For those of you not familiar with the dialog that's been going on, I'll keep that part brief. For those of you who do know, you already know it. What I have to say about it I think can benefit those not involved in the dialog, so please stay tuned beyond this paragraph. So, a quick summary first. Eric Carpenter at A Pilgrim's Progress critiqued a section of Thabiti Anyabwile's book on Expositional listening, which I briefly touched on here. Anyabwile responded to somebody's critique of it at the Gospel Coalition, and many are assuming it was Carpenter's critique. Anyabwile's post generated some big exchanges in the comments, and others I know like Arthur Sido jumped in, and then blogged on his own about another GC post on preaching as an ordinary means of grace. Whew.
So, the ideas in question are 1) what is the role of preaching, 2) should it be done in church to believers or outside to the unbelievers, and 3) what should actually be done in the Sunday meeting. Many of Anyabwile's critics point to their observation that there isn't a single example of a monologue sermon preached to believers in church anywhere in the NT, and all preaching is done outside of church to unbelievers. Our Sunday church meetings should be dialog in nature, with all belivers participating in edifying one another. Okay, I get their drift, and I also understand Anyabwile's viewpoint. So what I have to say here is that I see people talking past one another in Anyabwile's comments section, and I think I know why. It's partly a matter of historical and cultural contexts of both the apostles going out into the Gentile world in Acts, and the Protestant Reformation in medieval Roman Catholic Europe. I'd like to beg everybody's pardon in advance, as I'm not a historian, and would invite correction and comment here.
The Apostles' Method
I actually see two methods the apostles used in Scripture to reach the Gentile world. One, they went into the synagogues of the minority Jewish communities. Their religion was already shaped by the Scriptures, they knew the Scriptures, and they were waiting for the messiah. The message to them was, "Hey, you're God's people, but your man-made traditions have prevented you from seeing Yeshua as messiah. Ditch your traditions and the evil deeds that come from them, and embrace Jesus." Two, they went into the culture of the ignorant Greeks. Their method was different. "Your system of polytheism is death. There's only one God, the one you missed. He is Yahweh, and his Son is the Jewish messiah, Jesus the Lord. Caesar isn't Lord, Jesus is. Good news here folks, you're included in on the deal. So repent of your sins and evil deeds you've done in ignorance, and believe in him and you'll receive eternal life." Those "out there" that received the word were included in the church, made up of believers.
The context of the Reformation was different than the context of the Greek world and Roman Empire of the first century. By the time of the Reformation, Christianity had already "conquered" Europe. It had reached it's cultural conclusion in one sense. The church was a dominant force in all of culture. It affected all of life. If you were born, you were baptized into the church. This was the result of the apostles going out into the Roman Empire to begin with. For the Reformers, reaching the lost wasn't a matter of going out into a strange world to preach Jesus to a lost people. It more closely resembled my first apostolic method above, going to the Jews who had already had the foundations of religion laid down. The lost masses were already in church. The Reformers believed that a corrupt and wayward church had prevented the truth from making its way to the masses. It had prevented the truth from being known even to the church leaders. So, for the Reformers, the logical strategy would be preaching the word to those in church. That the church was everywhere, and everybody was already connected to the church in some way. The cultural context was one of Christendom.
Now, seeing their context, it would be easy for the Reformers to see a positive effect preaching would have on uneducated church attenders. They were hearing truths they never heard before. They were being greatly affected by the application of God's word directly to them and in their own language for the first time. And this great affect spread out over large parts of Europe. It would be easy for the Reformers to conclude that preaching to people in church was a means of grace. It would be easy for them to turn this into a doctrine. It would be easy to see that since this was a widespread phenomenon, that it should be something that everybody should do at all times. It would be easy to teach this down through their own generations, and it would be easy for those who were taught it to hand it down. It would be easy to see the same affect in other situations with a similar historical/cultural context. It would be easy to see all this as a timeless, eternal truth rather than a contextual strategy.
But...it may be easy to see this method not working as well with a church of already more mature believers. It would be easy to recall the tradition and its most early effects without realizing the context from which it came, and apply the doctrine to this group of more mature believers. It might be easy to see the lack of the same kind of response as a deficiency on the part of the listeners as opposed to the deficiency of the strategy. This could easily lead to a doctrine or teaching of expositional listening and expositional note taking.
Now, please understand, I'm not against preaching in the church, or against good listening. My concern is that we in the Reformed world don't see our own contextual history and have a tendency to view things as applicable to all cultures at all times, simply because we're Reformed.