Monday, October 25, 2010

Preaching to the Saints (1)

Here is an excerpt from my talk on Preaching to the Saints, given at the PTS Preachers Conference on Saturday 16th October.

The phrase, “Preaching to the converted” suggests that something is rather pointless. But preaching to the saints is far from pointless. In fact it is an absolutely necessity, 2 Timothy 4:1-5. In this series I want to look at: I. Why we should preach to the saints, II. What we should preach to the saints, and III. How we should preach to the saints

I. Why we should preach to the saints

There is more to preaching that simply imparting biblical information. The purpose of preaching is not simply to inform but transform. But how can we do that when all we have at our disposal is words? We need to remember that words are very powerful things, especially in the hands of God. The Bible gives us God's authoritative "speech acts". Speech act theory teaches us that words are not just words. We do things by speaking. With the exchange of words we enter into a marriage relationship. With words we may insult people or encourage them. Words do things. They are "speech acts". In terms of speech act theory, God's words in Scripture are the biblical locutions. These locutions - or units of speech have an illocutionary purpose. God does things by his words - he enters into a covenant relationship with his people, makes promises, utters warnings or issues commands. By the Spirit these illucutions are given a perlocutionary power. They actually effect something. Promises are believed, warnings heeded and commands obeyed. In our preaching we must seek to discover and proclaim God's communicative action in Scripture. God's Word is not just "words". Once proclaimed, the Word of the Lord will not return to him void, but accomplish what he pleases (Isaiah 55:11).

Bearing this in mind I want to reflect critically two current approaches to preaching; the exemplary and salvation-historical models. Both have strengths but neither is sufficient in and of itself.

Exemplary preaching stresses that practical and applicatory value of Scripture. This is, of course very important. The Bible itself uses its characters as practical examples of what to follow or avoid – “Consider the patience of Job”, “Remember Lot’s wife”. But at its worst, the exemplary method can reduce the Bible to a set of moral tales. The gospel-based dynamic for Christian living is neglected for the sake of “being practical”.

The redemptive-historical school seeks to locate particular texts within the grand sweep of Scriptural revelation. This approach has value because texts not understood in isolation from the bibles’ essential plot line. But redemptive-historical preaching sometimes has difficulty with the exemplary and practical nature of Scripture. The effect of this is that preaching may become little more than an exercise in biblical theology. This may inform believer's minds. But it falls short when it comes to practical application. In our preaching, we need to show the people of God how they are to live in the light of the gospel. Doctrine must direct practice.

By preaching, the people of God are enabled to play their roles in the drama of redemption in accordance with the biblical script. In our preaching we must bridge the gap between redemptive-historical metanarratives and the Bible's exemplary and practical teaching. It is in the light of what God has done in Christ as revealed in Scripture that believers are to model their lives on the biblical examples and obey the Lord's commands. This approach reflects the structure of many of the New Testament epistles, where a doctrinal opening section is often followed by practical exhortation and application - see Ephesians & Colossians. John Owen rightly argued that preaching

is appointed as the great means of working the souls of men into a likeness and conformity unto the Lord Jesus, or the changing of them into his image. It is appointed for the refreshment of the weary, and consolation of the sorrowful, and making wise the simple.
In the power of the Spirit, our preaching will do more than instruct and exhort. It will transform the people of God into the image of Christ. The ascended Christ has gifted the church with pastor-teachers for this very reason Ephesians 4:12-16. That is why we should preach to the saints.

Kevin Vanhoozer said,

The world is filled with therapists and managers. What the church needs now is people who can (1) articulate from the Bible the truth about God, the world, and ourselves in terms that are faithful to the Bible and intelligible in the contemporary context (2) exhort their congregations to say and do things that corresponds to the truth of Jesus Christ as attested in the Bible

1 comment:

David Reimer said...

Some keen EP commentary, concluded by a killer quote! Gets an "Amen!" from me. :)

(Particularly appreciated this line of your own: "By preaching, the people of God are enabled to play their roles in the drama of redemption in accordance with the biblical script.")