Emotions And Doctrinal Preaching

An overemphasis on doctrinal preaching as teaching often stems from and can lead to misconceptions concerning the relationship between doctrine and emotions. In other words, some advocate that doctrinal preaching should not be understood as preaching as much as it is understood to be teaching. A passionate delivery of theological content could be understood as unintelligent or less thought through.

Out of a fear of manipulating their hearers, pastors may avoid emotion in doctrinal preaching. Concerned over this issue Henry Mitchell wrote, “Preachers need not shy away from issues that touch them deeply. How can the hearers be moved if the preacher is not? This is not emotional ‘manipulation,’ as some students have suspected. It is shared meaningful experience— spiritual contagion.”*

Many parishioners mistakenly divorce doctrine from their emotions and, thus, their everyday living. Doctrine becomes something to think about, with no effect on personal behavior. Although thoughts stemming from philosophical rationalism suggest that thinking and emotions are not intertwined, biblical evidence proposes that the Christian’s emotions flow from what he believes about God.**

Luke’s account of Peter’s sermon on the Day of Pentecost provides a relevant example of the relationship of doctrine and emotion. After Peter preached on the plan of God to redeem humanity through the person of Jesus Christ, Luke recorded the response of many who listened, “Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, Brothers, what shall we do?” (Acts 2:37).

Doctrinal preaching should impact cognition, emotion and action.

* Henry H. Mitchell, “Emotion and Preaching: A Clarification,” Living Pulpit, no. 3 (July 2006): 28.

** Millard J. Erickson and James L. Heflin, Old Wine in New Wineskins: Doctrinal Preaching in a Changing World (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1997), 27-28.