Spurgeon, Driscoll and Tickling the Oyster

I wish I had a better sense of humor–and ability to use it in the pulpit–for the purpose of grabbing people’s attention. Can a minister go too far in this? Absolutely; but there is an effective and, I believe, beneficial use of humor in the pulpit that often gets dismissed out of hand. Having listened to Mark Driscoll’s sermons on the life of Jacob and Joseph, I have to say–his use of humor is incredibly effective. I relied heavily on them as I worked through the book of Genesis at New Covenant Presbyterian Church’s mid-week Bible Study. If you want an example of how to effectively use contextualized humor in a sermon series, listen to Driscoll’s series on Genesis. You may still conclude that he goes too far at times, but  remember what Charles Spurgeon (another really funny minister) once said about keeping the listener engaged with humor:

When they do come in, we must preach interestingly. The people will not be converted while they are asleep, and if they go to sleep they had better have been at home in bed, where they would sleep more comfortably. We must have the minds of our hearers awake and active if we are to do them some real good. You will not shoot your bird unless you get them to fly; you must get them started up from the long grass in which they are hiding. I would sooner use a little of what some very proper preachers regard as a dreadful thing, that wicked thing called humor–I would sooner wake the congregation up that way than have it said that I droned away at then until we all went to sleep together. Sometimes it may be quite right to have it said of us as it was said of Rowland Hill: “‘What does that man mean? He actually made the people laugh while he was preaching?’ ‘Yes,’ was the wise answer, ‘but did you not see that he actually made them cry directly after?'” That was good work and it was well done. I sometimes tickle my oyster until he opens his shell and then I stick the knife in. He would not have opened for my knife, but he did for something else; and that is the way to do for people.1

1. Charles Spurgeon The Soul Winner pp. 63-64

4 Responses

  1. Tim H.

    Great analogy.

    There was an interesting discussion on this a few years back on the 9Marks blog. Most of them came down against (as I do, in general) using the pulpit for humor, but I’m appreciative of another perspective on it.

  2. Thanks Tim. Like I said, I think you can overdo it, but sometimes Reformed ministers think it is altogether sinful to use humor in the pulpit. I think it can be, if used judiciously, beneficial. My problem is that I am just not funny. I would laugh at my own jokes and no one else would!

  3. Bill Fabian

    Nick, “Many who seek God at the 11th hour die at 10:30″. Theologically incorrect, but opens an interesting conversation on election with a bit of humor.” A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones”. Prov 17:22 (NIV) A good sense of humor is a wonderful gift from God. The best preachers have this gift and use it. Those who don’t would likely oppose its use.

  4. J. Hansen

    Mark Driscoll is obviously a gifted brother. I love him and wish him nothing but grace and peace. He has blessed me, challenged me and convicted me on numerous occasions. That said, I wanted to encourage him a bit with what I hope is not an ungracious critique. I do that now.

    Nick, you said: “You might think that Driscoll goes too far at times…”

    I do.

    And, since you mentioned it, I thought I would bring up a particularly jarring example, that I heard very recently, of Mr. Driscoll going beyond the pale from the pulpit. Mind you, this is not strictly limited to humor, per se. But, Mr. Spurgeon’s initial suggestion that “we must preach interestingly” must be balanced against speech designed to shock and awe.

    I hesitate to post this because I think there are actual dangers in listening to it, but I think the dangers may be outweighed by the potential benefits to the types who likely read this blog. Without further ado…

    Here is the “sermon” of which I speak: http://www.marshillchurch.org/media/special/the-truth-and-the-lie-in-worship [According to the Mars Hill Church website (italics and bold are mine): “Pastor Mark Driscoll preached this sermon at the exchange conference on June 17th in San Diego, CA. The Exchange conference was presented by The Resurgence and other speakers included; Peter Jones, Francis Chan, Kevin DeYoung, and others teaching how to distinguish the Truth from the Lie in all of life.”]

    When Mr. Driscoll made the following statements in his “sermon”…

    (1) “Even seemingly normal people who enter into a celebrity position have to become more reckless and dangerous. They have to become a caricature of someone they are not in an effort to retain the audience that is paying for their income”
    —Mark Driscoll, from his sermon “The Truth And The Lie In…Worship,” June 17, 2010

    (2) “This celebrity culture of narcissism where people want to be known. [sic] ‘I want you to know who I am. I don’t want to be ignored! Well, how do I get attention?’ ‘You need to do something extreme. You need to do something that is over-the-top.’ ‘Okay, then I will do that.’ But then people get bored with that. So you need to keep reinventing yourself and getting more dangerous, more reckless, more extreme. So that people would pay attention to you. That they would worship you.”
    —Mark Driscoll, from his sermon “The Truth And The Lie In…Worship,” June 17, 2010

    … I could not help think that he might do well to reflect on whether his descriptions of celebrity culture also help explain why he feels it appropriate to speak this way from the pulpit. He speaks at length about the Bible encouraging the idea of role models. Paul encourages those who have met him to follow Christ in a similar manner has he (Paul) does. Our spiritual leaders need to be shinning examples. This type of meditation on graphic sins is not edifying. Period. Telling people the web address of lurid websites from the pulpit, for whatever reason, is extremely foolish. This is not rocket science. I don’t think I’m saying anything particularly insightful here. Frankly, I am shocked that this happened. Mark, brother, I hope you can receive these things for the sake of the Gospel and of Christ.

    “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints. Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving.”
    —Ephesians 5:1-4 (ESV)

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