Tuesday, May 18, 2010

My bit on Caner

I have hitherto refrained from commenting on the Ergun Camer saga as it plays itself out. Not because I am not convinced by the documentation that has been presented, but because I was not sure what to say. Tom Chantry has written a good piece on the use of exaggeration in the pulpit. however, that finally brought me to say something.

Chantry is quite right that there is an over-use of anecdotes in some preaching. What is worse is the mentality that thinks it is better to represent these anecdotes as having happened to me. This is just plain wrong. Now, I am not against the use of stories in preaching, but I believe that we must always be utterly truthful in what we say - I am reminded of the story of the British preacher who was preaching American sermons on the sly and was found out when he began a sermon by saying something along the lines of "As I looked out of my study window this morning at the Rocky Mountains..."

First of all, nothing justifies making out that something happened to you when it did not, nothing at all. That is not exaggeration, it is lying. Exaggeration is when you say that the fish was this big, when it was a great deal smaller, or when you refer to a trip that took an hour and a half more than it should have as taking "hours." If, however, I were to talk about my trip to Australia, I would be lying. I have never been to Australia!

So let me suggest that anecdotes must be told truthfully, predicated with "I heard of a man who..." or "the story is told that..." or some such phrase indicating that this is someone else's story! That will in no way reduce the ability of the anecdote to communicate meaning, and it will certainly improve honesty. Spurgeon, who had many interesting experiences himself, more often than not told stories that he had heard, and told them as stories he had heard. No-one ever complained that it lessened the impact!

So why do so many preachers today tell these stories about themselves? As I see it, there are two reasons:
1. This will increase the impact of the sermon. The idea is that a first-person anecdote is more effective. It seems to me that this is what is behind Caner's thinking. Instead of talking about other people being trained in Jihad and coming to America thinking all Americans hate Islam, he claimed that this was the way he had been. The trouble is, it's not true. How can we, who serve Him who is The Truth, possibly think that a lie, which is of the devil, can serve God's cause? The ends can never Justify the means, and indeed attempting to use means incongruous with the ends will never work! Chantry points to many people who have been so disgusted with this falsehood that they have left the church they were attending when it happened.

2. The preacher wants to be a star. Sadly I suspect that the reason anecdotes previous generations would have introduced as "I read of..." are now retailed as "This happened to me" is simple egotism. The preacher has become a star, it's all about him, and so he holds himself up as the example to everyone. Now, since many of us have rather unexciting lives, and may well have men and women in the congregation who lived very exciting lives, the only way I can make myself a star is to exaggerate, to embellish and even to lie.
Undoubtedly part of the problem here lies in the Victorian era's glorification of noted preachers. Joseph Parker, for example, was a star, his authorised biography is frankly terrible. One reveiwer described it as "a four hundred page essay in incense-burning", and this witness is true. What is far worse is when the one doing the incense-burning is the preacher himself!
It is not wrong for the preacher to refer occasionally to himself and his own life from the pulpit, but never is this to be done in such a way as to draw attention to the man in the pulpit. Our emphasis, to refer to an anecdote I believe I read in a Spurgeon sermon, is to be "not the man in the pulpit, but the Man in the Bible." The celebrity preacher mindset totally reverses this. Brothers, we are not stars, not celebrities, we are ministers, servants of Christ and the Gospel. We are but the instruments, like a pen in God's hand, and as Baxter put it, "What praise is due to a pen?"

God does not need falsehood, for He is Truth. "God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all." For His sake, I think Caner should resign - but I pray that he will be restored, and that this will be a good discipline for him.


Tom Chantry said...

Wow. I wish my dad were my ghost writer. That would be cool.

Hiraeth said...

The British preacher with the US sermon nicking was either in Anglesey or Gwynedd, and the offending line was '...as I looked out over the Blue Ridge Mountains'.

The most fascinating sermon I ever read from the point of view of things happening was 'The Return to the Old Self', a sermon preached in 1894 by a Congregational minister in London He spoke only in very general terms and used no personal anecdotes - yet the man had gone missing only a few weeks before, beset by problems. His experiences speak in the sermon, but he does not speak of his experiences. I think some modern preachers would be drooling about the grace of God to them, but in this man's case, he just presents the gracious God. Interesting, isn't it?

Hiraeth said...

Oh, and I'd note that Caner has lectured US Marines on Jihad. Was he paid for this? If so, he has profited from lying.

Highland Host said...

I stand corrected.