Challenges to Preaching

There is a dangerous tendency even in evangelical circles to reduce preaching either by one, to an expression of the minister’s personal experience or two, a general instruction in religion and morals (although example and instruction are good in themselves) moralism is not.

Remember, preaching is a means of grace only as the preacher repeats the Word he has received from God. Faith comes not by feeling, speculating, seeing, or striving, but by hearing the Word preached (Rom. 10:14–17).


A Means of Grace to Consider

Conceived by hearing the gospel (Rom. 10:17), the church never stops receiving its redemption and its identity from the living voice of God. The “two words” of the Word accomplish different things: the law convicts and directs, and the gospel justifies and gives life.

The new creation is effected in the church but not by the church; like the faith and new birth of its members, it is a creation of God’s Word (creatura verbi). Conceived by hearing, the church never stops receiving its redemption and its identity from the living voice of God. God’s both creative and redemptive. God’s Word is never inactive or ineffectual; by the Spirit’s power, it always accomplishes what the Father has spoken in his Son (Isa. 55:11). There is no opposition here between divine and human action. Within the appropriate covenantal context, the words of commissioned representatives—whose personality and characteristics are not overwhelmed in the process—actually bear God’s Word, accomplishing what it speaks. Only the written Word of the prophets and apostles occupies inspired canonical status, but the subsequent preaching of ministers communicates exactly the same Word, illuminated by the very same Spirit.

Preaching involves teaching, but it is much more; its sacramental role as a means of grace underlies the Reformation understanding. The proclamation of the gospel not only calls people to faith in Christ; it is the means by which the Spirit creates and strengthens this faith. It is critical to recognize that the “two words” of the living and active Word of God—the law and the gospel—accomplish different things. By speaking the law, God silences and convicts us; by speaking the gospel, he justifies and renews us. While everything that God speaks is true, useful, and powerful, only the gospel of God’s mercy in Christ gives life (Rom. 1:16; 10:15, 17; 1 Peter 1:23–25).

The Word of creates His community. Although private prayer and meditation on Scripture is crucial to the Christian life, God’s saving action is public and social from the outset—creating genuine community in Christ by the Spirit, rather than merely an aggregate of individuals who have decided to come together for excitement or convenience. The Word heard in preaching and visibly signified and sealed in the sacraments creates and sustains the community, as those who are called out of themselves to God and one another.

Preaching Christ in Every Sermon

Fred Malone has been writing a series on the topic of preaching Christ in every sermon. Today the Founder Ministeries posted the 4th in the series, How Should We Preach Christ in Every Sermon? – Leviticus 18:5. The post starts by saying,

“My last three posts have attempted to answer three questions: (1) “Should We Preach Christ in Every Sermon?”, (2) “Why Should We Preach Christ in Every Sermon?, and (3) “How Should We Preach Christ in Every Sermon?” In this post, I would like to illustrate how we should preach Christ in every sermon from Leviticus 18:5, which says, “So you shall keep My statutes and My judgments, by which a man may live if he does them; I am the LORD.”

Malone early writes, “There have been times, however, when I’ve heard expositional preaching that makes little or no mention of the Lord Jesus Christ,” an unfortunate, but yet commonly made mistake from those that claim that expositional preaching is the only type of preaching. The series over the past two months has reminded me of the works that I read myself that forever changed my understanding of hermeneutics in 2005. Books like; Preaching the Whole Bible as Christian Scripture by Goldsworthy, God-Centered Interpretation by Poythress, and Beginning at Moses by Michael Barrett. The series of post is worth your time to read, and more so, to use.

Learning from Paul

(Guest Post by Ben. T)

This weekend I finally made my way through Echoes of Scripture in the Letters of Paul by Richard Hays. As expected, the book was loaded with helpful insights from a seasoned Pauline scholar. Surprisingly, though, I found the book personally challenging on a number of practical levels.

Hays writes as both a scholar and a churchman, seeking to make accessible and practical his insights to the community of faith. He writes, “Paul’s readings characteristically treat Scripture as a living voice that speaks to the people of God. The Bible for Paul is not just a chronicle of revelation in the past; the words of Scripture sound from the page in the present moment and address the community of believers with authority.” [1]

The book ends with several points aimed at summarizing his proposal. His observations and trajectories are not new in the sense of being unique, but it is refreshing to read a scholar who is so candid regarding the functional role of Scripture in the formation and transformation of the church as God’s eschatological community.

He writes:

If we learned from Paul how to read Scripture, we would read it in the service of proclamation. Christian biblical interpretation has its original and proper Sitz im Leben in preaching or (as in Paul’s letters) in pastoral counsel–that is to say, in acts of reading that construe Scripture as a word of direct address to the community. When Bonhoeffer read in 2 Tim. 4:21, ‘Do your best to come before winter,’ and took it as God’s word to him, he was operating with hermeneutical assumptions faithful to Paul’s example. This may not be good exegesis, but it was never proposed as exegesis of the text; rather, it was a charismatic, prophetic transference of the text’s sense. Indeed, Paul’s way of using Scripture suggests that homiletical and prophetic readings can sometimes be more faithful than rigorously exegetical ones. Exegesis gives us critical distance from the text; preaching thrusts the text’s word directly into our faces. The word is near us, and it demands a response. This strategy of reading is risky, because it strips away critical controls, exposing us to the danger of arbitrary or manipulative interpretations. On the other hand, unless we learn from Paul to read Scripture as a word addressed directly to us, we will never proclaim the word of God with power. [2]

I am constantly wrestling with the divide that exists between the academy and the church. How do we go about bridging the chasm between the two while moving towards synthesis over mere supplementation? Is it even possible?

Whatever the case, Hays presents a vital starting point—we must (re)capture the kerygmatic function of Scripture. It is God’s living and active word to us.

See also:

Richard Hays on “Why we need Eschatology

Richard Hays on “Reading the Bible with Eyes of  Faith”

[1] Richard B. Hays, Echoes of Scripture in the Letters of Paul (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1989), 165.

[2] Hays, Echoes, 185.