Matthew R. Perry

Archive for May, 2006|Monthly archive page

Prayer in the Life and Ministry of the Pastor

In Devotional, For Preachers/Pastors, For Seminary Students, Leadership on May 31, 2006 at 10:29 pm

By Mark Dever of 9 Marks Ministries

Prayer is a matter that most of us readily endorse but, in reality, think of too little. I’m not talking about prayer in general, but prayer in the life and ministry of the pastor.

In the only letter we have from Jesus’ brother Jude, we find a passionate warning against false teachers who were invading and beguiling the church. Jude writes scathingly of them. After he describes and dismisses them, he turns in verse 20 to contrast the true Christians, and true leaders of the church, with these unspiritual men.

Click here to read the rest of the article.

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“The 12 Essential Skills for Great Preaching” by Wayne McDill

In Book Review, For Preachers/Pastors, For Seminary Students on May 31, 2006 at 2:39 pm

12skills.jpgMcDill, Wayne. The 12 Essential Skills for Great Preaching. Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman, 1994. 290 pp.

Introduction

With a desire to provide a “skills development approach” for training in the art and science of preaching, Dr. Wayne McDill pens a volume that aims to “identify and strengthen the specific skills needed for more effective sermon preparation” (ix). McDill serves as professor of preaching at the Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina. He has over forty years of experience as a pastor, denominational leader, and a teacher of homiletics and is the author of numerous books, including Evangelism in a Tangled World, Becoming Who You Are, Making Friends for Christ, and The Message.

McDill contends that there are twelve essential skills to help preachers provide more and better content in their sermons. While he observes that God calls and His preachers, we have the responsibility to develop these specific skills through “discipline, hard work, and a commitment to clear thinking and Bible-based sermons” (15). He notes that:

This book is designed with a self-improvement format, a do-it-yourself approach which will let you concentrate on your own skills, at your own pace, and in the areas you see need to be strengthened (7).

Summary

McDill presents the first skill for great preaching in that the preacher must “get the text in view” by way of observation (17). With this skill, he desires to “recogniz[e] and not[e] details in the wording of the text and their significance for its meaning” through the means of structural diagramming via inductive Bible study (43). The second skill is “seeing what is there [through] recognizing and noting details in the wording of the text and their significance in the meaning (42).

The next skill is in “asking the right questions … for the best research to interpret the writer’s meaning” — also known as hermeneutics (59, 61). The challenge here lies in trying to know what someone’s intentions are when they are so far removed by historical, literary, and theological distance (63-64). One these questions are answered, the preacher moves to the next step which is “naming the textual idea” (80). Here, the preacher discovers “the writer’s idea in the text and designat[es] it with precise terminology” (83). Once accomplished, the next step is to touch human needs by “tracing from theological concepts in the text to corresponding needs in contemporary hearers” (102).

After this step is executed in the interpretation stages, the time comes to bridge from text to sermon (121) followed by the writing of the sermon divisions which “clearly state the teachings of the text on its subject” (139). Next is the step of planning the sermon design which determines “the arrangement of sermon materials for the most effective communication” (159) followed by the development of sermon ideas which will aid in the “understanding, acceptance, and response of the hearer” (182). The next step in this area of understanding and acceptance is in “exploring natural analogies … for illustrating sermon ideas” for, as McDill notes, “a concept does not impact our thinking unless we can see it” (203). Along this line of thinking, the next skill deals with “drawing pictures, telling stories” in an imaginative and creative way to bring biblical and contemporary stories to life in the mind of the listener (223).

Finally, the culminates all the steps thus far into this final step which aims to “[conform] every aspect of sermon design to the aim of a faith response in the hearer” (244) for it is the “only appropriate response to God and His Word” (258).

Critical Evaluation

As stated earlier, McDill’s purpose in writing this book consists of “identify[ing] and strengthen[ing] the specific skills needed for more effective sermon preparation” (ix). By focusing on the content of the sermon, he succeeds for the most part in making a user-friendly volume that deserves a place on every pastor’s bookshelf.

What immediately strikes the reader’s cursory glance of this work is the layout. McDill deserves praise for achieving his goal of presenting a “self-improvement format [and] a do-it-yourself approach” (7). Each chapter contains a sentence that clearly and succinctly tells the “skill [McDill hopes] to develop with this exercise” (83). Each chapter also contains easily identifiable headings and subheadings, a box or boxes containing key definitions, guidelines for each exercise, a chapter summary, study questions, and examples of how to implement each exercise. He helps the preacher in his studies who is pressed for time. McDill’s layout allows the preacher a quick reference guide as needed.

Another appealing aspect of this work is its practical nature. This is not a theoretical book on homiletical philosophy but a basic ‘how-to’ manual for preachers to work their own pace (11). He notes that “just because you think you understand something doesn’t mean you can do it. Practice is the only way to master a skill, even in sermon preparation” (4). McDill takes the preacher step-by-step through each of the skills he presents. As mentioned just previously, each chapter contains a segment guiding the reader through an exercise for each skill (32, 52, 73, 90, 114, 131, 146, 171, 193, 215, 235, 257). In these segments, the author certainly practices what he preaches in that not only does he tell the reader what each skill entails, he also helps the reader apply it step-by-step from the ground up . This portion is so helpful for the young preacher finding himself overwhelmed with the thought of sermon preparation. McDill figuratively takes the young preacher by the hand and guides him carefully through each process.

A highly commended chapter ib this work is Chapter Ten, “Exploring Natural Analogies” (201). A ‘natural analogy’ takes a “relationship, circumstance, event, or other factor” in the natural realm and parallels it with a theological concept (207). McDill notes that an “incarnational (in human form) principle must guide us today as se seek, through preaching, to be channels of God’s ongoing revelation” (203-204). He rightly notes that we must “look for analogies that will help your hearer understand the idea” (211) and are grounded in our respective “arenas of life” (216). This skill is vital in connecting with our contemporary audiences and is the same style of preaching that Jesus often used with the common people with His use of parables, which took a common situation, event, or person’s position and used it to instill a heavenly truth.

Two weaknesses are found in this work. The most noticeable is the title. This reviewer finds the title a bit presumptuous, as if acquiring and applying these twelve skills will automatically make one’s preaching ‘great.’ For McDill, great content equals great preaching and clearly his focus is on fleshing out the content of the Scriptures in “the skills necessary to sermon preparation” (10). The title implies this would be a more comprehensive approach to sermon preparation and delivery in the whole realm of preaching. Instead, he minimizes the effect of delivery in favor of content alone.

The delivery style is not the critical factor in what we recognize as great preaching. Great delivery without effective content is often only “sound and fury, signifying nothing.” On the other hand, striking content is of real interest to the hearer, even if the delivery is weak. (10).

Yet again, the title of the book implies preaching and delivery is part of the preaching process. Plus, the Scriptural accounts of the preachers and prophets indicate that the content and the way they communicated that content was part of the message. The Apostle Paul notes that:

My speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit of power, that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God (1 Corinthians 2:4-5, ESV).

The point here that Paul makes is that content alone does not a message make, but it is how the message crafts the speaker’s heart and thus persuades passionately through the Spirit. McDill seems to miss this point completely. A better title would be “The 12 Essential Skills for Great Sermon Preparation.”

Conclusion

After reading this work in its entirety, I would highly recommend this work to someone looking for a manual on sermon preparation. Even though the title is misleading, once the preacher enters into the contents of the book and sees the helpful way McDill fleshes out these various skills, he will be thankful for having such a wonderful volume in his hands.

I would recommend using this volume as a tune-up to specific areas of your preaching preparation that need work rather than trying to work from the beginning to the end of this book, for that would take a large amount of time. Absorbing this book little-by-little, however, will certainly transform your sermon preparation and your congregation will thank you all the more for this transformation.

 

 

“The 12 Essential Skills for Great Preaching” by Wayne McDill

In Book Review, For Preachers/Pastors, For Seminary Students on May 31, 2006 at 2:39 pm

12skills.jpgMcDill, Wayne. The 12 Essential Skills for Great Preaching. Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman, 1994. 290 pp.

Introduction

With a desire to provide a “skills development approach” for training in the art and science of preaching, Dr. Wayne McDill pens a volume that aims to “identify and strengthen the specific skills needed for more effective sermon preparation” (ix). McDill serves as professor of preaching at the Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina. He has over forty years of experience as a pastor, denominational leader, and a teacher of homiletics and is the author of numerous books, including Evangelism in a Tangled World, Becoming Who You Are, Making Friends for Christ, and The Message.

McDill contends that there are twelve essential skills to help preachers provide more and better content in their sermons. While he observes that God calls and His preachers, we have the responsibility to develop these specific skills through “discipline, hard work, and a commitment to clear thinking and Bible-based sermons” (15). He notes that:

This book is designed with a self-improvement format, a do-it-yourself approach which will let you concentrate on your own skills, at your own pace, and in the areas you see need to be strengthened (7).

Summary

McDill presents the first skill for great preaching in that the preacher must “get the text in view” by way of observation (17). With this skill, he desires to “recogniz[e] and not[e] details in the wording of the text and their significance for its meaning” through the means of structural diagramming via inductive Bible study (43). The second skill is “seeing what is there [through] recognizing and noting details in the wording of the text and their significance in the meaning (42).

The next skill is in “asking the right questions … for the best research to interpret the writer’s meaning” — also known as hermeneutics (59, 61). The challenge here lies in trying to know what someone’s intentions are when they are so far removed by historical, literary, and theological distance (63-64). One these questions are answered, the preacher moves to the next step which is “naming the textual idea” (80). Here, the preacher discovers “the writer’s idea in the text and designat[es] it with precise terminology” (83). Once accomplished, the next step is to touch human needs by “tracing from theological concepts in the text to corresponding needs in contemporary hearers” (102).

After this step is executed in the interpretation stages, the time comes to bridge from text to sermon (121) followed by the writing of the sermon divisions which “clearly state the teachings of the text on its subject” (139). Next is the step of planning the sermon design which determines “the arrangement of sermon materials for the most effective communication” (159) followed by the development of sermon ideas which will aid in the “understanding, acceptance, and response of the hearer” (182). The next step in this area of understanding and acceptance is in “exploring natural analogies … for illustrating sermon ideas” for, as McDill notes, “a concept does not impact our thinking unless we can see it” (203). Along this line of thinking, the next skill deals with “drawing pictures, telling stories” in an imaginative and creative way to bring biblical and contemporary stories to life in the mind of the listener (223).

Finally, the culminates all the steps thus far into this final step which aims to “[conform] every aspect of sermon design to the aim of a faith response in the hearer” (244) for it is the “only appropriate response to God and His Word” (258).

Critical Evaluation

As stated earlier, McDill’s purpose in writing this book consists of “identify[ing] and strengthen[ing] the specific skills needed for more effective sermon preparation” (ix). By focusing on the content of the sermon, he succeeds for the most part in making a user-friendly volume that deserves a place on every pastor’s bookshelf.

What immediately strikes the reader’s cursory glance of this work is the layout. McDill deserves praise for achieving his goal of presenting a “self-improvement format [and] a do-it-yourself approach” (7). Each chapter contains a sentence that clearly and succinctly tells the “skill [McDill hopes] to develop with this exercise” (83). Each chapter also contains easily identifiable headings and subheadings, a box or boxes containing key definitions, guidelines for each exercise, a chapter summary, study questions, and examples of how to implement each exercise. He helps the preacher in his studies who is pressed for time. McDill’s layout allows the preacher a quick reference guide as needed.

Another appealing aspect of this work is its practical nature. This is not a theoretical book on homiletical philosophy but a basic ‘how-to’ manual for preachers to work their own pace (11). He notes that “just because you think you understand something doesn’t mean you can do it. Practice is the only way to master a skill, even in sermon preparation” (4). McDill takes the preacher step-by-step through each of the skills he presents. As mentioned just previously, each chapter contains a segment guiding the reader through an exercise for each skill (32, 52, 73, 90, 114, 131, 146, 171, 193, 215, 235, 257). In these segments, the author certainly practices what he preaches in that not only does he tell the reader what each skill entails, he also helps the reader apply it step-by-step from the ground up . This portion is so helpful for the young preacher finding himself overwhelmed with the thought of sermon preparation. McDill figuratively takes the young preacher by the hand and guides him carefully through each process.

A highly commended chapter ib this work is Chapter Ten, “Exploring Natural Analogies” (201). A ‘natural analogy’ takes a “relationship, circumstance, event, or other factor” in the natural realm and parallels it with a theological concept (207). McDill notes that an “incarnational (in human form) principle must guide us today as se seek, through preaching, to be channels of God’s ongoing revelation” (203-204). He rightly notes that we must “look for analogies that will help your hearer understand the idea” (211) and are grounded in our respective “arenas of life” (216). This skill is vital in connecting with our contemporary audiences and is the same style of preaching that Jesus often used with the common people with His use of parables, which took a common situation, event, or person’s position and used it to instill a heavenly truth.

Two weaknesses are found in this work. The most noticeable is the title. This reviewer finds the title a bit presumptuous, as if acquiring and applying these twelve skills will automatically make one’s preaching ‘great.’ For McDill, great content equals great preaching and clearly his focus is on fleshing out the content of the Scriptures in “the skills necessary to sermon preparation” (10). The title implies this would be a more comprehensive approach to sermon preparation and delivery in the whole realm of preaching. Instead, he minimizes the effect of delivery in favor of content alone.

The delivery style is not the critical factor in what we recognize as great preaching. Great delivery without effective content is often only “sound and fury, signifying nothing.” On the other hand, striking content is of real interest to the hearer, even if the delivery is weak. (10).

Yet again, the title of the book implies preaching and delivery is part of the preaching process. Plus, the Scriptural accounts of the preachers and prophets indicate that the content and the way they communicated that content was part of the message. The Apostle Paul notes that:

My speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit of power, that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God (1 Corinthians 2:4-5, ESV).

The point here that Paul makes is that content alone does not a message make, but it is how the message crafts the speaker’s heart and thus persuades passionately through the Spirit. McDill seems to miss this point completely. A better title would be “The 12 Essential Skills for Great Sermon Preparation.”

Conclusion

After reading this work in its entirety, I would highly recommend this work to someone looking for a manual on sermon preparation. Even though the title is misleading, once the preacher enters into the contents of the book and sees the helpful way McDill fleshes out these various skills, he will be thankful for having such a wonderful volume in his hands.

I would recommend using this volume as a tune-up to specific areas of your preaching preparation that need work rather than trying to work from the beginning to the end of this book, for that would take a large amount of time. Absorbing this book little-by-little, however, will certainly transform your sermon preparation and your congregation will thank you all the more for this transformation.

 

 

“Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking” by Malcolm Gladwell (Book Review)

In Book Review on May 30, 2006 at 5:42 pm

gladwell.jpgGladwell, Malcolm. Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking. Little, Brown and Company: New York, 2005. $25.95.

Introduction

Malcolm Gladwell serves as the staff writer for The New Yorker and formerly served as the business science writer for The Washington Post from 1987 to 1996.. In 2005 he was named one of Time Magazine's 100 Most Influential People. His previous book, "The Tipping Point: How Little Things Make a Big Difference," (2000) along with this volume under review were number one New York Times bestsellers. He graduated from the University of Toronto, Trinity College, with a degree in history.[1]

Gladwell notes that this book about “the first two seconds of looking … a single glance” — also known as a “thin slice” (10, 23). He defines a ‘thin slice’ as “refer[ring] to the ability of our unconscious to find patterns in situations and behavior based on very narrow slices of experience” (23). He notes that thin-slicing “is a central part of being human” (43). Gladwell’s aim in this work is to show not just the “power of the glance” but also “when our instincts betray us” (14) and how we may educate and control those snap judgments (15).

Summary
In the Introduction, entitled “The Statue that Didn’t Look Right,” curators of a new museum almost purchased a statue with which, after much research, they felt comfortable. Yet, two experts immediately felt this statue was a fake — and they were correct, even though they did no research like the curators. Gladwell uses this initial example to springboard the discussion as to why the ‘blink’ of these two experts was correct.

In Chapter One, entitled “The Theory of Thin Slices: How a Little Bit of Knowledge Goes a Long Way,” Gladwell takes the reader to “The Love Lab” at the University of Washington where John Gottman examines a couple for fifteen minutes to determine the nature of their relationship and communication skills and whether the marriage will last — with a 95 percent accuracy level (23). In Chapter Two, entitled “The Locked Door: The Secret Life of Snap Decisions,” Gladwell notes that “snap judgments are … enormously quick: they rely on the thinnest slices of experience. But they are also unconscious” (50). This chapter outlines how well we immediately act and think are “a lotmore susceptible to outside influences than we realize” (58).

In chapter Three, entitled “The Warren Harding Error: Why We Fall for Tall, Dark, and Handsome Men,” Gladwell shows the readers the “dark side of rapid cognition” (76) by putting forth the example of Warren Harding, an unintelligent man “vague and ambivalent on policy,” became the twenty-ninth president of the United States. (73-74). Often our unconscious attitudes “may be utterly incompatible with our stated values” (85). In Chapter Four, entitled “Paul Van Riper’s big Victory: Creating Structure for Spontaneity,” Gladwell shows that rapid cognition under “fast-moving, high stress conditions … is a function of training and rules and rehearsal” (114). Gladwell notes that good decisions rely on both “deliberate and instinctive thinking” and must be reduced “to its simplest elements (141).

In Chapter Five, entitled Kenna’s Dilemma: The Right — and Wrong — Way to Ask People What They Want,” Gladwell deals with the issue of when a product (whether the music and Kenna or the Coke/Pepsi taste tests of the 1980s) tests one way initially but another way when fully experienced and absorbed. The last chapter, entitled “Seven Seconds in the Bronx,” Gladwell outlines mistakes that people often make with rapid cognition such as false first impressions or judgments (194) or believing one person knows what another is thinking (197), convinced that the face and the expressions therein are “an equal partner in the emotional process” (208).

blink.jpg

Critical Evaluation

Gladwell offers a volume to help the reader understand the way people often think without thinking. He presents some compelling evidence from across a broad spectrum of events and situations as he makes his case for the merits and perils of the ‘blink’ — and succeeds at the task. His desire is to show how our ‘blink,’ or our initial reactions are far more accurate than most give credit for — yet they are not infallible. Gladwell comes from a journalistic background of dealing solely with research and observation of the contemporary issues in our society. He does not write this with any sort of evident Christian worldview, yet the preacher and pastor learn a great deal from this work! Preachers would do well to proclaim to their listeners the benefits and the costs of every doctrine and principle they preach.

Among the most noticeable strengths in this work is how easily readable this is. This work appeals to a wide cross-section of people regardless of their age or education. Gladwell’s flow of writing should be studied, mastered, and retooled each individual preacher desiring to communicate in an easily understandable way. Each of Gladwell’s chapter title catches the attention of the reader and fills them with great anticipation. Chapter titles such as “The Theory of Thin Slices” and “The Warren Harding Error” put rather difficult concepts of rapid cognition in an easily digestible package. Preachers who preach on such difficult concepts such as the doctrine of election, the Trinity, propitiation, justification, sanctification, redemption, etc., need to demonstrate Gladwell’s creativity in presenting these challenging doctrines that are conveyed using everyday, familiar, and easily-grasped pictures. Preachers have the greatest master of this type of teaching in our Lord Jesus Himself who continually used parables about everyday occurrences to convey a spiritual truth. The challenge is great, but the benefits are too numerous to ignore.

Aiding in this writing style, Gladwell included many engaging illustrations to support each of the claims he makes. The opening illustration in the Introduction with the art gallery ready to purchase the fake kouros provided that ‘hook’ that all too many authors fail to give. He provided many illustrations appealing to a wide range of tastes. Every preacher must learn this lesson. Gladwell clearly did his homework in finding examples and instances to support his theory of the ‘blink’ and his understanding of the merits and perils of rapid cognition.

For example, he draws illustrations from history and politics (“The Warren Harding Error”) (72). He draws also from the 1980’s culture (Coca Cola’s response to the Pepsi® Challenge taste tests) (155). He appeals to scientists and all who enjoy hard data in the scientific studies such as Gottman’s “Love Lab” (14) the red and blue deck of cards test from the University of Iowa (8). He even draws from the arena of sports (48-49), classical music and prejudice (245), and even war strategy (99). Gladwell’s ingeniously drew from all parts of our culture’s interests and history that makes great strides in appealing to a great cross-section of our society. Preachers desiring to communicate their God-given message must model what Gladwell demonstrates in using illustrations to retain the listener’s interest.

Gladwell’s work can also teach preachers much about prejudging those whom we come across. In Chapter Four (“The Warren Harding Error”), Gladwell shares about a car salesman whose high ability of rapid cognition helped him realize the old adage was true: “Never judge a book by its cover” (91). Whether a car salesman or a police officer who is wrongly suspicious of someone simply by their ‘look’ (191), or a woman trombonist whom the Munich Philharmonic conductor was convinced could not play with the needed strength (245), or a Japanese violinist believed to lack the emotive tools necessary to play European classical music (246-247) — Gladwell unwittingly teaches a biblical lesson from James 2:1: “My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory.” Preachers must treat not just fellow Christians but all people with the love of Christ and recall that they are made in God’s image with all types of backgrounds and baggage. Even preachers struggle with rapid cognition through their particular backgrounds, so it is crucial for them to understand the situation of each person before coming to particular conclusions.

With the strengths come weaknesses. Gladwell’s writing is quite good, yet he does not give any sort of cohesive thought to how we may trust in these ‘thin slices.’ What steps can one take? Is there any cogent theory on the matter? Gladwell would have done well to us the concluding chapter in this book to help tie the information he gave into one coherent, holistic theory of rapid cognition. Instead, he simply gives one more example of how reliable our rapid cognition can be if we but keep our prejudices and preconceptions out of the process.

Conclusion

After reading through this work twice, I would certainly convey and absorb its contents — yet given the nature of my calling as a pastor and some of the coarse language contained in this work, I would be hesitant to recommend reading this work for my parishioners to read. I would commend this work to mature pastors to demonstrate the power of illustration and the usefulness of making a passage of Scripture interesting, enlightening, and engaging.


[1] http://www.gladwell.com/bio.html : Internet. Downloaded 22 May 2006.

“Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking” by Malcolm Gladwell (Book Review)

In Book Review on May 30, 2006 at 5:42 pm

gladwell.jpgGladwell, Malcolm. Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking. Little, Brown and Company: New York, 2005. $25.95.

Introduction

Malcolm Gladwell serves as the staff writer for The New Yorker and formerly served as the business science writer for The Washington Post from 1987 to 1996.. In 2005 he was named one of Time Magazine's 100 Most Influential People. His previous book, "The Tipping Point: How Little Things Make a Big Difference," (2000) along with this volume under review were number one New York Times bestsellers. He graduated from the University of Toronto, Trinity College, with a degree in history.[1]

Gladwell notes that this book about “the first two seconds of looking … a single glance” — also known as a “thin slice” (10, 23). He defines a ‘thin slice’ as “refer[ring] to the ability of our unconscious to find patterns in situations and behavior based on very narrow slices of experience” (23). He notes that thin-slicing “is a central part of being human” (43). Gladwell’s aim in this work is to show not just the “power of the glance” but also “when our instincts betray us” (14) and how we may educate and control those snap judgments (15).

Summary
In the Introduction, entitled “The Statue that Didn’t Look Right,” curators of a new museum almost purchased a statue with which, after much research, they felt comfortable. Yet, two experts immediately felt this statue was a fake — and they were correct, even though they did no research like the curators. Gladwell uses this initial example to springboard the discussion as to why the ‘blink’ of these two experts was correct.

In Chapter One, entitled “The Theory of Thin Slices: How a Little Bit of Knowledge Goes a Long Way,” Gladwell takes the reader to “The Love Lab” at the University of Washington where John Gottman examines a couple for fifteen minutes to determine the nature of their relationship and communication skills and whether the marriage will last — with a 95 percent accuracy level (23). In Chapter Two, entitled “The Locked Door: The Secret Life of Snap Decisions,” Gladwell notes that “snap judgments are … enormously quick: they rely on the thinnest slices of experience. But they are also unconscious” (50). This chapter outlines how well we immediately act and think are “a lotmore susceptible to outside influences than we realize” (58).

In chapter Three, entitled “The Warren Harding Error: Why We Fall for Tall, Dark, and Handsome Men,” Gladwell shows the readers the “dark side of rapid cognition” (76) by putting forth the example of Warren Harding, an unintelligent man “vague and ambivalent on policy,” became the twenty-ninth president of the United States. (73-74). Often our unconscious attitudes “may be utterly incompatible with our stated values” (85). In Chapter Four, entitled “Paul Van Riper’s big Victory: Creating Structure for Spontaneity,” Gladwell shows that rapid cognition under “fast-moving, high stress conditions … is a function of training and rules and rehearsal” (114). Gladwell notes that good decisions rely on both “deliberate and instinctive thinking” and must be reduced “to its simplest elements (141).

In Chapter Five, entitled Kenna’s Dilemma: The Right — and Wrong — Way to Ask People What They Want,” Gladwell deals with the issue of when a product (whether the music and Kenna or the Coke/Pepsi taste tests of the 1980s) tests one way initially but another way when fully experienced and absorbed. The last chapter, entitled “Seven Seconds in the Bronx,” Gladwell outlines mistakes that people often make with rapid cognition such as false first impressions or judgments (194) or believing one person knows what another is thinking (197), convinced that the face and the expressions therein are “an equal partner in the emotional process” (208).

blink.jpg

Critical Evaluation

Gladwell offers a volume to help the reader understand the way people often think without thinking. He presents some compelling evidence from across a broad spectrum of events and situations as he makes his case for the merits and perils of the ‘blink’ — and succeeds at the task. His desire is to show how our ‘blink,’ or our initial reactions are far more accurate than most give credit for — yet they are not infallible. Gladwell comes from a journalistic background of dealing solely with research and observation of the contemporary issues in our society. He does not write this with any sort of evident Christian worldview, yet the preacher and pastor learn a great deal from this work! Preachers would do well to proclaim to their listeners the benefits and the costs of every doctrine and principle they preach.

Among the most noticeable strengths in this work is how easily readable this is. This work appeals to a wide cross-section of people regardless of their age or education. Gladwell’s flow of writing should be studied, mastered, and retooled each individual preacher desiring to communicate in an easily understandable way. Each of Gladwell’s chapter title catches the attention of the reader and fills them with great anticipation. Chapter titles such as “The Theory of Thin Slices” and “The Warren Harding Error” put rather difficult concepts of rapid cognition in an easily digestible package. Preachers who preach on such difficult concepts such as the doctrine of election, the Trinity, propitiation, justification, sanctification, redemption, etc., need to demonstrate Gladwell’s creativity in presenting these challenging doctrines that are conveyed using everyday, familiar, and easily-grasped pictures. Preachers have the greatest master of this type of teaching in our Lord Jesus Himself who continually used parables about everyday occurrences to convey a spiritual truth. The challenge is great, but the benefits are too numerous to ignore.

Aiding in this writing style, Gladwell included many engaging illustrations to support each of the claims he makes. The opening illustration in the Introduction with the art gallery ready to purchase the fake kouros provided that ‘hook’ that all too many authors fail to give. He provided many illustrations appealing to a wide range of tastes. Every preacher must learn this lesson. Gladwell clearly did his homework in finding examples and instances to support his theory of the ‘blink’ and his understanding of the merits and perils of rapid cognition.

For example, he draws illustrations from history and politics (“The Warren Harding Error”) (72). He draws also from the 1980’s culture (Coca Cola’s response to the Pepsi® Challenge taste tests) (155). He appeals to scientists and all who enjoy hard data in the scientific studies such as Gottman’s “Love Lab” (14) the red and blue deck of cards test from the University of Iowa (8). He even draws from the arena of sports (48-49), classical music and prejudice (245), and even war strategy (99). Gladwell’s ingeniously drew from all parts of our culture’s interests and history that makes great strides in appealing to a great cross-section of our society. Preachers desiring to communicate their God-given message must model what Gladwell demonstrates in using illustrations to retain the listener’s interest.

Gladwell’s work can also teach preachers much about prejudging those whom we come across. In Chapter Four (“The Warren Harding Error”), Gladwell shares about a car salesman whose high ability of rapid cognition helped him realize the old adage was true: “Never judge a book by its cover” (91). Whether a car salesman or a police officer who is wrongly suspicious of someone simply by their ‘look’ (191), or a woman trombonist whom the Munich Philharmonic conductor was convinced could not play with the needed strength (245), or a Japanese violinist believed to lack the emotive tools necessary to play European classical music (246-247) — Gladwell unwittingly teaches a biblical lesson from James 2:1: “My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory.” Preachers must treat not just fellow Christians but all people with the love of Christ and recall that they are made in God’s image with all types of backgrounds and baggage. Even preachers struggle with rapid cognition through their particular backgrounds, so it is crucial for them to understand the situation of each person before coming to particular conclusions.

With the strengths come weaknesses. Gladwell’s writing is quite good, yet he does not give any sort of cohesive thought to how we may trust in these ‘thin slices.’ What steps can one take? Is there any cogent theory on the matter? Gladwell would have done well to us the concluding chapter in this book to help tie the information he gave into one coherent, holistic theory of rapid cognition. Instead, he simply gives one more example of how reliable our rapid cognition can be if we but keep our prejudices and preconceptions out of the process.

Conclusion

After reading through this work twice, I would certainly convey and absorb its contents — yet given the nature of my calling as a pastor and some of the coarse language contained in this work, I would be hesitant to recommend reading this work for my parishioners to read. I would commend this work to mature pastors to demonstrate the power of illustration and the usefulness of making a passage of Scripture interesting, enlightening, and engaging.


[1] http://www.gladwell.com/bio.html : Internet. Downloaded 22 May 2006.

Are Short-Term Missions Trips Good or Bad? (Hat tip to John Divito)

In Uncategorized on May 27, 2006 at 9:38 pm

Click here to read a very probing article about our motives for short-term missions (thanks to John Divito of The Reformed Baptist Thinker blog).

Treasuring The Word of God

In Uncategorized on May 27, 2006 at 9:34 pm

A missionary in France told of a little French girl who became a believer. Although she had been blind from birth, she knew how to read Braille. Someone gave her the gospel of Mark in Braille, and she loved it so much that she eventually developed calluses on her fingers from reading it so often. Those calluses meant she no longer could read. 

Hoping to make her fingers more sensitive, she peeled the skin from the end of her fingers. But instead her fingers became permanently scarred. Believing she would never read again, she bent down to give the pages of God's Word a farewell kiss. As she did, she soon realized that her lips were more sensitive than her fingers. She then learned how to read God's Word with her lips.

Highly Questionable Methods

In Church Life, Leadership, Missions, Rick Warren/PDL on May 27, 2006 at 8:33 pm

by Robert Reymond

“The problem in our day, which gives rise to highly questionable church growth methods, is twofold:

On the one hand, we are seeing a waning confidence in the message of the gospel. Even the evangelical church shows signs of losing confidence in the convincing and converting power of the gospel message. That is why increasing numbers of churches prefer sermons on family life and psychological health. We are being overtaken by what Os Guinness calls the managerial and therapeutic revolutions. The winning message, it seems, is the one that helps people to solve their temporal problems, improves their self-esteem and makes them feel good about themselves. In such a cultural climate, preaching on the law, sin and repentance, and the cross has all but disappeared, even in evangelical churches. The church has become “user friendly,” “consumer oriented,” and as a result evangelical churches are being inundated with “cheap grace” (Bonhoeffer). Today’s “gospel” is all too often a gospel without cost, without repentance, without commitment, without discipleship, and thus “another gospel” and accordingly no gospel at all, all traceable to the fact that this is how too many people today have come to believe that the church must be grown.

On the other hand, we are seeing a waning confidence in preaching as the means by which the gospel is to be spread. As a result, preaching is giving way in evangelical churches to multimedia presentations, drama, dance, “sharing times,” sermonettes, and “how to” devotionals. Preaching is being viewed increasingly as outdated and ineffective. Business techniques like telemarketing are now popular with the church growth movement. Churches so infected also look to the multiplication of programs to effect their growth. They sponsor conferences and seminars on every conceivable topic under the sun; they subdivide their congregations down into marrieds and singles, single parents and divorced, “thirty-something” and “twenty-something,” teens, unemployed, the child-abused and the chemically dependent, attempting to arrange programs for them all. And once a person joins such a church, conventional wisdom has it, the church and the minister must meet his every felt need. Accordingly, ministers have become managers, facilitators, and motivators—everything but heralds of the whole counsel of God—and this all because they have lost confidence in the preaching of God’s Word as the primary means for the growth of the church and the individual Christian.

What is the answer? A restored confidence in the Reformed doctrine of the sovereignty of God in salvation!”

— Robert L. Reymond, in A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith

Death By Ministry (Mark Driscoll)

In Uncategorized on May 25, 2006 at 2:05 pm

(I posted this on my blog for pastors and preachers, but wanted to share this with the readership at this blog as well.  Pray for your pastors, y'all!) 

At our recent Reform & Resurge Conference in Seattle, my good friend Pastor Darrin Patrick from The Journey in Saint Louis spoke frankly of the burden that pastoral ministry is. I have pushed myself to the edge and over the edge of burnout throughout my nearly ten years in vocational ministry. Subsequently, I have been doing a great deal of research that I am compiling in hopes of not only improving my own life but also the lives of the leaders at Mars Hill Church and the churches in our Acts 29 Network. As a leader I commonly set the pace of ministry for those under me, which can lead to wholesale burnout of others if I don’t learn this lesson and teach it to others. The following points that I pray are helpful are some brief thoughts from what God has been teaching me as of late. Lastly, the fact that at least twenty-two separate organizations exist in the U.S. solely to deal with pre- and post-pastoral burnout indicate that this is a widespread problem that has only been identified and researched since the 1950s.

To read the rest of this article (and you must), click here.

Death By Ministry (Mark Driscoll)

In Uncategorized on May 25, 2006 at 10:00 am

At our recent Reform & Resurge Conference in Seattle, my good friend Pastor Darrin Patrick from The Journey in Saint Louis spoke frankly of the burden that pastoral ministry is. I have pushed myself to the edge and over the edge of burnout throughout my nearly ten years in vocational ministry. Subsequently, I have been doing a great deal of research that I am compiling in hopes of not only improving my own life but also the lives of the leaders at Mars Hill Church and the churches in our Acts 29 Network. As a leader I commonly set the pace of ministry for those under me, which can lead to wholesale burnout of others if I don’t learn this lesson and teach it to others. The following points that I pray are helpful are some brief thoughts from what God has been teaching me as of late. Lastly, the fact that at least twenty-two separate organizations exist in the U.S. solely to deal with pre- and post-pastoral burnout indicate that this is a widespread problem that has only been identified and researched since the 1950s.

To read the rest of this article (and you must), click here.