Go to theology network for the full paper on preaching. I'll post it here in chunks. Be great to talk about it if you want to comment.
We've made the claim that preaching is God's word when Christ is proclaimed biblically. Now we will tease out some implications of this central conviction:
Christ must be proclaimed biblically.
We proclaim Him (Colossians 1:28). The point of the sermon is not to inspire certain feelings, to convey certain doctrines, to enjoin certain ethics, to dissect certain passages. The point of the proclaimed word is precisely the point of the written word – to witness the eternal Word (See John 5:36-47). We don’t preach Luke or Ecclesiastes. We preach Christ from Luke or Ecclesiastes.
Perhaps the Lord’s Supper provides a helpful analogy (it too is proclamation – 1 Cor 11:26). Just as the point of communion is the receiving of Christ by faith, so the point of the sermon is the same. He is as vital for sinners as bread to the famished. He is as available to sinners as the bread on the table. And in preaching, as in the sacraments, He is handed over to sinners for their nourishment. Where Christ is received by faith, proclamation has done its work. Where Christ is not graciously held out to the congregation the preacher has spoken in vain and the people go hungry.
What does this mean for the ‘application’ of the sermon
Often ‘application’ is taken to mean distilling the text into timeless doctrinal propositions to be turned into contemporary moral injunctions.
Application on this understanding is a discrete portion of the sermon. Once the preacher is done explaining, then come exhortations about our practical response. Usually the application is something along the lines of ‘read your bible, pray, evangelize.’ Occasionally it’s ‘Give money, cut out the porn, volunteer more.’
Now besides being a suspect view of sanctification, this betrays a deficient view of revelation. Here the bible is ‘God’s instruction manual for life.’ The preacher is the expert coach. And Christ? Where is Christ on this understanding?
On the analogy with communion, such preaching is like the minister pressing into our hands not bread but a ‘To do’ list. We leave the communion rail (or rise from the sermon) not so much savouring Christ as resolving to improve. Not glorying in His work but plotting our own.
But what if we took to heart the theology of revelation outlined here? In that case application would be by the pointed driving home of the gospel.
On this model, application is not what we must do on account of the word. Rather, application is what the word itself is doing to us and in us. The Word is being applied to our hearts in lively, surprising, evocative, nourishing ways to the end that He might be trusted. We hear in order to believe (Rom 10:14). This is the work of God – faith (John 6:29). The work of God for which the preacher aims is not so much what the congregation will do on Monday morning having been inspired by the word. The work of God is what God Himself does to the congregation right there in the Sunday sermon.
Application then is the Spirit’s work in driving home the Christ whom we proclaim. It is a work which we cannot perform as preachers but to which we are called nonetheless. In prayerful dependence we follow the way of witness in the Scriptures as they point to Christ. And we point, too. With excitement, with passion, with entreaty. And we say as Moses did regarding the bronze serpent: Look and live!