Multisensory Preaching and Teaching: 2
“Do we have permission?” By Rick Blackwood
Yesterday I introduced a heated debate in evangelical churches about the use of multisensory preaching. Some feel that the use of multisensory preaching compromises the purity of biblical preaching and that it is basically a form of theological liberalism. As I said before, in this brief series I want simply to be biblically sensible. Today I will address the first of three questions that have been raised about multisensory preaching. It has to do with permission. Does the Bible forbid the use of multisensory teaching?
For me, if the Bible prohibits multisensory communication, it must be abandoned at once. If the use of visuals, props, media, drama, and other multisensory teaching aids somehow violate a biblical command or principle, I will be the first to reject it. On the other hand, if there is no such prohibition, and if there is actually biblical precedence for this model of communication, then let us embrace it fully.
God is a Multisensory Communicator
Thumb through the pages of the Old Testament, and you quickly discover that God is into multisensory communication. In fact, he is the pioneer of multisensory communication. God designed us with multiple senses to receive information from the environment, and he constantly seeks to connect to those sensory receptors.
Multisensory Natural Revelation: God teaches us about himself from what we hear, see, touch, smell, taste. This is what theologians refer to as natural revelation, because God is revealing himself and teaching us through what we sense from nature. The multisensory nature of the creation captivates out attention, helps clarify our understanding of God, and is absolutely unforgettable. God gave us this amazing universe; he communicates the universe through sound, vision, feel, smell, and taste; and he gave us the five corresponding senses to perceive it.
Multisensory Special Revelation God also teaches us in a multisensory form when it comes to special revelation, i.e. the Bible. All through the Old Testament, God taught theological and practical truth though the medium of multisensory communication. His sensory teachings were graphic, explicit, and directly connected to the truth he wanted to communicate.
For example, God often called on his prophets to use extreme multisensory teaching methodologies in order to connect to the audience he wished to impact. The prophets used verbal communication mixed with visual elements as well as interactive techniques to heighten the levels of attention, understanding, and memory of the people.
Hosea: Drama Ahead of its Time: For those of you who imagine drama is an unscriptural form of teaching, you need to read the Book of Hosea. In this book, God is the teacher, and to make the lesson stick, God uses a real life drama. God himself sets up this real life multisensory sermon by having Hosea marry an adulteress woman.
Jeremiah: Video Ahead of its Time: This teaching prophet was called by God to carry an ox yoke on the nape of his neck, and the image spoke to the people as graphically as possible. Calvin Miller writes, "This image was video ahead of its time. God was using Jeremiah as a walking three-dimensional visual object lesson to teach Israel a truth."3
One could find other multisensory teaching examples in the Bible from God. The entire Tabernacle set up, was a visual picture of the worship of heaven. The Passover drama played out in Egypt was a visual picture of the blood of the Lamb of God on the cross. The pastor who teaches in a multisensory form is not mimicking the culture – he is mimicking the creator.
Jesus was a Multisensory Teacher
Few teachers relied on the power of multisensory teaching any more than Jesus. What we are seeing today in terms of multisensory teaching is not so much a revolution as it is a revival. Jesus used vines, branches, coins, water, wheat, wheat fields, children, and all sorts of visual aids to graphically communicate divine truth. Roy Zuck of Dallas Theological Seminary discusses the teaching methods of Jesus:
How did Jesus engage such attention? His teaching competence is seen in his creative use of variation in teaching patterns, the way he involved his learners, and his appeal to the visual.2
Teachers today do well to learn from Jesus’ teaching by stimulating and motivating their students, varying their methods, encouraging learners to participate, and visualizing what they verbalize.
New Testament Ordinances are Multisensory
The ordinance of baptism paints a visual picture of a theological reality. We even remind our congregations that baptism is a picture of the death, burial, and resurrection of Our Lord Jesus. They say, "a picture paints a thousand words", and baptism does just that. It is an explicit image of a great theological truth.
The Lord's Supper is even more multisensory. The bread is a picture of Christ body, and the juice is a picture of his blood. But it’s more than just verbal and visual; it’s also interactive. The congregation interacts with the teaching by eating the bread and drinking the juice. In addition, there is the stimulation of the senses of taste and possibly smell. The Lord’s Supper is the ultimate form of multisensory teaching, because it interfaces with all five of our senses: hearing, seeing, touching, tasting, and maybe even smelling. Talk about graphic!
Andy Stanley offers some wise advise:
This brings us to an important reason for careful planning: ensuring that the message of the Bible is the central focus of the weekend services. Visuals can be illuminating. Videos can move and inspire. Lights and props and drama can keep people interested. But too much of a good thing can quickly distract from the very reason people need to be there, which is to apply the Word of God to their lives.3
Answer to Question #1 "We have Permission"
There may be preachers and teachers who decide not to use multisensory teaching, and that is fine. I am not saying this is for everyone. But please, come to your senses, and do not make it a biblical-theological issue. There is theological precedence for those who wish to make use of its effect.
1. Miller, Calvin. 1994. The empowered communicator: Seven keys to unlocking an audience. Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers. 15-16
2. Zuck, Roy B. 1998. Teaching as Paul taught. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books. 178
3. Stanley, Andy., and Ed Young. 2002. Can we do that? Innovative practices that will change the way you do church. West Monroe, LA: Howard Publishing Company. 155