5 things we overuse in our preaching: The World as one big bad guy

(See previous post here)

3. The World as one big bad guy

Since when did I have conversations with a guy called ‘Society’ or a man called ‘The World’. I’ve never met either of them. Yet I wait in earnest, because they apparently talk to everyone else.

“The world will tell you ‘to look after number one'”

“Society doesn’t like talking about religion”

Perhaps you could accuse John of doing something similar In 1 John 2.15-17; 4.4-6. Here John makes the important distinction between the evil desires in the world and the desires of the people of God. The latter are being transformed by God. The former by the collective desires of the people in the world. If we’re making that point in our sermons, fine. But (sadly) in our sermons we rarely make that point. Instead we over-use John’s ‘World’ personification as a non-confrontational, short-cut device, which replaces investigating, discerning and articulating the actual voices vying for the hearts of the listeners.


4 Responses to 5 things we overuse in our preaching: The World as one big bad guy

  1. Mike Doyle says:

    yep the “world” tells you to look after number one “we” don’t. And that’s the problem of depersonalisation.

    The beauty of John’s Gospel is in the narrative he does depersonalise by using the big bad evil world, but as the narrative continues, he squarely points the finger at us all, so in the trial of Jesus, everyone is guilty – everyone but Jesus! And so WE are the big bad world who crucified Jesus. This of course leads to the exciting solution presented in the purpose statement – that though we belong to the world of death, we may have life in his name by trusting Jesus as the Christ – God’s son.

    How’s that for a liverpool kiss?

    In the narrative, he lets down our guard by talking about the “world”, leading us into a false sense of security, and then shows we are the world. And that’s personal. And a good kick in the teeth.


  2. Luke says:

    Thanks Mike, that’s valuable insight.
    Yet is it significant that we exist post-resurrection? Interestingly in John’s letter (not his gospel of), he assumes his readers are not the ‘world’. They certainly sin, yes (1.8-10), but they are being warned against the outside voices from the world leading them astray (2.26).

    I think in his letter John would be unhappy with saying Christians are ‘the world’. He seems to labor the point that they are *not* the world (3.9-10). Yet remnants of their slavery to ‘the world’ still exist (1.8-10).

    Either way, in preaching, whether we are or are not ‘the world’, the use of ‘The world will say…’ doesn’t work. It’s not confrontational (if indeed we are the world) and it is not specific (if we aren’t).

    (Now I can’t get ‘we are the world’ out of my head!)

  3. Mike Doyle says:

    no argument from me.

    Just pointing out how in John’s gospel he uses (in my humblest opinion) “the World” as a narrative technique to lower the guards of the readers – before giving them a kick in the groin.

    When used in preaching – we generally (never?) don’t use them in the same way John does – either as a narrative technique in his gospel, or to identify a group we are not part of as in his letters.

    Of course his use of ‘world’ in the gospel is not merely used as a narrative technique.


  4. Andrew says:

    I agree. Quite often references to the world or society in sermons has a pejorative sense and makes it easier to judge or sneer at the way others are living, instead of trying to understand or witness to people who live in a different way. Thanks for the post.

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