Pornography and Wiring the Brain with a Side Note On Video Illustrations in Preaching

David Philips has a great post on what pornography does to the brain. He goes on to draw application to ministry and the need for using more visual images in preaching. Maybe that could have made a separate post? On the flip side of Philips’ application in regard to images in preaching you have John Piper’s view that overuse of video and images might actually be a detriment to preaching. In his now often cited article at Out of Ur he said,

“I think the use of video and drama largely is a token of unbelief in the power of preaching. And I think that, to the degree that pastors begin to supplement their preaching with this entertaining spice to help people stay with them and be moved and get helped, it’s going to backfire…. It’s going to communicate that preaching is weak, preaching doesn’t save, preaching doesn’t hold, but entertainment does.”

I think there is a balance to be found here. It is clear that images do communicate powerfully and well timed images or video illustrations can greatly supplement a sermon and drive the point home. Obviously, if we rely on these week in and week out over and above the Word we are going to have problems.

There have been several really great comments on this post. I wanted to point out what James said here but please read the rest…they are excellent thoughts that bring great balance to the conversation.

“Can visuals rob power from the preaching? Yup. If poorly used, video, drama, and images can make a sermon feel more like a TV show than the exposition of the word of God.

But, when the sermon comes first, like Tim said, and the sermon can stand alone (if necessary), then visuals can add an emotional, transformational impact to the sermon. Putting in a movie clip that helps to illustrate a point or gets people thinking about the sermon topic can help train people to think such thoughts whenever they watch TV and movies. Piper is afraid of contaminating preaching with entertainment. I say we contaminate entertainment with preaching by training people to see their world through the eyes of Jesus.

Who’s with me?”

0 Responses to Pornography and Wiring the Brain with a Side Note On Video Illustrations in Preaching

  1. Tim Archer says:

    I think presentations need to be an aid to what the speaker is saying, not a sermon in themselves. Sometimes people ask me for my “PowerPoint” (I use a different program), and I tell them, “I’ll give it to you, but it probably won’t do you much good.” Rarely can you figure out my lesson merely by looking at the presentation. That’s not what it’s for!

    Grace and peace,
    Tim Archer

  2. Frank says:

    Matt and Tim, very good thoughts here.

    Re. the spoken and written word versus images and visual stimuli, a good source is Jacques Ellul “The Humiliation of the Word.” Reading Ellul is like reading K. Barth: highly repetitive, not sure you always understand, etc. Nonetheless, it packs a punch.

  3. James Wood says:

    Here comes Matt starting a fire!

    I have to say, I think I lost respect for John Piper after watching that video. His “slippery-slope” reasoning is the worst form of logic. His aversion to using visuals in his preaching comes across as ludditeism rather than a carefully reasoned position.

    Can visuals rob power from the preaching? Yup. If poorly used, video, drama, and images can make a sermon feel more like a TV show than the exposition of the word of God.

    But, when the sermon comes first, like Tim said, and the sermon can stand alone (if necessary), then visuals can add an emotional, transformational impact to the sermon. Putting in a movie clip that helps to illustrate a point or gets people thinking about the sermon topic can help train people to think such thoughts whenever they watch TV and movies. Piper is afraid of contaminating preaching with entertainment. I say we contaminate entertainment with preaching by training people to see their world through the eyes of Jesus.

    Who’s with me?

  4. Matt,

    Thanks for the linkage. I may indeed write a separate post on image communication. Thanks for the suggestion!

    I want to point out that images are not to be thought of as entertainment. I’m the last one to argue for a consumerist church or anything that approaches entertainment. That is the reason I noted verbal imagery.

    When I read Paul and Jesus, I notice either the use of props (ie Jesus’ parables or even Paul’s Mars Hill sermon where he uses statues to gods) or images created with words.

    I am not talking about a movie-fest, but communicating through metaphors and images, whether real (ie video clips or pictures) or verbally created.

    The power of semiotics is great.

    Again, thanks for the linkage. I’ll be back to look over your blog more!

  5. I had a conversation with my former preaching minister (current pastoral care minister) on this subject last week. We agreed that visuals in sermons can be overused and overdone … at the same time, Jesus was not averse to using them when they were intrinsic to His point: a coin in the hand with the inscription of Caesar (Matthew 22:15-22); a child standing among the disciples to illustrate humility (Matthew 18:1-9); a widow giving all she had (Luke 21:1-4).

    But He would talk about birds of the air, lilies of the field, Solomon in his glory, farmers sowing seed, reapers in the harvest, people investing or burying coins, people losing and finding coins or sheep or sons; He painted verbal pictures so the brain would “see” the point.

  6. David Combs says:

    Matt,
    As Keith said, our Lord used visual imagery when he taught and poetic imagery abounds in scripture, and multi-sensory learning is needed as not all are dominantly audio learners and even those that are retain more with multi-sensory teaching. That being said, I believe in the power of expository preaching of which less and less is being done today. It seems nowadays expository preaching has become passe and is believed to be “over the heads” of the audience. If so, God help us when people read Paul in their personal bible study if they can’t follow an exposition with application and illustration by a talented preacher. Much of what passes for preaching today is pablum, biblically, intellectually, and emotionally, with little convicting power or teaching content. Nor does said preaching need to be fiery to be convicting. Batsell Barrett Baxter moved me to tears in the one sermon I ever heard in person and never raised his voice. A steady diet of milk leaves a congregation (on the whole, individuals will study on their own and a portion will come to Sunday school where greater depth is often achieved) insufficiently matured. All this of course is my not so humble opinion but is not without concurrence.
    I get more spiritual sustenance listening to old Warren Wiersbe sermons on the radio in my van on the way to church than from the weekly “3 points”. I will say the video 2 weeks ago of the little girl who thought she was giving up her life by giving a blood transfusion to her brother got me choked up and was a powerful illustration as have been several other video clips.

  7. David,

    I really believe you are confusing style and substance. You have defined expository preaching as a style of sermon. Expository preaching can be done through monologue, dialogue, story, points, drama, etc. If over 80% of the Bible is narrative where the interpretation is left to the reader, shouldn’t we use the style of the scriptures to communicate? If you read the Gospels, did Jesus hold to a particular style? No, often times he told a parable and did not even let his own disciples know the point of what he said.

    I’m not attacking you, please don’t see it that way. I’m simply trying to make the point that I can be expository (in the truest definition of the word) when I have a dialogue with my congregation or when I use 3 points and a poem. And I do both. To elevate a style to a more biblical form or a form that provides something more than “milk” is questionable. Each person learns in their own way, through their own style. Let the text determine the style and the sermon can be expository.

    • mattdabbs says:

      I am a big fan of Tom Long’s book – Preaching the Literary form of the Bible for exactly the reasons you are stating. I think he hits the nail on the head…let the text determine the style/type of preaching and not try to fit every sermon into the same procrustean bed. I have not always done that well but it is something I am willing to work at.

    • David Combs says:

      David,
      Won’t claim I fully portrayed the depth or fullest sense of “exposition”.
      You can question me about “milk” and whether one style does or doesn’t deliver it, but I’m experiencing pablum with scriptures referenced but not truly “taught” and applied and I don’t necessarily mean exegeted per se.
      Would LOVE IT if our preacher dialogued with us any given Sunday. If it was good enough for Paul in the lecture hall of Tyrannus it’s fine with me. Would love it if two or three (1 Cor 14) spoke “while the others weighed carefully what was said” allowing for mutual edification (which is probably why some brothers get so long-winded presiding at Lord’s supper). Paul referenced “poets” in Acts as a starting point for his preaching and I’m fine with that. Christian drama too. I’m not trying to elevate a style just pleading for depth and sustenance. And the only, no, not only, but majority of sustenance I get on Sundays is from a monologying Baptist who preaches the Word using words only from a variety of textual styles. Jokes can relieve tension and drive home a point and there’s humor in the prophets, the Gospels, Paul and elsewhere but jokes, video, visual stills, etc can drift into watering down and entertaining rather than preaching the Word, teaching, correcting, maturing faith and planting seeds. It’s the Spirit’s purview to convict but properly (whatever style) and sufficiently presenting the Word is a necessary avenue.

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