Some Cheerful Clarifications on Notetaking

Recently I commented on notetaking during the sermon, ( What I said specifically was, “I am not a fan of notetaking during a sermon because the sermon is not a lecture, it is preaching and preaching is a spiritual dynamic between the preacher, the congregation, and the Holy Spirit. I would rather see your eyeballs than see you looking down writing notes. But be that as it may, do whatever helps you most to listen carefully.”

Now I know, believe me, I know, that whenever I say something about my lack of enthusiasm for note-taking the note-takers will unite, rallying together, pens in hand, like mighty swords, ready to assert the virtues of notetaking. Most do it with some good humor, and I appreciate that. We can laugh together about it. Others believe that I am distressed, offended, or insulted by their notetaking and want to defend themselves as notetakers. Now nothing could be farther from the truth! (By the way, see the last sentence, “But be that as it may, do whatever helps you most to listen carefully.”).

Now, I am hardly distressed by notetaking. I have way too many other things to be distressed about other than a sequence of morphemes composed of graphemes inscribed upon parchment by a quill! Really. I never walk by somebody and mutter under my breath, “Recalcitrant notetaker!” I love notetakers and non-notetakers alike. I love all Scythians and Barbarians, the circumscribed and uncircumscribed alike, regardless of whether they employ a time-tested platform for recording information for the sake of recall. Case in point: Yesterday, when I got home, Ariel said, “I thought the sermon in Romans was really good.” I said, “Thanks.” She said, “I took notes.” We both laughed.

But when I say I am not enthusiastic about notetaking, it is not some quirky pet-peeve, like hating mushrooms, peppers, soccer, and squash. I have thought long and hard about WHAT preaching is, WHY we preach, HOW we preach, and HOW we hear. I have studied preaching, biblically, theologically, and historically. These are not minor hobby horses; these are things that occupy my attention. I preach the way I do not simply because that is how I was taught; my preparation, my delivery, and my theology of preaching is a matter of thought-out conviction, as well as an act of worship. Although I would love to talk about the theology of preaching, let me say, I am not alone in my view of notetaking. The famous Welsh preacher, Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones was opposed to notetaking (The Puritans: Their Origins and Successors, pg. 360). If we grant that preaching that is a redemptive-event, that it is proclamation, Spirit-empowered proclamation; if we grant that preaching is not merely the dissemination of information, or if you like, teaching; if we grant that preaching involves the whole body of the preacher, not just his voice, that preaching is visual, not just audible; if we grant these things and more, then we begin to realize that it is not so much what we remember from the preaching, as much as it is the impact the Spirit makes upon us through the truth. Jonathan Edwards taught us this three centuries ago. Well, that is enough for now. Maybe I will take up some blogs or even sermons in the future to talk about the nature and theology of preaching. For now, let me wish all those who sit under the ministry of the Word, notetakers and non-notetakers alike, a blessed and beneficial reception of it!