Olin Moyd, in The Sacred Art: Preaching and Theology in the African American Tradition wrote:
God’s attributes are summed up in the oral folk sermons not in puzzling, esoterical, or mystical terms, such as “omnipotent”, “omniscient.” and “omnipresent,” but as “so high , you can’t get over him, so wide you can’t get around him, and so low that you can’t get under him.”
This is a rich section for discussion. Some times we talk about “dumbing-down” the message to make it understandable to the people. However, that is not our job as preachers. We are not to preach a elementary message. We are to take the lofty thoughts and tools that we have studied at seminary and translate it into the terms that can be understood by our people.
The people can and do understand God’s omnipresence, they just use different language to describe this. In addition, we are not just describing something. The traditional Black Preaching didn’t just describe a point and sit down. Some preachers attempt to describe an attribute of God and sit down. However, the Black preacher attempts to find a way to rephrase the idea in such a way to be understood, and then apply that idea to the real life situations of people in their daily lives.
So go ahead and preach about the trinity. Go ahead and preach about the omnipotent God. But use terms that make sense to the people you are talking to, and then show how the doctrine or point makes a difference in the lives of your parishioners, especially those whose “backs are against the wall.”
1 thought on “Breaking the Theology Down for the People”
you are exactly right. It isn’t about dumbing down the message it is about making it live by putting it in terms our people can relate to. Let’s face it. Most don’t know the language of Zion so they cannot understand. What they know is the language of our culture, the neighborhood and the folks around them. We don’t need to preach down to them, or above their heads. We need to simply communicate it terms they know.