Preaching with Cultural Intelligence

As a way to continue developing as a pastor, I try to read at least one book a year on the topic of preaching. A recent book that caught my eye in light of the Gospel Alliance’s values was Preaching with Cultural Intelligence: Understanding the People Who Hear Our Sermons by Matthew D. Kim. In many ways, Dr. Kim, who teaches at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, builds upon the ideas of the late Haddon Robinson and the late John R. W. Stott (whose books about preaching have become classics) with the insights of cultural intelligence or cultural quotient (CQ) developed by David Livermore. Blending the ideas of these thinkers is not an odd combination. Stott emphasized that preaching involves building a bridge between two worlds — the world of the biblical text and the world of the listener. Robinson’s work highlighted the concept of the “Big Idea” and focused on how to determine the thrust of the text by focusing on the subject (what the text is talking about) and the complement (what it says about the subject) to come up with an exegetical idea (what is the text teaching) that needs to be translated into a homiletical idea (how will you say it to your audience). Kim notes how the insights of cultural intelligence theory can help in understanding both worlds (the text and the listener) and how to communicate the biblical truth to the listener.

The first part of the book discusses the concept of cultural intelligence and how it can be useful for a preacher. Kim offers a template to help a preacher in preparation, with the template consisting of acronyms, as one might expect a preacher to do! There are three parts of this template since it involves understanding the text, people, and the task of preaching. Step 1 is essentially the step of interpreting the text, using the acronym  HABIT: Historical, Literary, and Grammatical Context, Author’s Cultural Context, Big Idea of the Text, Interpret in Your Context, and Theological Presuppositions. One notes here that Kim is committed to a historical-grammatical method of biblical interpretation and the idea that there is an intended meaning in the text. At the same time, he notes the need to think about the culture of the text and our culture even as we are discovering what the text means. Kim calls this an “authorial-cultural model of interpretation” (p. 37). Step 2 involves thinking about the bridge to the world, with the acronym in this section being BRIDGE: Beliefs, Rituals, Idols, Dreams, Gods, and Experiences. These are key areas for every person, so we need to explore what these are like for our audience to know how the text connects with their lives in order to create a bridge between the text and their world. The final stage or step focuses on the communication of the message, with DIALECT as the acronym: Delivery, Illustrations, Application, Language, Embrace, Content, and Trust. In addition to offering this preaching template as a way to help one think about culture as one prepares to preach, Kim also calls for preachers to exegete themselves, to take “an honest inventory of who we are and how our culture(s) and past experiences shape our communication today” (p. 45). This process of self-exegesis involves reflecting on events and experiences in life as well as our family and ethnic backgrounds and cultural attitudes. This cultural self-awareness is essential if we hope to be able to communicate to people of various cultures.

The second part of the book gives some examples of what this approach to preaching might look like in practice (there is also a sample sermon found in Appendix 3). Kim discusses a variety of contexts so one can see how to apply the insights of the book and its method. Preaching to people of different ethnicities is one example, but there is also discussion of considering denominational backgrounds, gender, location, and religious belief. This is a good reminder of the complexity of the concept of culture as well as the variety of people we will communicate to on any given Sunday. Each chapter features an overview with some background on that area and then walks through the three steps of the template offered in part 1. One will likely find some chapters more interesting than others, but that is always the case with examples and case studies.

The amount of information given in this book could overwhelm pastors, as they might think they now need to consider every element noted every time they preach ( in addition to all the other duties of a pastor!). Thankfully, Kim clarifies that this is not his expectation: “Remember, you cannot address every single culture in every single sermon. Make it a goal to target your sermons for one or two cultural groups of listeners each week, and prepare the sermon with them in mind. Even if the sermon does not address every culture’s specific concerns, you are still building a bridge to help them grow in cultural intelligence about the Other” (p. 14). In fact, the summary of the Homiletical Template in Appendix 1 says to include one section of the BRIDGE acronym and one or two of the DIALECT acronym each time you preach. This book will not transform one into a culturally intelligent pastor, but it can be a key part of the journey that will not happen overnight or accidentally. Overall, this is a helpful book for pastors and preachers who believe in the authority of Scripture as well as the need to communicate it in a way that matches God’s vision of cultural diversity and the reality that communities are becoming more diverse. It can help us reach people and help them grow in Christlikeness, so I recommend it to pastors who have a passion to grow as preachers and grow in cultural intelligence.

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