Friday, December 22, 2006

Poetic License In The Pulpit

Growing up in IFBxdom, I have always been accustomed to hearing fantastic stories told during sermons. These seemingly innocent little tales became legends that I could recount nearly verbatim to my children even today. Most of these stories happened while "Preacher" was very young and living in a state far, far away or while he was out of state preaching at a special meeting. While I was in the thick of this, I completely believed every story that was told--I think there was something inside of me that wanted to believe that MY pastor would always tell the truth especially while preaching the Word of God to his people--now I am not so sure.

Once I left the realm of IFBx I began to wonder about these fantastic stories that were missing from the sermons at my new church. I began to re-listen to sermons and re-read portions of books written by my former pastor and those who patterned their ministries after him with a more discerning heart--I was troubled by what I found. I struggled with the notion that I must have been so gullible to believe such perfectly orchestrated illustrations. I even remembered how my IFBx pastor would comment after telling a fabulous story about how the reason some people thought he made those stories up was because they were not yielded to the Holy Spirit--if you were REALLY under the Spirit's guidance these things would happen in your life too! Does that sound at all like emotional manipulation to anyone else? I digress.

I can still remember the day when I told my wife for the first time that I did not believe all of Hyles' illustrations--needless to say she was absolutely shocked. I went on to tell her that I believed that he was lying and embellishing more often than telling the complete truth. After the initial "blasphemy"of such an accusation wore off, she slowly began to understand where I was coming from. forward to 2006

I had not really thought about this particular aspect of the IFBxers until recently. I rarely take the time to listen to sermons preached by IFBxers--I have had more than my fill of the yelling and storytelling even though it is quite entertaining at times. Having spent over 20 years under this kind of preaching and sitting in homiletics classes at HAC that teach this style, I have developed a certain resistance to it. I have heard the constant drone over the past few years how that things have changed in Hammond--here is yet another area where it seems like it is just more of the same only a heap more of it...!

All of this brings us to these basic questions: As a preacher of the Gospel is it OK to fib during a sermon (or anytime for that matter)? As a preacher of the Gospel is it OK to exaggerate during a sermon (or anytime for that matter)? As a preacher of the Gospel is it OK to embellish during a sermon (or anytime for that matter)? As a preacher of the Gospel is it OK to exaggerate, embellish, lie, or whatever else you want to call it as long as you motivate your listeners? Anyone who knows me or has read even a little bit of Bread and Circuses knows where I stand on this, but I am curious if anyone else following this story has a different take.

Personally I would take it a step farther and say that the typical topical style of preaching that is so prevalent among hysteric fundamentalists lends itself to this kind of perversion. Notice I did not say that ALL topical preaching includes lies--nor did I say that all stories or illustrations were wrong. What I mean is that the man-centered flavor of topical preaching that I enjoyed for all of my growing up years included countless lies, fibs, exaggerations, embellishments, or whatever other word you want to use--bottom line is that every man is commanded to speak the truth PERIOD.

Sadly, Hyles and Schaap are not the only ones who have told whoppers from behind the sacred desk. Recently I was told about a fabulous sermon that was preached recently during a chapel hour. The reason given for its appeal was that the preacher shared details about the 40 day fast he had just completed and the countless things he had given up recently to be more "holy". There are many clones and HAC graduates out there who are doing the same thing. Certainly there are preachers from other institutions and denominations who play loose with the truth--I am willing to bet that there is a much higher percentage from HAC circles who participate in this practice.
Many will give preachers a pass on this type of poetic license from the pulpit--I fail to see one shred of Scriptural reason to do so. Many will cry that the results are so awesome and the numbers motivated so large that these "little white lies" are inconsequential. Many especially among our hysteric fundamental brethren will shout that the end (an altar full of motivated people) justifies the means (a lie or two).

I completely disagree with all of the above excuses for lying based upon my understanding of Scripture. There is no such thing as a "white lie"--embellishment and exaggeration are tantamount to a bold faced lie.



Burnin' Daylight said...

It's a shame we even have to have a discussion like this. I want to believe that the vast majority of people who preach and teach the Word in any capacity know better than to lie/exaggerate/embellish for any reason.

If I had a dollar for every time I've heard a preacher say "I'm telling the truth here, I'm not just preachin' now."

Was funny the first 17 times.

Thanks for the post. Again, a shame you have to make it, but you're unfortunately accurate in your description of some well-known "preachers."

Gordy said...

For those preachers who think the results justify their lies and embellishments, Romans 3:7-8 disagree:

For if the truth of God hath more abounded through my lie unto his glory; why yet am I also judged as a sinner? And not rather, (as we be slanderously reported, and as some affirm that we say,) Let us do evil, that good may come? whose damnation is just.

Mike Y said...

Thanks for the excellent post! And have a Merry Christmas!

Anonymous said...

I once heard a preacher embellish a bible story and explain that it was in the "white" spaces!

Mike Hess said...

Here's a few that I remember -

Hyles going soul winning for 10 hours every week. What I took that to mean was door to door personal evangelism - didn't happen and the loyalists know that.

Hyles saying that he prayed for a minimum of 20 per week for his sermons.

Hyles saying that he counseled for a minimum of 20 hours per week.

Hyles saying that his work weeks averaged 90-100 hours per week.

Hyles saying that he was in large part responsible for the fall of the Soviet Union (I kid you not).

Do the math here just doesn't add up.

Another great post!

Anonymous said...

I will admit to taking license with stories to get a bigger laugh. I will embellish stories that make me look a little more foolish than I might actually be.

I've always been very uneasy about telling stories that would make me look good. It just seemed to me that doing so raises my performance bar putting a lot of pressure on me. I'm much more comfortable being the butt of my own jokes.

Anonymous said...


PT Barnum said...


Thanks for the responses--keep them coming! I think this post was needed in that lately I have noticed even more extravagant illustrations in some sermons I have listened to online. I really believe that these types of grand stories are more often an ingredient of a topical sermon where personal illustration and preferences are heralded.

Does topical preaching lend itself to these types of fabrications and lies? Does expository preaching done correctly leave little time or room for these types of abuses? Is it possible that for the most part this type of abuse is for the sole purpose of image building--making the preacher or church look larger and more "super" than it is in reality?

I think this phenomenon is like a train wreck--I am having a hard time looking away even though it is sickening on so many levels.

BTW, Merry Christmas one and all!

Brother Barnum

Anonymous said...

Good point, Barnum. Careful expositors such as Mark Minnick or Charles Stanley almost NEVER resort to personal anecdotes. The text simply unfolds, and they stand reverently aside as it takes shape.

Although tall tales do build a comfortable rapport with the congregation, and oral traditions have their place, these "harmless" fictions seem to gradually overwhelm the pulpit and corrupt the preacher, as you've well-documented. A shame, as these men are gifted in so many aspects.

By the way, Barnum, I would like to re-establish communication with you regarding our own little circus out here in the western suburbs of Chicago, at Billy Graham's alma mater. Do you still have my email?

PT Barnum said...

If you are KC I don't think I do. I hope things are going well and that your Christmas season was a blessing. It may be easiest for you to email me at or I am looking forward to hearing from you again.

Don't hesitate to comment more in the future--this is so much more fun when others get involved instead of just me talking to myself!

PT Barnum

Anonymous said...

Yes sir, I am the sucker to whom you refer. Will email soon, sending an attachment for your perusal. Thank you, and I hope you, too, relished Christmas with your family.

I stopped participating in IFBx blogdom, pro and con, some time ago, alarmed at my own nastiness...but did not stop reading. But even amid this self-imposed silence, I too often run across something particularly prickly, and suddenly bolt upright from my chair like the man at the dinner party, mouth full of cheese and crackers, slamming his fists on the table, sputtering, "You fools!"

Funny how it all stays hot and spicy in the blood.

PT Barnum said...

Wonderful to see you again! I truly respect your decision to back away from the forums/blog world. I spend very little time at the FFF or SI anymore--seems like the nastiness does rub off on me from time to time. Believe it or not we are trying to keep this blog away from some of that--inevitably people who love FBCH will accuse us of all sorts of evil for having such an online circus! Looking forward to your email--still need to take you up on your offer to tour the college. I actually played golf with someone the other day who graduated from WC back in the mid 90's--he is a business owner with a wonderful testimony around town.

PT Barnum

ed said...

I am not surprised at all by your latest post. For you guys to act as if you never add a little flair to your stories is laughable. I certainly do give some grace to these good men who make a living preaching multiple times every week.

Let me ask this question...when your wife asks if she looks fat in a certain outfit, are you 100% honest? My guess is that you do what all of us do when we say, "absolutely not!" I would love to be able to interview your wives and family to get the skinny on all of the half truths, lies, and exagerations you guys are still telling on a regular basis.

This post stunk to high heaven and it is just more of the same hater garbage that flourises over on the FFF. Keep up the crappy work. Ed

JK said...

Actually, Ed, some people don't regularly embellish stories, and feel guilty if they occasionally do. But I imagine I am considered a loser to most at FBCH; my stories are just not that impressive, since they are as true as I can make them.

The best thing about knowing a truth-teller is that you can trust what he says. I recently left a church (FBCH, in fact), because I could not believe what the pastor preached. Some of it was very impressive, and, I'm sure, true, but much was puffery and worldly logic added to convince the audience to adhere to the "truths" being taught. Once the truth is diluted enough, it is no longer recognizable as truth.

Now I am looking not necessarily for a church with excellent music, facilities and professional appearance (as FBCH admittedly possesses), but one which I can trust to put forward an integrated and honest interpretation of God's Word, which I believe is foundational to my spiritual growth. I need pure truth; I am not a good enough Christian to listen to sermons that I enjoy, but which contain heavy doses of pragmatism mixed with Scripture.

Which is why I don't think "this post stunk to high heaven". And if you give Pastor Schaap such license with the truth, why don't you give PT some license and enjoy yourself under the big top?

PT Barnum said...


Your comments are very entertaining--no wonder you have become a fixture here under the big top! I appreciate your critiques and take them to heart--I remember how I used to defend FBCH when I was presented with questions and concerns from outsiders. I was every bit as defensive and nasty as some have been here as visitors to what we like to call "The Second Greatest Show On Earth!" I want to encourage you to keep coming back and voicing your opinions--every opinion counts here at B&C!


It is great to see you contributing to this discussion. You are not very far removed from the three-ringed show on Sibley Boulevard and can definitely give some very poignant additions to our posts.

My wife and I wrestled with the LORD for over a year as we attended our current church--we were shell shocked by the differences in ministry philosophy among IFB churches. We went from an IFBx world to a well-rounded historic IFB church (not perfect I might add). I think what the LORD taught us was that we had developed so many preconceived ideas and beliefs about what a "real church" was. We had to come face to face with what we believed and why we believed it. In the end we rejected many of the ideas that were simply cultural in nature with no Scriptural basis whatsoever. Some beliefs we have retained as preferences in our own family that we will NEVER push upon anyone.

I hope you will continue to visit us here at B&C and maybe even consider writing a guest column for us about your extraction from 523 Sibley. Have a wonderful and safe New Years Evening.

PT Barnum

LeeC said...

"Let me ask this question...when your wife asks if she looks fat in a certain outfit, are you 100% honest? My guess is that you do what all of us do when we say, "absolutely not!" I would love to be able to interview your wives and family to get the skinny on all of the half truths, lies, and exagerations you guys are still telling on a regular basis."

Frst off my wife would never ask a question like that in such a way knowing full well that would be loading the question. She has often asked me if an outfit looked ok, and yes, I have told her that it is unflattering before.

You see I love her. Love tells the truth. Go look up Lie, lies and liars in Scripture and see what a high standard the Lord expects of his people.

Have I exaggerated before?
Yes, and THAT is what confession and repentance is for. Praise God that He is gracious and patient with repentant sinners, but He is also just. SO be forewarned if you are lightly brushing off "white lies."

Fundamentally Reformed said...

where'd the circus masters go??

we miss you guys!

PT Barnum said...

we are planning a reunion tour soon--stay tuned!


R. S. said...

I can understand criticizing Schaap, but Brother Hyles was a great preacher.

PT Barnum said...

Hyles was a great motivational speaker and his comedic timing was second to none! Most of what Hyles did behind the pulpit was emotionally charged and very entertaining. I spent over 20 years listening to him preach week in and week out.

Probably 75% of everything he uttered was a personal story of some sort--you guessed it if you predicted that he was the hero of the story. When he did venture into anything Theological it was like a trip in Mr. Toad's wild ride! Fortunately Hyles had a bit of SBC training in his background unlike Schaap. Schaap is HAC trained and so you actually can understand why he is so off on his Theology.

Thanks for stopping by to see us--come back soon!

Pt Barnum