I bought a second hand book from a table outside a bookshop here in York. It is Donald Coggan’s book about the art of preaching, “Stewards of Grace”. As a preacher I was curious to see what I would find in it. I also wondered how out of date it might be.
Coggan wrote this in 1958 and he said then that many were declaring that preaching was out of fashion. I found this very interesting as I have been hearing the same thing for all the 35 years I have been doing it.
It is only a few years ago that I was being told that a preacher should be very brief (5 mins?) and rely mainly on interactive stuff with a lot of visuals such as PowerPoint (though I prefer Prezi as PowerPoint is so 20th century). Just as those voices seemed to be getting louder, TED talks appeared on the scene with a format and style that looks to me very much like the old fashioned traditional preacher. Perhaps preaching was not as out of vogue as those within churches were thinking. Though I suppose poor preaching is always a chore to listen to.
Especially interesting to me from Coggan’s book was his claim that people just don’t think now. This is from page.
Further, the argument runs, this is a headline age. The majority of our people, for all the efforts of State education, do not think. They scan. It is beyond their powers to follow a sustained argument for, in so far as they read at all, they read little more than the captions in the illustrated daily and weekly periodicals, and, in so far as they listen in, they prefer the news headlines to a closely reasoned lecture. Indeed, it is true to say that many graduates of our Universities read little but the journal of their own particular profession. Modern man is bombarded, his ears by wireless and gramophone, his eyes by television, poster and headline. The result, paradoxically enough, is that he is fast losing the capacity to hear (in the sense of listen) or to see (in the sense of perceive). He is becoming the object of a fast moving series of visual and aural sensations. But the vast majority of these sensations make little lasting impression on him. They do not register. They pour off him, in the common phrase, like water off a duck’s back, leaving him much the same as before, only a little less capable of continued thought, of logical process, of reasoning. Of what effect will preaching be in an age of men so conditioned? Again, the motor-car has constituted itself a major enemy to preaching. The weekend habit” militates against that regular family Sunday worship which was one of the characteristics of Victorian and Edwardian England. Modern man, to use a phrase from the Prayer Book out of its context, never continueth in one stay. He is in a state of perpetual motion, though it must often be doubted whether he knows where he is going.
Great stuff. Were it not for the vocabulary it could be a comment about our own time. I wonder what he would have made of the “information highway” age.