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Urban Legends: Preaching

Read this “Pentagon Bible” e-mail that is actually circulating:

From today’s USA Today, page 5A, talking about the scene at the Pentagon: “Yet, as he looked up into the back chasm torn into the symbol of the mightiest military in the world, Williams saw a sign of hope. On a second floor, right next to where the jet sheared off a section of the building, was an undisturbed stool. And on it was a thick, open book.
Fellow searchers who had gotten a close look said it was a Bible. It was not burned. Nor was anything around it or on the two floors above it. ‘I’m not as religious as some, but that would have me thinking,’ the soldier said. ‘I just can’t explain it.'”
Coincidence? You decide.
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Do you use the story as a sermon illustration?
Four experienced preachers considered the question.
Preachers should not present unverified stories as fact, said Chuck Bugg, director of the Center for Preaching and Worship at Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond, Va.
“Augustine reminded us long ago that the most vital component in preaching is the character of the speaker,” said Bugg. “Integrity of the preacher is essential.”
Peter Rhea Jones, professor of preaching and New Testament at McAfee School of Theology, said legends or myths can rightly improve sermons, but he cautioned their use.
“Anything claimed to be factual by a preacher should be factual and a preacher must go to great lengths to verify,” he said. “Otherwise, credibility is sacrificed.”
Pastor Heather Entrekin of ABC-affiliated Prairie Baptist Church in Prairie Village, Kan., said pastors must be “people of the truth.”
Since pastors must sort fact from fiction, Entrekin said she feels “uneasy about Internet sources,” many of which give misinformation.
Jones agreed. “I strongly suspect that the Internet contributes to sentimental stories with no basis in fact.”
Allen Reasons, pastor of ABC-affiliated Fifth Avenue Baptist Church in Huntingdon, W.Va., emphasized honesty and integrity as well.
“The integrity of the sermon and preacher is built on the veracity of the material,” he said. “Some of these urban legends may, in fact, be technological parables. If so, they may be useful in the presentation of the message, but they must be recognized for what they are: parables.”
Cliff Vaughn is BCE’s associate director.