Home Christian News Out-of-Context Sermon Clips: Dangerous or Instructive?

Out-of-Context Sermon Clips: Dangerous or Instructive?

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L: Screengrab from YouTube. R: Jackoo012345, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Following a spate of controversies about eye-raising sermon clips and social media postings by pastors, some people are pushing back against a so-called “gotcha” mentality.

In a new blog post for The Gospel Coalition, Trevin Wax, VP of research and resource development for the North American Mission Board, writes that the “weaponization” of these “gotcha” sermon tidbits is neither healthy nor life-giving. “The intended reaction, it appears, is to name and shame the ‘bad preacher’ and to shake one’s head in pity or disgust,” he writes.

When Sermon Clips Go Viral

The digital age has resulted in powerful gospel-sharing but also cringe-worthy, “outlandish” preaching moments, Wax explains. “Some of these point the spotlight on ‘crazy fundamentalists’ while others root out the ‘most woke’—in either case we’re introduced to preachers who seem determined to live up to the worst caricatures.”

Recent examples include controversy surrounding John MacArthur’s religious-liberty comments, outcry over Steven Furtick’s social media post, and uproar about speech excerpts from Thabiti Anyabwile.

One effect of “gotcha” sermon clips, Wax argues, is a weakened pulpit. “I shudder for the 20-something just learning to preach,” he writes, “knowing that any potential misstep, bad analogy, or aberrant theological point could be taken from a sermon and broadcast to thousands of people as an example of ‘what not to do.’ How paralyzing for the young preacher with a lifetime of learning ahead!”

As for the argument that sharing suspect clips protects listeners from “slipshod preaching,” Wax counters: “Surely there’s a difference between careful, instructive engagement and a social media-driven ‘gotcha’ clip that stirs the mob mentality.”

Leaders Debate Questionable Sermon Clips

Wax’s blog is sparking lively debate on Twitter, with many people defending the exposure of false teachers via sermon clips. “False doctrine is far worse for the church than the clips that expose it,” one person states. “How about preachers choose their words more carefully and not [say] wreckless [sic] stuff?” someone asks.

Another person writes, “Exposing error is edifying. Pointing to the truth is edifying. A better question is: Why wouldn’t you want ‘gotcha’ clips exposing darkness?”

One commenter notes, “I think there’s a difference between the ‘gotcha’ clips (like the one of [John MacArthur]) that reflect one poorly-worded statement out of 50 years of faithful preaching, vs clips of preachers doing what they do every week…at that point it’s not a ‘gotcha’. It’s exposing patterns of error.”

Another person states, “I generally agree that clips can be weaponized to take down good men who spoke clumsily, but I want to defend @WokePreacherTV. That account arose to fill a need. Many of us warning about ideas from critical theory infiltrating churches were met with denials that it was happening.”

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Stephanie Martin, a freelance writer and editor in Denver, has spent her entire 30-year journalism career in Christian publishing. She loves the Word and words, is a binge reader and grammar nut, and is fanatic (as her family can attest) about Jeopardy! and pro football.