I started this blog back in August of 2009 with different intentions. I had originally envisioned it as a place that could serve as a hub for local churches in the area to post their sermons online, share local news and events, advertise guest speakers that they were having, give praise reports of baptisms, and update with the joys and tears of their missionary work. That was the purpose of this website at its earliest conception. The more I thought of it however, I realized that I did not have the time and energy to dedicate to such a large endeavor. It would be a fairly massive undertaking, especially in order to do it well and I was not up for it.
I then decided to switch gears and make the focus of the blog sermon reviews. I had been listening to 20-60 sermons a week leading up to this, for quite a few years, and while at this point I was unable to listen to that same quantity, I was still listening to 10-15 a week. Some were treasured podcasts and the rest were local Fort McMurray Churches. I found myself alternately edified by some and angered at others. Believing myself to be adequately equipped with a decent knowledge of the scripture,s I thought it would be a good idea to review and evaluate sermons. My reviewing philosophy was born and has been posted since day one.
“What I do when I review a sermon is I mainly look to see that the law is being used lawfully, that the gospel is preached as it should, that the bible verses aren’t being taken out of context, and that historical Judeo-Christian orthodoxy and biblical theology is being preached”….. “As such, I try to respond as gently as I can. I know far too well how easy it is to just sit back and take pot shots at a Pastor for sermon that he may have spent hours or even days on, and that doing so really doesn’t help anyone. As such, when I comment on a sermon, it’s never my intent to tear down or to be dismissive of anything or anyone, but rather to simply see that these preachers are rightly dividing the word of truth, and to build them up and encourage them when I can, and to correct them in truth and love as a brother in Christ when I feel they require correction”
When I started off, I envisioned that this could be a place where I could have robust dialogue with the pastors who preached these sermons, the elders who supported the church, and the people who attended these churches. Whether it was a word of praise or a critique of how they used scripture, the intention was always to build them up and help them become stronger. Ironing sharpening iron, whetting the word of God until it could pierce bone, sinew and marrow-straight to a man’s heart. It was all about the Bible- that’s all I ever wanted to talk about. At this point someone might say “But who asked you to do that? Nobody asked you to play judge and jury.” It’s true. Nobody asked me. But I felt this was a worthwhile ministry in which I was gifted in. I am a good teacher and I have a good understanding of the Bible and what it says. I know how to read it and how it should be read. I know what is prescriptive and what is descriptive- the ebb and flow of it, the arc and worldview, how to exegete it and how to apply proper hermeneutics to it. I figured that because I didn’t critique the pastor personally or take shots at his personality or his homiletical style, I hoped we could relegate this to the arena of ideas and theology proper, and that they would be ok with that. I went ahead with it.
Things did not go as planned. There was almost no interaction, though I would send the pastors emails and inform them of what I was writing. Sometimes I would write them in advance and ask them to comment before I posted something because I wanted the clearest possible understanding of what they were preaching. I might say something like “In your sermon you used this verse to prove your point, and said so forth and so forth. But in doing so you did not quote the verse right, and in fact fused two verses together, neither of which works.” One or two ventured a comment. One wrote me an email saying “Thank you very much. You are absolutely right. I was speaking extemporaneously and completely messed those up and gave the wrong impression. Thank you for your work.” That was a rarity. Most just ignored me. Every once in a while I would receive a comment about a sermon review I did and the same charges were always laid; that I was being mean, graceless, nitpicky, overly zealous and unloving.
I tried to interact with these people, ask them for specifics and ask them about the issues I raised, but no one wanted any meaningful interaction or dialogue. This was strange to me because its not like the reviews were all negative. I rarely if ever brought up minor quibbles or nitpicks. I’m not bringing up minor issues or doctrinal distinctives that I disagree with, but issues of substance. In fact, the overwhelming majority of thoughts that I had involved how they used the Bible. More often than not I would give 5 or 6 ways that felt edified and built up, told them how blessed I was because of the things I learned, and then inquired about a few things which I had questions about. Again, silence.. One low point was when one of the local Churches invited a word-faith heretic to preach and teach On Sunday morning. The man absolutely butchered the Bible. I have listened to close to 8000-9000 sermons in my life, and this was easily one of the worst. I reviewed the sermon and sent it to the leadership of the Church several times. They never responded. I waited to see if they issued a public rebuke and repudiation of the man and his sermon, I never heard one. I contacted a friend who attended the Church and asked them if they heard anything- they never did. As far as I know, that Church still stands behind this man and his message.
I think that is what has surprised me about a lot of these pastors. I love these guys and I admire and respect them all so much, even the ones that we don’t see eye to eye, and yet despite my affections, good will, and straight up love for this men, many of them treat me like a pariah. What I had intended to be a blessing they see as a curse. They don’t respond to my emails, even when I am asking something neutral and innocuous. My intentions are treated as suspicious, even though I have never tried to be that. I don’t know if its fear, embarrassment, immaturity, or something else that prevents them from interacting with what I actually said. Maybe they believe that there is no such thing as a godly critic- that any criticism is personal and is an attack against them and their church. I honestly don’t know. But I can send out email after email after email, to multiple pastors in the same church, and the result is silence.
I’m not some anonymous blogger who fires potshots from his mom’s basement- I’m a friendly guy who lives and works in town and would like very much to sit down and talk anyone who wants to talk. I’m always up for that. I have my contact information available and I’ll talk with people face to face anytime. I understand that these men are busy- they are shepherds of a flock, after all, and as I don’t even go to their Churches they have to prioritize. They don’t owe me an answer. I’m not so special that I deserve an answer, necessarily, or that my objections demand a response. I can also understand that what I say can be wearing. Though often I’ll say “Great sermon, Loved these 10 points. Excellent!”other times I’ll take exception and dedicate quite a a bit of time showing why they used the Bible in an improper way. That’s not fun for either of us, and I don’t relish the prospect of that. In many ways I approach it with grief, sorrow,anger and frustration that it has to happen at all. But happen it does- or did.
Anyways, as a result, I’ve slowly started moving the focus of my website away from sermon reviews to more general theology. I still listen to every sermon that is released by every Church in this city, but only comment when they are exceptionally good or exceptionally bad. Most of the time they good sermons with some questionable things thrown it, but it takes great energy to review one. I spend 6-8 hours on each one, easily, listening to them multiple times, transcribing large sections, pulling up bible verses, looking for sources, reading commentaries, doing my own in-depth exegesis, tracking down this and that, and then writing it all out. Its time consuming, and as no one cares to interact with what I say, it has become less and less important to me. Though I should mention that there have been some Pastors who have been nothing but kind and gracious to me, and also not the ones you would probably expect. You would be surprised at some of the emails I have received. Some have been incredibly rude, gruff, and downright mean. Others have been generous with their time and have shown me great kindness in ways that makes me admire them all the more.
But the blog is evolving. I try to give as much original content as I can, and I know my efforts have been imperfect. My passion has always been the Gospel and making sure the Bible is being used correctly. I don’t see that changing. I try to keep things interesting and fun- biblical and provocative, and talk about a host of subjects that interest me and which I think would interest my readers. I have a few extremely provocative blog posts planned before now and November, and a few which will do some exegetical teaching. Going forward, it will be a bit more broad, but I will always be referring back to my niche, which is blogging about events that are relevant to Fort McMurray and the Churches in the area. I have been blessed to have some wonderful readers who have supported me and have interacted with me, which I truly appreciate. This blog has pushed me and has helped grow me, offering its joys and hardships, but I am a better man for and a better believer for it.
Thank you so much again, and thank you all for the way that you’ve contributed to this.