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The Fellows of Expository Thoughts

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Should people take notes during the sermon?

Questioning tradition a bit at this point, I would like to pose a question which I am certainly not the first to ask. Other men from history are looking over my shoulder asking the same question and they have far more credibility and longevity than I do (e.g., Jonathan Edwards, Martyn Lloyd-Jones). Should we encourage our people to take notes during the sermon? Let me state at the outset that I do not think it a major issue either way. I would say that most expository preaching lends itself toward people taking notes as it is informational as well as exhortive preaching (as it should be). In our church, our men meet in weekly groups where they discuss last week’s sermon and seek to plunge the depths of application. The basis for their meetings is their notes from the last sermon. So personally speaking, I have seen the tremendous advantages of individuals taking notes while I preach.

However, in our media-driven age there is still an uncomfortable disconnect with modern forms of communication and the very old biblical task of public preaching. Ours is a generation driven by gobs of information and statistics which we have at a ready click (e.g., Google, Wikipedia) even if we’re not sure how such information should be processed. In fact, we have more bits of information at our disposal than ever before and yet we have few thinkers who are able to process this mass of media without the aid of a computerized algorithms. I believe such information age characteristics of knowledge accumulation have made their way into the congregations of churches that regularly dish out expository sermons. One response to such excess would be to scrap the expository sermon all together in favor of something lighter and more user-friendly but we can’t do this since 1) expository preaching is a biblical mandate 2) you would be wasting years of Greek and Hebrew study if you do something else and 3) you would reduce your ministry to scratching itching ears…just to name a few. Ridding ourselves of the method (i.e., expository) is not an option. So let’s hear some dissenting voices on taking notes before we decide what to do.

The first to truly emphasize such a point was Jonathan Edwards. George Marsden recounts Edwards saying, “The main benefit that is obtained by preaching is by impression made upon the mind in the time of it, and not by the effect that arises afterwards by a remembrance of what was delivered” (quoted in The Salvation of Souls, eds. Richard Bailey and Gregory Wills, 11). In a similar manner Martyn Lloyd-Jones followed Edwards noting, “The first and primary object of preaching is not only to give information. It is, as Edwards says, to produce an impression. It is the impression at the time that matters, even more than what you can remember subsequently….It is not primarily to impart information; and while you are writing your notes you may be missing something of the impact of the Spirit.”

So there are valid points to be made all around. Do you think Edwards and Jones made valid observations or do you think this is where they might have strayed in regards to application? What do we learn from both sides of the spectrum? Let us know what you think.