Smith Jr., Robert. Doctrine that Dances: Bringing Doctrinal Preaching and Teaching to Life. Nashville, TN: Broadman, 2008.
I don’t hear a great deal of doctrinal preaching these days. I hear a lot of pragmatic preaching, a lot of exegetical preaching, a lot of narrative preaching, but not so much preaching that intends to explicate the great doctrines of the Scripture for the edification of the hearers. Perhaps this has something to do with a corresponding ebb in the interest of systematic theological studies in favor of the more emergent-friendly biblical theology movement. Or perhaps it is because not enough of us know how to handle doctrine in a sermon the way that Robert Smith does.
Smith, professor of Christian preaching at Beeson Divinity School at Samford University is the author of Doctrine that Dances: Bringing Doctrinal Preaching and Teaching to Life. As one who has come from a background that discouraged dancing in the church, I find Smith’s choreographical metaphor to be both illuminating and refreshing. It is probably even biblical. Smith notes the presence of the Greek word “epichoregias” in Philippians 1:19. In this text the Holy Spirit “choreographs” events so that they turn out for Paul’s deliverance. Would not we love for the Spirit to work similarly through our preaching of the doctrines of God’s Word?
Of course, one could wonder whether Smith is talking specifically about good doctrinal preaching, or just good preaching in general. His definition of doctrinal preaching is “the escorting of the hearers into the presence of God for the purpose of transformation.” I think that this offers an excellent definition of every kind of preaching, which begs the question whether every kind of preaching ought to be doctrinal, at least to some degree. Throughout my reading of the book I found myself saying, he’s not just describing good doctrinal preaching, he’s just describing good preaching! What I am suggesting is that this book cannot be dismissed as limited to a particular brand of preaching.
That said, the world could use a lot more preaching that was intentional about communicating doctrine. In our attempts to accommodate the listener, we sometimes give the truth something less than what its due. People don’t know enough theology and while I’d love to think that we are addressing this problem through the seminaries, I know that most of this needs to happen in the church. Much of it will need to happen through our preaching. I agree with Smith, that if preachers could awaken a new love for the truth of the Bible, that would be a good thing. “Christians are experiencing spiritual immaturity and spiritual death. One of the reasons for this is that worshippers are being served sermonic snacks instead of the doctrinal meat of the Word of God. if doctrine is presented with joy and accuracy, the hearers will not only stand it, they will crave more of it (6).”
Smith does well to remind us, that such preaching must be both “cranial and cardiological (8).” It must speak both to the listener’s heart as well as its head. Doctrinal preaching need not be boring. Doctrinal preaching, like all preaching, must learn to dance.
The use of the word “escort” in Smith’s definition is not by accident. Smith makes much of two rather provocative metaphors, the “exegetical escort” and the “doxological dancer.” Smith admits the sexual overtones of his language (76), but claims to find biblical warrant for their use in texts such as Galatians 3:24. I must say, however, that paidagogos speaks more of the language of the classroom (tutoring and training) than it does of one who ushers or escort. In other words, I think Smith might be guilty of a rather ironic exegetical slip.
That said, I have little difficulty with the concept. “The eschatological escort,” Smith writes, “is one who ushers hearers into the presence of God for the purpose of transformation. Once the exegetical escort has ushered hearers into the presence of God and given them the Word, the escort’s job is over. The escort leaves them in the throne room of God and lets God transform them (75).”
This is an important idea. I have used a similar image – that of a ‘host’. No one ought to come to hear me preach. I’m simply hosting an opportunity for my listeners to meet and hear from God. Of course the word “host” would damage the alliterative appeal of Smith’s concept.
The question Smith would like to ask is whether we preachers know how to dance. Though I’m loathe to admit it, my family and I have taken to watching So You Think You Can Dance? every now and again. I have been surprised by my reaction to this television competition. I’ve been impressed by the combination of athleticism and artistry that these dancers are able to exhibit. Many times I have found myself moved to tears, not only by the beauty they portray but also by the message that a particular piece is sometimes able to convey. I have thought that I would love for my preaching to produce a similar kind of impact.
I, like Smith, would love to think that my preaching – even my specifically doctrinal preaching – could somehow actually dance!