Infantilism Evangelism

Immaturity-260x296The following is an excerpt from Dr Robert Knowles’ newly released book ‘Relating Faith – Modelling Biblical Christianity in Church and World’.

Much of what the Church does for evangelism isn’t.  It thinks it is because it is locked in to a way of doing that ignores content and context.  In other words, relational wisdom is sidelined for a program.  Here’s what Rob Knowles says on the matter, and it is just one point within a much larger framework:

“The church confuses evangelism with infantilisation.  It is assumed that ministers and elders are mature and can take profound biblical content, that seasoned churchgoers are almost as mature and can take moderate biblical content, but that most Christians can only take ‘the basics’, and that non-Christians – well – Thomas the Tank Engine is too advanced for them.  What a load of old patronizing and offensive drivel.

It is shameful that I and many others even have to point out that many non-believers have degrees, read text-books, do professional jobs that involve technical language, are familiar with current affairs, and are – quite frankly – very, very often much further on in their thinking that the Christian sloganeers are (by ‘sloganeers, Dr Knowles means the oppressive pseudo-evangelistic sloganeering activism that is devoid of interesting/rich/knowledgable content).

But the sad fact is, these days, many of us do have to point this out to the church.  Worse – when I and many others do point it out, what we say is often rejected as being irrelevant thinking ‘by intellectuals’ who ‘only have academic knowledge’.

[Earlier on in the chapter], we linked infantilisation to the standard strategies of those in power who wish to keep people immature so that their power bases and systems of privilege are not challenged.  Such abusers need to mislabel people who think as ‘mere academics’ so that they can falsely cast aside the genuine criticisms that thinkers bring to the table.  Moreover, such patronisation even assumes that academics or thinkers actually have ‘less real-life experience’ from which to contribute, which is also false and an abuse of power.

Furthermore, it is a genuine breach of etiquette, register and of politeness generally when evangelistic mission deploys speakers who sound like nursery-school teachers.  Frankly, this is insulting to those unfortunate enough to be listening.  Every day, people hear what some sloganeering believers think of as ‘the dreaded long words’ on television.  And yet, I have been rebuked in some church contexts for using vocabulary that would be commonplace on Blue Peter.pedobear-meme-generator-goo-goo-gah-gah-you-say-good-enough-for-me-070774

Only anti-intellectuals and power-hungry infantilisers resist vocabulary, however, for an extension of vocabulary often brings an extension of wisdom and an exposure of sin.  Indeed, it’s funny how anti-intellectuals and power hungry infantilisers are happy to learn a compound word like ‘video-recorder’, which has six syllables; but if one dares to articulate a three-syllable word such as ‘redemption’, then suddenly it’s ‘a long academic word’.  Oh, grow up!

[So what we are saying] for encouraging mission and evangelism, then, is to take the infantilisation out of evangelism and put some cognitive content and some vocabulary back into it.  I’m not saying that we should read out a paper on post-structuralism – I’m just advocating that we say something interesting that doesn’t insult people’s intelligence.

It is often the church that has become infantilised, not the world.”

Relating Faith, p.167-8


Mugged by the Preacher

mugged2After reading a very interesting post about preaching and the use of powerpoint, I made the comment that when preaching relies heavily on various educational/learning theories, something is lost:  it’s like being mugged!

And I suspect we’ve all sat through sermons where we’ve thought we’re being spun a yarn here, a high profile visual there, a cheap anecdote that tries to cover a complicated theological issue somewhere else!  It becomes instinctive to want good preaching.  Why have a hamburger when the Gospel offers steak?

Anyway, whilst walking the dogs this morning, I made mental notes of what sort of things I mean by being mugged by the preacher.  Here’s a few in no particular order, and I’d be delighted if you wanted to add any more…

1.  Emotionalism as a substitute for a poor vocabulary.

2.  Anecdote after anecdote after anecdote after anecdote……

3.  Gospel reductionism.

4.  Moralistic self-improvement try-harder blah blah blah.

5.  Power Point slides for EVERYTHING the preacher says, including all the “Umm’s”.

6.  Pretexts and proof-texts that ignore the context.

7.  Generic appeals from a generic point made by a generic preacher requesting generic behaviour modifications.

8.  Ever thought, “Tell me something I don’t know already!”?  (with thanks to TBWNN for that line.  NB. I would have used their official web site for the link but all it seemed to be was a picture of a horse coming out of a photograph – I didn’t know that already)!

9.  When a poor understanding of the text is painfully exposed in preaching reveals the result of poor reading in and around the subject.

10.  Cliche and sentimental preaching.  A teary eyed preacher running out of ideas, but with high emotion pulls out an X-Factor style story to woo the congregation.

11.  When the preacher leaves me knowing what he’s against, not what i. he is for and ii.  what the Gospel actually is.

12.  When the preacher thinks the Holy Spirit will do his/her homework for him.

13.  The assumption that when preaching, everything has to be dumbed down to the lowest common denominator.  Thus ensuring another generation is infantalised.

14.  When the Gospel is reduced to “the gospels” and so becomes glorified Sunday School stories.

I have found this exercise both a little fun and quite upsetting.  How we cheapen the Gospel of Jesus Christ!  But, even though I am sure I am guilty of all of these points at some point in my preaching journey, it just goes to show that His grace and mercy are enough to see the silliest of preachers through the darkest of moments, and for that I am a grateful preacher, standing in grace, proclaiming in power.

I would like to recommend a few books and web links (in no particular order) to point budding and growing preachers in the right direction.  They are…

The Glory of Preaching by Darrell W. Johnson

Expository Preaching by Haddon W. Robinson

Preacher, Keep yourself from idols by Derek Tidball

The primacy of Expository Preaching by D. A. Carson

Biblical Preaching an excellent internet resource by Peter Mead at Cor Deo

Positive Preaching and the Modern Mind by P. T. Forsyth (pdf)

Preacher, don’t mug your congregation.  Christian, don’t be fooled by cheap preaching.

Website Powered by

Up ↑