25 October 2015

Integrity In Sermon Illustrations

There are many temptations to distraction in sermons today. You know how it is - you opened the Bible app to read the passage being preached on, and before you know it, you've added a Facebook update, checked some tweets, and seen how many emails are waiting for your attention.

But there's a new reason for having access to the church wi-fi - checking sermon illustrations. The preacher has just told a story about how Alexander Fleming's father saved Winston Churchill from drowning as a boy. Not true*. Or how Shackleton placed an advert in The Times asking for men to join him on a hazardous journey. Never happened^.

In fact, even Nicky Gumbel, creator of the Alpha Course, has slipped up in just this way. In his online bible study, Bible In One Year, he tells how Voltaire denied the truth of the Bible, but his house was later turned into the HQ of the European (or Geneva, or French) Bible Society. The only trouble is, that isn't true either. And it took a Christian website, House To House, to fact-check it.

Is it too much to ask for preachers to check the story they are telling is true? As House To House put it,
Since atheists like to cite this as Christians trying to pass a story to prove their point, let’s make sure we have our facts straight, lest we 'defend the truth with a broken sword.'
Integrity in sermon illustrations is absolutely vital, and goes hand-in-hand with proclaiming the truth of the Gospel.

So what can we do? Should we start searching Wikipedia every time the preacher pops up with a story that sounds too good to be true? Should we wait until we get home, and then drop them a polite note giving a source that debunks the myth? Certainly we should have the humility to accept that we make mistakes on the internet as much as the next person, but still strive for truth.

Bob Smietana writes about these dilemmas in his article, "You Might Want To Fact-Check Your Pastor's Sermon". You may also find the article "Millennials Are Fact-Checking Your Sermons" amusing.

The best source for fact-checking is Snopes.com - the granddaddy of all fact-checking - with a special Religion section.

What are your favourite fake sermon facts? Here are some others of mine:

  • The 'Eye of the Needle' was a gate in Jerusalem
  • NASA found evidence of the 'missing day' from the Old Testament
  • Fake Einstein quotes (there are a lot of these!)

Please do share your thoughts in the comments. And any good sermon stories you've heard. Or if you're a preacher, are there any stories you really need to check out? Let me know!

Discerning History