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A theology of preaching – part 1

Go to theology network for my paper on preaching in full.  Here I'll post it in chunks.  Be good to talk about it if you want to comment... 


It is often said that the real issue in preaching is not ‘How to?’ but ‘How can?’  How can a preacher stand before a congregation and dare to speak ‘In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit’?  The ‘How can?’ is by far the more pressing question.  And yet, in the textbooks, at the conferences and in preaching groups it seems the ‘How to?’ is the perennial concern.  Notes or full script?  Powerpoint or no?  Topical sermons or lectio continua?  These questions abound.  Even issues like ‘how to address the heart?’ or ‘how to preach wisdom literature?’ threaten to drown out proper theological reflection.  All the while the ‘How can?’ question stands above our practice demanding an answer. 

Our silence on this issue could simply reflect the pragmatic spirit of our age.  We want to know what ‘works’ so we can copy it.  But I suggest there is a deeper problem.  Fundamentally we have an impoverished theology of revelation which fails to appreciate what evangelicals from another age held dear – namely that God Himself addresses us in preaching. 

Consider this classic statement of reformed faith from the Second Helvetic Confession:

“The Preaching of the Word of God is the Word of God. Wherefore when this Word of God is now preached in the church by preachers lawfully called, we believe that the very Word of God is proclaimed and received by the faithful.”

Luther would agree:

“Tis a right excellent thing, that every honest pastor’s and preacher’s mouth is Christ’s mouth, and his word and forgiveness is Christ’s word and forgiveness… For the office is not the pastor’s or preacher’s but God’s; and the Word which he preacheth is likewise not the pastor’s and preacher’s but God’s.”

 Or consider this from John Calvin:

“When a man has climbed up into the pulpit… it is [so] that God may speak to us by the mouth of a man.”

The reformers viewed preaching as God’s own word proclaimed in His name, by His power and with His authority.  More to the point this is the bible’s own teaching, as we’ll see.  Proclamation of the word of Christ is not simply an explanation and application of the bible.  It is itself a divine encounter in which the Spirit again confronts the hearers with the omnipotent force of God’s own Word.

In the face of such an audacious claim, the ‘How to?’ must be put on hold.  This paper seeks a theology of revelation that is able to address the question ‘How can a preacher dare to speak the word of the LORD?’  What is the nature of divine revelation such that this is even possible?  Once we have we addressed this we will find that the ‘How to?’ has been decisively and much more faithfully shaped.



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