The preacher and the counsellor

Abstract Rhetoric: Schism between Preaching & Counselling 

First, interpreting the Bible so as to systematise it without hearing its relational wisdom tends to split Christian discourse into two – between the discourse of the pulpit and that of the counsellors.

Whilst there should be a distinction between the private specifics of counselling and the public language of preaching, the two should not be so different as to seem to belong to entirely different frameworks. I do not see such a sharp split in Scripture. Unfortunately, it is all too possible these days to attend church for decades and yet receive nothing from the pulpit that ‘strikes home’ with concrete relevance to the life issues being faced by the congregation.

One famous preacher-theologian, Gerhard Ebeling, speaks of ‘pious words which have no bearing on reality’. Elsewhere he writes, ‘we have to bring a certain measure of goodwill to the average sermon if we are not to be bored or furious, sarcastic or melancholy in our reactions’.

Recently, for example, I learned that a few centuries ago it was common knowledge in Baptist circles that genuine Christian experience in relation to guilt followed the following sequence, ‘conviction, compulsion, confession, fear, sorrow, faith’. If one felt guilty about something, one could ordinarily expect to go through a compulsion-confession-fear nexus. It was nothing to do with ‘illness’.

I also learned, however, that this kind of wisdom was largely lost through the influence of Western thinking such that, these days, not only do congregation members not know such things, but many pastors don’t know them either. If one has real issues to deal with, it seems – for example questions about homosexuality – one has to go to the counsellors in order to participate in an entirely different kind of discourse to that which normally characterises preaching, a discourse that may well give opposite advice.

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