At the heart of the Biblical witness is a God who longs to communicate more fully with his people! In the Bible, words alone often carried the day.
God could and certainly can still be found in the still, small voice. But consider how often God used more dramatic means. God spoke a promise to Noah and his descendants through the use of a magnificent rainbow, made a covenant with Abraham using a smoking pot hovering between bifurcated livestock, convicted the obstinate Balaam by speaking through a donkey, called Moses from amidst a fiery shrub, and used the likes of Jeremiah to preach while wearing nothing but heavily soiled undergarments–talk about dramatic effect!
The incarnation of Christ shows just how seriously God took the desire to communicate. God sent angelic choirs to dramatically announce Christ’s birth. Later, at Jesus’ baptism, God would speak in what sounded like a thunderclap while dropping a dove from the heavens. God would come to the disciples in a cloud while making Jesus shine like the sun, and, upon Jesus’ death, God ripped the veil in two, darkened the sky, rocked the earth while opening the graves of the dead–all, one might argue, to give visual impact to the reality of his power and glory.
On Pentecost, God’s Spirit enabled the Church to speak to one another in languages that could be clearly understood by all and, again, God had a flair for the dramatic using wind and flame.
Speaking in languages that all can understand is still our task today! Augustine once said preaching should strive “to teach, to delight, and to persuade” in order that the gospel might be heard “intelligibly, willingly, and obediently.”1 Preaching has always been about communicating in such a way that the message, couched within the entire worship event, does what it is intended to do–raise God’s people from the dead.
We are formed by what we are most exposed to–the messages and images of the media and the world–that work to press us into their mold. So the solution side of such a proposition is to be exposed to the incredible “good news” of God’s redemptive love–a love that is both authentically spoken to us as well as artistically imaged for us in such a way that we might actually experience, believe, and trust that the good news of God’s promises are indeed “for us.”
Many involved in worship are beginning to accept the notion that using words alone as a communication medium alienates our message from an increasing majority. The church has historically never relied solely on the monologue to preach the gospel, but has readily used the technology of its day–statuary, mosaics, frescos, reliefs, icons, painted art, stained glass, etc. to visually proclaim God’s story of salvation. Who can forget Michelangelo’s Moses with his “glorious” horns or his iconic image of the hand of God’s straining determination to give life to a complacent Adam?
Technology is simply the next art-form to be taken from the marketplace and redeemed for use within the halls of the worshipping community. To use either classic or contemporary images, carefully crafted words, or even video before, during, or proceeding a sermon can wing the message with power that words themselves can rarely bestow. In an age in which so many are influenced by visual images, the church would be foolish to think such influence is unredeemable and unusable for the preaching event.
1Philip Schaff, St. Augustine’s City of God and Christian Doctrine (Christian Classics Ethereal Library) Chapter 12, par. 27-28, www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/npnf102.v.IV_1.12.html (accessed October 24, 2006).