Multisensory Preaching and Teaching: 3
“Does it Water Down the Gospel?” by Rick Blackwood
When I was working on my Doctor of Education at Southern Seminary, I was working out in the gym one afternoon, and I struck up a conversation with a Doctor of Ministry student about my dissertation on multisensory preaching. When I told him what that was, he immediately assumed that I was of the emergent church culture. His comment to me was, "So, I guess you water down the gospel with all the cool visuals." It was a slam against the use of any form of preaching other than lecture preaching. This student even felt that preaching had to be from a pulpit, as if Jesus ever used one of those.
At any rate, it made me aware of how much misunderstanding there really is swirling around multisensory preaching. So let’s take on the second of our three questions: Does multisensory preaching water down the gospel?
When some evangelicals accuse modern day preaching of watering down the gospel, I am forced to concur with them. Many contemporary churches have put the church on a slippery slope of compromising the purity of the biblical text.
This is tragic, because when a preacher waters down the message, he literally strips the octane out of the message. He is robbing the message of the fuel it needs to ignite changed lives. Not all multisensory preaching falls into that category. In fact, there are some who teach in a purely lecture format who water down the message. Style is not the issue, content is.
Multisensory communication, when executed with loyalty to the biblical text has the opposite impact of watering down the message – if anything it makes the truths of the Word more explicit. It makes them visual, graphic, and unforgettable. Multisensory communication does for preaching what symbolic language does for the Book of Revelation. The symbolic language of Revelation is not allegory – it is a literal truth made more graphic by the language. That’s precisely what multisensory communication can do for our preaching.
The "Special Effect" – Effect
Multisensory communication does for preaching what special effects have done for movies; it makes the presentation more graphic! In my own preaching, the use of multisensory communication has made theological truths more vivid and more explicit. It’s interesting, that I have never been accused of making my preaching too weak. I have, however, been accused of making it too explicit. That’s the power of multisensory communication.
A classic example of this would be the effect of the movie The Passion of the Christ. Like many pastors, I was invited to a sneak preview of the movie before it was released. I have to admit that I was very suspicious of anything Hollywood produces about our Savior. Was I ever in for a shock! Mind you, I had read about the crucifixion of Christ, I had taught on the subject in great detail, I had heard great theologians teach on it, and I had wept while hearing about his suffering.
But when I saw the crucifixion in dramatic form, my reaction was remarkably different. As I sat there in the theatre and heard the flogging, saw the blood splatter; and felt the thunder of God in the room; I was absolutely broken! During the flogging scene, I wanted to scream out, "stop!" Hearing it, seeing it, and feeling it, made me feel like I was immersed in the scene. All of my senses were engaged, and they seemed to be standing on end! The difference between hearing about it and experiencing it was like night and day.
That’s the effect of multisensory teaching. In no way does it tone down the message. It turns up the heat! It provides picturesque detail, and it gives explosive impact. Multisensory communication lets the audience hear, see, interact, and experience the Word of God.
The Unchanging Message and Changeable Methods
Multisensory preaching by nature does not seek to change the message only the method of delivery. It is designed to make the message more captivating, more understandable, and more memorable. The communication world is constantly in change, and we must be able to adapt our methods (not the message) to that context. The world of communication has transitioned from no technology, to radio, television, computers, and the Internet. The church itself has transitioned from no PA systems, to microphones, to high tech sound systems. We have evolved from no means of recording messages, to reel-to-reel tapes, to cassette tapes, to CDs to DVDs and now to pod casting.
Through many of those changes, there were dissenting voices that accused them of being evil and of the devil. It’s sad that the church does so much to make itself ineffective.
Answer to question #2
Multisensory teaching does not water down the gospel.
Rick Blackwood (DMin, Grace Theological Seminary; EdD, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) serves as the senior pastor of Christ Fellowship in Miami, Florida, a large and growing multicultural congregation comprised of more than seventy nationalities. Christ Fellowship has been listed in the 100 Fastest Growing Churches in America. Prior to his ministry in Miami, Rick served churches in North Carolina. Rick lives with his wife and two children in Miami.