Rhetoric & Homiletics: 3 Tips On Using The Secular In A Sermon.

There are real pitfalls that sometimes accompany using the secular for an illustration. At times, a passage from a book, the scene from a movie, lyrics of a pop song, or a story about a secular pop star can clash with preaching and/or a worship service.

Sometimes, using the lyrics or scenes of today’s songs or movies requires too much “blipping.”  Even examples involving crude and/or overly descriptive language are not well received in a worship service — illustrative or not —  and rightfully so.

At other times, referencing secular musicians or actors calls up their known immoral lifestyles. It all leaves the sermonic atmosphere morally reeking because of the audience’s awareness of the immorality of the various performers.

If you have listened to Alistar Begg for any length of time, you recognize how often yet how careful he is in the citation of secular music lyrics. [1] His approach provides some helpful pointers on using the secular.

. . . . . 

#1 — Make The Purpose Clear: Alistair Begg typically frames their words in an analytical way, as opposed to a personally entertaining context. The purpose for citing such material is analytical; it reveals and exposes the thinking of the world.

Begg frames the use of the lyrics — analytically. He puts the lyrics in an investigative context to communicate that they are being referenced for insight into the thinking of this world. He does not leave you with the impression that he is personally engaged with or absorbed by this-or-that form of entertainment and/or entertainer.

Here are some ways to communicate that analytical approach . . . .

“If you want to see, grasp, if you want to understand how the world around us is thinking – these lyrics reflect this world’s thinking — the way it sees life and when living when it comes to . . .”

  • life & living, or
  • marriage, or
  • money, or
  • success, or
  • death, or
  • the Christians they meet
  • et al.

Begg understands how to frame it and set it up when he references secular artists. He seemingly never gets caught up with the secular song, its lyrics, or the artist. He calls up the music within an insight context.

. . . . . 

#2) Be Very Careful & Selective: Alistair Begg chooses secular music from an era of music that is far safer than music and lyrics of other more recent eras — (Yes, the era also reflects his age). Begg is well-known for citing song lyrics from the 50s-60s and ’70s. Typically the artists and song lyrics are still known today. The songs and lyrics of that era and the artist he cites are not as decadent as some of the more contemporary secular music and the artists of today.

. . . . . 

#3) Stay Focused: Begg’s use of songs/lyrics never overpowers the sermon as a whole. You hear enough of the song to understand the point being made. Keep it as short as possible! The Alistair Begg clip cited below runs from the 12:19-13:16 mark.

You may have heard pastors cite movies, so extensively (even to the playing of what seemed to be a far too long movie video cut), that one could easily be left with the impression that the preacher is more caught up with the movie than what the Scriptures have to say to us about life and living.

Go back to the secular example and see what you can cut out without losing the point. Keep the quotation of the artist’s lyrics as short as possible! Don’t get caught up with whole, but the point. Multiple stanzas may make the same point, but making the point with one stanza, or a mixture of statements from different stanzas is sufficient.

Likewise, at times, a speaker/preacher wants to relate the plot of the whole story, movie, or book. They begin explaining the characters, the fictional or actual events leading up to this-or-that story point, and even the plot. Stay focused!

. . . . . 

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Here is one of the secular songs used by Alistair Beg (audio at the 12:19 mark) in 2018 (video at the 22:11 mark). . . .

“Something’s Missing”
John Mayer

“In this song John questions the meaning of life. He figures that he has “the dream”, money, friends, people who care about him, girlfriends, etc. But yet he still feels as if he is incomplete.”

. . . . . 

. . . . . 



Other Information & Links:

An Example By Alistair Begg, “Word To The Wise” . . . .

And whether you are an engine driver . . . whether you are a young executive . . . whether you are a school teacher . . . whether you’re involved in the janitorial staff of a school.

It doesn’t matter what it is . . . whether you’re a mother at home . . . whatever it may be . . . . the fact of the matter is that life is possessed by an inherent monotony . . . .

McCartney . . . in a song penned soon after the Beatles had broken up . . . writes in this way –

“Every day she takes her morning bath

she wets her hair

she ties a towel around her as she’s heading for the bedroom chair

it’s just another day

slipping into stockings

stepping into shoes

dipping in the pocket of a raincoat

and at the office where the papers grow

she takes a break

she pours a cup of coffee

and she tries so hard just to stay awake

it’s just another day.”

The Rolling Stones are in town singing what? Singing their mantra . . . reinforcing what Solomon says . . . . I Can’t Get No Satisfaction . . . .

“And I’ve tried and I’ve tried and I’ve tried.”

Why is that?

“Why do we never get an answer

When we’re knocking at the door

With a thousand different questions

About peace and love and war”

And then he comes to himself

“I am looking for someone to change my life

I’m looking for a miracle in my life.

Life is a hugh appetite that can never be satisfied . . . . If you have been trying to unscramble your life by filling it with a relationship . . . intellectual pursuits . . . . along the lines of an emotional trip . . . and the sooner that a man or woman faces up to this, the sooner they can make sense of their life.”

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