A Word about Salacious Sermonizing

Carl Trueman has an interesting take on the current obsession that evangelical pastors seem to have with sermons on sex. They are becoming increasingly frequent and in some cases bawdy. Trueman writes:

The current evangelical obsession with sex seems more like an intrusion of the culture than a priority of scripture… If, for the sake of argument, we were to allow that there might occasionally, just occasionally, be a vague and distant analogy between Hollywood and the church, I wonder if middle-aged pastors writing and speaking about sex is not becoming the evangelical equivalent of forty-something actresses doing nude scenes.   Look: your career is in decline, the only cover shoot you have had in months was for Professional Librarian Monthly, younger stars are rising, or maybe you just want to keep yourself way out in front.  What do you do?  You tell the cameraman to switch to soft focus, you put the airbrush team on standby and you take your kit off.  Never fails.

I think the analogy is interesting, though I think we can only speculate about the psychology that motivates pastors to preach this way. I do think, however, that the first line is something we would all do well to consider. Is it true that the current obsession with sex sermons is more an intrusion of the culture than a priority of scripture?

In one sense, the answer to the question has to be “no.” It is precisely because sex is such an obsession in the culture that pastors must speak to sexual issues more directly and frequently. The sex-crazed Zeitgeist demands that pastors preach to their congregations more comprehensively about the Christian sexual ethic, manhood, womanhood, and gender issues in general. Pastors who aren’t addressing those topics on a fairly consistent basis will be conceding ground to the world and the devil at a front that is being fiercely contested at the moment. The Bible’s teaching on those issues is a consistent theme throughout the narrative of scripture, and pastors must speak to them.

But I don’t think that is the kind of sermonizing that Trueman has in mind here. So in another sense, the answer to the question has to be “yes.” There is a genre of sex sermons that is not a priority of scripture. I think Trueman has a valid concern about “how to” kinds of sermons that are more salacious than they are scriptural, the kinds that are more likely to scintillate than to sanctify. It’s the shock-jock version of preaching, and you can pack folks into your church if you will say those explicit things that nobody ever expects to hear from a pastor. There is a kind of humorous novelty to it that attracts people. That kind of preaching is indeed out of proportion with scripture.

It’s not that the Bible is altogether silent on such topics. The scripture speaks to such issues, but the pastor’s aim ought to be to explain what the Bible says using the exact level of discretion that the Bible uses. At this point, someone will usually chime-in and invoke the Song of Solomon as the Bible’s permission-slip to preach salacious sermons. What these folks often fail to remember, however, is that even the Song of Solomon gives us a poetic depiction of the marital act that is cloaked in symbolic language. Pastors need to ask themselves if their sermons reflect a similar discretion.

9 Responses to A Word about Salacious Sermonizing

  1. Paula December 17, 2011 at 2:04 pm #

    A few months ago our family attended church with our son, who is attending college in rural Michigan. He drives 1/2 hour to attend a small Bible church with expository preaching and to escape the college atmosphere a bit. That week, the pastor was in the middle of Song of Solomon. He announced at the outset what the topic would be, but also reassured the congregants that he wouldn’t say anything that would be inappropriate for his 9-year-old son who was in attendance. I have to admit, there were a few squirm-worthy moments for me, but I attend a rural GARB church where I am fairly certain the word “breast” has never been uttered outside the nursery 🙂

    I think the pastor was true to his word…he didn’t cross the line into inappropriateness, yet faithfully preached the word. There was no snickering and there were no shock moments. And then he moved on. Also, it had been “promoted,” for lack of a better word (as far as I can tell, in the bulletin the week before), as a sermon series on S of S focusing on marriage and purity. I think that’s how you handle “sex” sermons.

    I have been on the receiving end of mailers from local churches in my area who are promoting their sex sermons and I just cringe. I think the “world” must be laughing at us. The unregenerate husband generally isn’t going to think the local Baptist pastor has anything better than he can find with a few clicks of a mouse to rev up his sex life, no matter how shiny and naughty the church postcard is.

  2. BPRJam December 19, 2011 at 12:41 pm #

    I must admit that I’m not familiar with the “salacious” type of sermonizing being referred to in this post, but I do think there is a place for PG-13 content (and occassionally R) in sermons.

    I’m frequently disappointed with the way in which so-called “sensitive” topics such as human sexuality, violence (just to name two) are handled with kid gloves as if sermons need to be tuned to the lowest common denominator, namely, children. Having a time and place for more frank and bold addressing of topics I think would be very helpful for a large swath of adult congregants, especially the 20-something and 30-something singles, and parents of teenagers.

    I’ve often wondered if having a dedicated to these issues handled frankly and directly in which children are discouraged would be beneficial.

    • BPRJam December 19, 2011 at 12:43 pm #

      Ooops, the last sentence should be:

      “I’ve often wondered if having a TIME AND SPACE dedicated to these issues handled frankly and directly in which children are discouraged would be beneficial.”

  3. Allen December 19, 2011 at 6:53 pm #

    Interesting topic and a trend which deserves attention. I do believe, however, that this points us to a deeper issue within preaching itself namely the preacher’s method in choosing a text. A preacher who preaches expositionally through books of the Bible should, by nature of the approach, preach the text in a way that is faithful to its intent and extent. On the other hand, the preacher who chooses to bounce around week after week will often find himself picking topics and passages which appeal to them in a special way. Thus their choice of texts and topics may reveal more about their hearts and intentions than they might wish to admit.

  4. Don Johnson December 20, 2011 at 10:42 am #

    The Bible is for adults, selected segments can be extracted that are suitable for all ages, but not everything. The Bible uses Hebraic euphemisms much of the time and then these even get euphemised in translation. When one reads a euphemism of a euphemism, it is possible to not even realize what is being said.

  5. Terry December 21, 2011 at 8:13 pm #

    I wish I knew what euphemism means… 😉

  6. Dave December 22, 2011 at 10:00 pm #

    Paula, I’m afraid that mentioning “breast” or “tit” from the pulpit in the context of sexuality is ruled out of order by the Song of Solomon, which prefers metaphors.

    • Paula December 22, 2011 at 10:20 pm #

      Dave..you can hardly say the use of the word breast in SOS is completely asexual. While it’s not the leering, crude depiction of sexuality we so often see in our modern world, it’s clearly an expression of a man appreciating the physical beauty of his bride. Or are you saying he’s really admiring fawns on the hillside? : )

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. The Top Blog Posts of the Week | SBC Today - December 22, 2011

    […] “A Word about Salacious Sermonizing,” by Denny Burk on his blog, reflecting on some comments by Carl Trueman that the rash of middle-aged evangelical preachers who focus on sex in their sermons is (a) an intrusion of the world on the church and (b) an attempt by middle-aged preachers to try to prove that they are still relevant. […]

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