that maybe this illustration is in itself an expression of sin.

  2. This is a very valuable point you are making. We often make sickness "sin" in our preaching. And you hit on two very important concerns. #1 You trivialize the plight of the sick in your congregation when you do that. And #2 you imply that there is no concrete work to do in the here and now.

    #2 is something that we as Advnetists really need to hear. You might be interested in my lectionary blog that asks the question "How should we preach the healing texts."

  3. Maybe the somewhat luxururious problem of sin for the 1st world Christian is of less concern to God than the AIDS epidemic in the 3th world killing millions of his children.

    Interesting point, Lasse. We tend to be self-centered in our western society.

    A question to all: what would be the correct way of presenting in a sermon the situation in Africa?

  4. The standard Adventist approach is to preach it as a sign of the times (Luke 21:11) within the framework of the great controversy metanarritive. I see nothing inherently wrong with this, but this can also become an excuse for apathy.

    The standard evangelical approach is to preach the sinfulness of sex outside of marriage. Again, this is true, but can lead to a holier than thou attitude.

    The liberal approach is to encourage members to write their congressman or MP, engage in protests, or volunteer in hospices. The danger here is one of loosing a spiritual focus on the crisis altogether.

    I would agrue that a good sermon on AIDS would incorporate and ballence all three approaches

  5. I like what Pastor Hamstra pushes me to a thing about balance. In any one sermon you have to preach one idea or one point for it to be a good pointed sermon. Therefore you cannot preach the full council in one sermon....However over a year's worth of sermons the preacher should pay some attention to the importance of eliminating sex outside of marriage. Also one should spend time encouraging members to work against systemic issues that are greater than indivudalistic conserns. Also finally one MUST pay attention to our Adventist metanarrative...

    The key is balance...and this balance may not be found in one sermon, but it should be found in the long haul....

    God Bless....

  6. Indeed, my "good sermon" on AIDS is actually a better theology on AIDS. Point well taken.