Implication of Communication to Preaching

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Implication of Communication to Preaching

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Implication of Communication to Preaching


The archbishop of Canterbury addresses that Tough Talk the group of reformed criminal won the top prize by combining their Christian message with display of weightlifting. Dr George Carey called for the Church’s preachers to liven up their sermons, saying “We have got to find new ways of communicating, I am not against traditional forms of expression of the Christian faith, but we have to speak into a whole generation and a culture which finds institutional religion mysterious.” Dr Carey said that the reformed criminals and drug addicts in Tough Talk who were awarded the 500 pounds could be more effective at spreading the word of God because they preached a message all could understand.

Dr Carey’s assertions have three decisive factors for Christian communication. Firstly, new way of communication for Christian preaching, secondly the traditional expression of Christian faith and finally that the Christian message should be spoken to all people in all ways. Essentially his expression is a reflection of the modern church’s struggle as Jacques Ellul perceived “the devaluation of spoken and written language in an image-centred mass media.” (Mitchell 1999:203) People are more driven to media culture and entertainments that the media produce but Christian churches are in jeopardy of loosing their attendances. For example, the Church of England is in “meltdown” as attendances fall.

Preaching has reached a transitional moment where both the theory and practice need to adapt to an environment where many listeners are becoming used to interactive and “audio-visually based means of communication”. (Mitchell: 40) Preachers are no longer the only educated voice in any society, but it is one voice amongst a multitude of others, competing for an audience. As Mitchell pointed out “congregations are now more likely to test the words of the preacher for credibility and relevance.” (Mitchell: 19) However, preachers are failing to convey Christian message in a “highly competitive communicative environment” (Mitchell: 30) As Madonna’s hit song “Papa Don’t Preach” (Mitchell: 13) the words ‘preach’ and ‘preaching’ became more unwelcome among the congregation, especially outside of Sunday Service. Yet, if Sunday Service preaching is still favoured by a congregation it is because they are exceedingly polite in their conventional routine. The end of Christian preaching will be when the preachers are lose the right to preach on Sunday Services.

The Christian message, before the Reformation, was mostly illustrated through visual images. It appeared neither was literacy the ruling form of experience nor was it an immortal work of literacy. On the other hand, the reformation replaces it in written word and spoken language. “The written word spells out in sequence what is quick and implicit in the spoken language.” (McLuhan 1967: 88) Yet the spoken word became the absolute authority in the rhetorical preaching while the hermeneutic has diminished the unity of the Christian Churches.

The Reformers’ passion on oral communication has appeared well in John Knox’s demonstration, “the inspired preaching is much more powerful than the trumpet sound of five hundred horseman” and it has been developed constantly by theologians. Ellul asserts, “the only possible relationship with God is based on the word, the Word was made flesh. The invisible God came as word. He cannot be recognized by sight. Nothing about Jesus indicates divinity in a visual way.” (Mitchell: 205)

According to Oliphant Old the preaching has progressed five major genres that summarized as follow:
1. The expository preaching-lectio continua-, which is the systematic explanation of Scripture.
2. Evangelistic preaching in which its center is the proclamation of the Christian gospel.
3. Catechetical preaching that addressed the basic commitment to follow Christ and the Christian way of life.
4. Festal preaching that explains the theme of the feast or holy day that is celebrated.
5. Prophetic preaching that God often has a particular word for a particular time and a particular place.

Yet, the oral communication in preaching disregarded the two fundamental issues: cultural shift of the audiences and media development. The cultural shift is fundamental in modern life, which is already well established in the worlds of art, design, cinema and literature. People are seeking to construct a worldview that coincides with their personal values, beliefs and aspirations. There is a high degree of insecurity and uncertainty that accompanies these changes in every area of life and marriage, family, work, religion, leisure, media, and politics. “The present culture shift is a shift towards uncertainty, a shift towards diversity, a shift towards complexity.”

On the other hand the remarkable transformations in media development was a universal unity without language. The language, written word and spoken word, has always been held to be man’s richest art form in which the Christian preaching has entirely depended on. However the problem appeared with the development of the electric technology, which does not need words any more since the digital computer, uses numbers only. “The computer, in short, promises by technology a Pentecostal condition of universal understanding and unity.” ( McLuhan: 90)

Consequently, Ellul’s affirmation “the biblical revelation is radically opposed to everything visual… the only possible relationship with God is based on the word, and nothing else” confronted big challenge. (Mitchell: 205) Christian preaching as a key means of the gospel communication must provide an alternative medium for this cultural shifting eras. But as Old viewed Christian preaching were not substituted the alternative medium rather they renounced to take over the benefit of media developments.

The new digital technology has no limits, and first it gives influences of the richness in imaginations, information, human senses, visual arts and entertainment. It absorbed all kinds of levels of people as the audience. A competition for an audience between preachers who have once absorbed all kinds of levels of audiences and the growing media technology are undeniable.

The preachers ordain with a systematical examination process such as the calling of God, conversion experience, theological education, commission of the denomination, enormous prayer support of the congregation and personal dedication to the work. Then why are the audiences moving their pew? Old described precisely of this phenomena “there are plenty of pulpits but few preachers who are up to filling them. There are plenty of ministers but few who seem able to hold a congregation.” (Old 1998:2) I believe the fundamental failure of the Christian preaching is not the spiritual weakness but the negligence of the communication principles by the preachers.

Humans cannot live without communication, and “Communication takes place when a message has been transmitted and the intended point is grasped by another” (Engel: 38)
Human communication has developed noticeably using many different mediums while the Church fastened the only channel, which is the only medium in spoken word.

I don’t mean the Christian communication in preaching should change dramatically in its ways but should rather implement the productive mediums that enable to give more efficient to convey the message. Implementing those mediums (such as arts, drama, narrative, sports, talk show, interview, etc) doesn’t necessarily amuse the audiences. Its message should contain to construct or formulate ‘Christian counter culture’ in the society and provide moral guidance, which is unique in its religious tradition.

My primary concern is that how the Christian preaching constructs its unique culture vis a vis to modern media driving culture. My second argument is that how the Christian preaching should reflect its highest moral value, which it contains in its message. My final indication is that media communication has constantly been innovating through audience research. While the audiences of the Church were coming, sitting on the pews and leaving without any inquiry, they moved their pews from the church to other places.

Levi-strauss defines culture as “a sense-making process, social system, social identities and daily activities” of the people within that system. (Fiske1990: 121) Communication ‘talking to one another’ in signs and codes is a central to the life of human culture. The study of culture necessarily reflects a study of communication. Communication is the ‘social interaction through messages’ formulate the human behaviors; “beliefs, norms and values” (Shankleman 2000:8) in which society construct a “set of common beliefs.” (Rochon 1998: 9)

Communication as the “transmission of message” (Fiske:121) through the channels and media has dramatically changed with the digital technology in the communication industry in which deriving cultural transformation. The professor Thomas R. Rochon from Princeton University explores three models of cultural change: “value conversion”, “value creation” and “value connection”. (1998.54) In the case of value conversion, the familiar objects have re-categorized into a new conceptual packages. Some core values of one culture are changed resulting in the revision of a reality of relation. The element of value creation is in the fact that previous value did not advocate new categories. Value connection is a matter of achieving cultural resonance between new and established values.

The popular culture has no boundary, it is overflowing internationally through technological development, and it creates global culture. The predicament is that the global culture does not provide any room for Christian culture. The dominion of media culture marginalizes the Christian influences. On the contrary, Christian preaching is too feeble to create a Christian counter culture. One of the fundamental causes is that the preaching has not succeeded to construct moral standards and encourage practice in our daily life.

The pastoral preaching, essentially, provides an ethical foundation to audiences, and the ethics comes when we know the perfect model of it. Thus, the aims of preaching may intend more to define “the end of man”. (Melden 1955: 25), That will guide proper moral action. In the element of moral theology, R. C. Mortimer-cannon of Christ Church- define the “end of man” is God. The ultimate end of man is nothing less than God Himself because God is the sum of all perfection and lacks nothing. “The creatures reflect the perfection of God as in a mirror. The Heavens declare the glory of God and the firmament showed His handiwork.” Therefore, man’s objective end is to manifest the glory of God eternally by free intelligent worship. (Mortimer 1947: 4)

According to Merill, there are two main ethical emphases: personal or individual ethics and social or communitarian ethics. The individual ethics should be formed as a result of preaching while the social ethics is more a process of expression of Christian faith.

The output (result) of pastoral preaching must be ethical absolutism (deontological ethics), with an essential principle of duty and rule. There should have an absolute principle, and people, rationally, should follow it or be guided by it. “The person who follows them is ethical; the one who does not follow is unethical” (Kant). Duties-do such-and-such are categorical not hypothetical. Being an ethical person, in Kant’s view is to live by absolute rules, universal law, and moral principles without exception; everywhere. (Gordon: 1999: 17)

However modern people are closer to Antinomian Ethics. An opposite ethics to Kantian legalism called Freudian ethics, nihilism in morality, showed a tolerance for self-indulgence and irresponsibility. “This ethics says that people must be socially supported and maintained and they cannot be expected to be provident and self-reliant”. (Gordon: 17) People have a tendency to blame others or social institutions or conditions for any kind of immoral actions.

On the other hand the expression of Christian faith should apply the Utilitarian Ethical model. According to John Stuart Mill, the primary ethical rule is following the happiness-producing theory, which means “greatest happiness principle”. (Gordon: 16) The end would justify the means if the end were the greatest happiness for the greatest number. Pleasure is the desirable end, which people actually desire, and every person’s pleasure is a good to that person. So the Utilitarianism ethics is “the greatest happiness to the greatest number”. So the general happiness is the largest good of all. St Paul also encourages us “If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.” Consequently our expression of the Christian faith should reflect the Utilitarian while the message itself is more Kantian.

The term “ethics” comes from the Greek word “”ethos”, which means “custom, habitual conduct, usages and, later, character.” (Melden 1955: 1) Ethics is also “the science of morals, treatise on this, moral principles or rules.” (Frost 2000:1) A Christian perspective of ethics is viewed, as “the study of how human ought to live as informed by the Bible and Christian convictions.” (Grenze 1997: 23) The term “moral” is derived from the Latin “mores”, which signifies “customs” or “habits” (Melden), or “the distinction between right and wrong” (Frost), and “custom” or “usage.” (Grenz)

The theoretical interest is concerned with knowing and the practical interest is concerned with doing. Aristotle commented that good judgment in ethical theory is possible only for those who by virtue of their training and resulting character know, to begin with, what is good and what is bad.

A pastoral preaching has an important function in moral rules: desire of the greatest good for many people. The moral practice is not sufficient only with a knowledge of moral theory but concerned with doing right. To make a sound judgment the moral practitioners need moral philosophy. Traditionally, the Christian religion has functioned as the vehicle for moral instruction, criticism, and progress but unfortunately modern Christian religion does not provide any satisfactory solution to the problem of moral philosophy.

Finally media communication has constantly innovated a lot through audience research but in preaching the audience just sitting on the pews without any inquiry moved their pews from the church to other places.

I have an inclination that the Christian preaching needs to return to its traditional roots and values of communication. Communication is “talking to another” (Fiske 1990: 1), “the fundamental human fact” (Kraemer 1957: 11). Communication means “to share, to make common, or even to have possession of a common faith”. (Schultze 2001: 19) Communication refers “to the giving and taking of meaning, the transmission and reception of messages.” (McQuail 2001: 13)

According to these definitions communication is talking to one another in order to share ideas. Traditional Christian preaching was more a one-way proclamation like John the Baptist; “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” He was saying, “I am a voice of one crying in the wilderness.” This was a characteristic of many preachers: the voice of God. Dr Gustaf Wingren echo this saying, “The Word exists to be made known; only when it is preached…” (Wingren 1949: 13) For Wingren preaching is proclamation in the regular Sunday service. “In the pews men sit and wait for the Word, repeated Sunday by Sunday.”

“ The fundamental vision of the Bible is that God, being the real ground of man’s being, has created man for communication with him or for dialogue with him.” (Kremar: 14) Only in communication with God, the heart of man is in the right place, while oriented in the right direction. The word of God coming to man, because he is ‘God who speaks’ with man and it is summed up in the light of the “dispensation of Christ.” (Heb.1.1-3)

The Reformation reinstated “the Word”, preaching, as one of the principal elements of the worshiping Christian community. All other means of communication have been excluded except preaching. However the Western verbal Christian culture, drastically, challenge by people who prefer “seeing is believing.” A highly rational and mechanical-technical culture, dramatically, transformed the forms of communication.

At any rate, the crucial point is that current human life by now intensely attached to media performances. “Seeing is believing” has become an important criterion in the media oriented life. Pastoral communication in modern church should not become a rejection of media performances but a critical use of it, for the sake of the gospel, is essential.

I think preaching has a serious challenge of getting the audience’s attention. The audience should be the aims and no the means as Kant asserts. “Kant devoted to the principle that human beings are to be treated as ends and never merely as means in central in his ethics and politics…” (Melden 1955: 291)

What is audience? It is the collective term for the ‘receiver’ in the model of mass communication process. The audience is not usually observable, sitting in the rooms, place or pews. However they response in many different ways using comparison, judging and by commenting but that pattern has changed, particularly by audience participation through feedback using many techniques.

In the media, audiences are viewed as the market and this is the same in the case of preaching, even though they are not related to a ‘cash transaction’ (Mcquail:363), in many ways they are a set of economic criteria. “Effective communication and the quality of audience experience are of secondary importance in market thinking” (Mcquail:363), but the view of the audience as market is inevitably wider in many tele-evangelism in America and revival meetings in Korea.

The audience research in the preaching can be very dynamic, innovative and increase more effective message formulation to sender. “In all kinds of human communication activity we think about the person or persons with whom we are communicating. Every time we speak, write a letter, make a phone call, we need to make an effort to consider with whom we are communicating.” (Mytton 1999:13) Just as the broadcasters need to know something about the people who are watching or listening, the preachers also need to know their audience to provide a more efficient message.

Even Jesus often asked the audience’s view about him, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” and “But who do you say that I am?”

Klaus Bruhn Jensen introduces four traditional humanistic researches: rhetorical tradition, hermeneutic, phenomenological and semiotic tradition. The rhetorical tradition in humanistic research focus on the “character of the speaker, quality of argument, and the emotions, which the speech is designed to evoke in the listeners.” (2002: 19) If rhetoric is related to how to argue about fact, hermeneutics developed out of the practice of reading and understanding written texts.

“Hermeneutics suggests that the very process of both reading and analyzing a text is incremental and creative-readers gradually work out their categories of understanding I order to arrive at a coherent interpretation.” (Jensen: 21) The preaching research should take this task in studies of text.

Another research area is phenomenological tradition, which has a less influence on media studies but Edmund Husserl’s concept of a ‘horizon’ gives a significant meaning to communication. “A misunderstanding of a text can result from an incompatibility between the horizon implicit in the text and the reader’s horizon of expectations; a ‘disagreement’ about the meaning of a text can be the product of conflicting interpretive horizons.” (Jensen: 23)

The last humanistic research tradition of Jensen is ‘semiotic’. Semiotic is “the life of signs within society” (Saussure, 1959:23), and it is the most influential study of culture and communication in the media. In Christian preaching, semiotics is not considered as interdisciplinary approach out side of Catholic and Eastern orthodox. American philosopher Charles Sanders Peirce developed a comprehensive philosophy of sign and defines as: a sign, or representation, is something, which stands to somebody for something in some respect or capacity. It addresses somebody, that is, creates in the mind of that person an equivalent sign, or perhaps a more developed sign. That sign which it creates I call the interpretation of the first sign. The sign stands for something, its object. (Peirce 1931-58:vol. 2:228, Jensen: 24)

Peirce suggest signs are not what we know, but how we come to know, what we can justify saying what we know, and it is a continuous process of interpretation.

Swiss linguist Ferdinand de Saussure, in comparison, focused on verbal language. “Along the syntagmatic axis, letters, words, phrases, and so forth are the units that combine to make up meaningful wholes.” (Jensen:24) Humans are well acquainted with the all kinds of signs either by interpreting the real meaning of it or otherwise. But most protestant Churches and preachers do not give any significant meaning of to the signs.

Preaching has to be the Word of God because the message comes from God, because it is God's message of grace and pardon, and because it is God who Himself speaks the message. Yet, it has to be also the word of man because it is human speech spoken by God's herald.

The Church is God’s only divinely appointed means for his kingdom practice yet she has lost the function of medium. “The Church is God’s agent in the earth-the medium through which he expresses himself to the world.” (Engel 1979:101) A constant theme in the teaching of Jesus was:
1. New life of a total inner transformation through genuine repentance.
2. New life should expressed in society as both salt and light.
3. Outcome of new life, under the guidance of the Lordship of Jesus Christ, must demonstrated in unity of the churches and mission to the world.

Yet, the audiences have moved considerably not because of the lack of spiritual interest, but because the message receptiveness has changed. Christian preaching should change about who will take the initiative: preachers or audiences.

President Jiang Zemin said in his manifesto speech on China’s future development to the Communist party congress, “The world is changing”, and so the expression of Christian faith in preaching also need to follow. Because the effective preaching in communication of the word of God is more worth than 500 pounds that Tough Talk awarded and Jiang’s speech.


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