Many books on preaching will help you to hone your homiletical skills. It is important that preachers give attention to accurate exegesis, clear structure, telling illustration and thoughtful application in their sermons. Yet all those things can be in place, but our carefully prepared messages may fail to hit home. They do not have the desired impact upon those who hear the Word of God proclaimed. As Azurdia points out, the preacher "is a man possessed by a holy compulsion but hobbled by human inability." (p. 115.) We cannot make our words powerfully effective and transformatory. Where, then are we to find the power that will make our preaching into an event where the God of the gospel is encountered in his life-transforming grace? Art Azurdia's thesis is that we need the "vitality of the Spirit". I agree entirely. But I am also aware that not everybody is convinced that preachers need to seek the Spirit's empowering presence. Some might ask, "Isn't he always at work when the Word is proclaimed?"
What we need is a carefully constructed biblical theology of preaching in the power of the Spirit. And that is what we get in this book. All too often writers who wish to stress the role of the Spirit in preaching, have focused too much attention on anecdotal evidence. They recall the powerful preaching of George Whitefield, Jonathan Edwards, C. H. Spurgeon and D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones. It is here, they say, that we find the meaning of Holy Spirit unction in the ministry of the Word. No doubt, it is good to have these examples of what the Lord can do through his servants. But anecdotes are no substitute for the hard work of Scriptural exegesis and theological reflection. Azurdia's approach, while not ignoring the lessons of history, is resolutely biblical and theological. His exegesis of 1 Corinthians 2:1-4 and 1 Thessalonians 1:5 is especially helpful.
The Spirit has been given to glorify Christ. In Acts and the Epistles we find that the apostles were filled and empowered by the Spirit to proclaim their Christ-centred messages. The result of this was that sinners were saved, and the people of God built up in their most holy faith. Preachers today also need to be filled with the Spirit so that we preach Christ from all the Scriptures with boldness and convicting power. Personal witness and group Bible studies are valuable. But Spirit empowered preaching is the principal means of advancing the kingdom of Jesus Christ. The "foolish" message of the Gospel is communicated by the "foolish" medium of preaching. This God 's ordained way, so that all the glory is given to him for the salvation of sinners. None of this means that preachers are exempted from the hard work of sermon preparation. We must study hard and walk closely with the Lord. But knowing that the effectiveness of our preaching rests in the empowering presence of the Spirit, will drive us to our knees in God-dependent, fervent prayer.
Azurida also devotes attention to the role of the church as the community that sits under the preaching of the Gospel. Preaching is not a one way street. A preacher may have prepared a message that deeply moved him in the study. He prayerfully looks forward to preaching it on the Lord's day. But the congregation gives little evident response to the sermon as it is preached. That is a very hard thing for a preacher to bear. God's people should listen to his Word with believing expectancy. If a church sits sullenly under the preaching of the Gospel, the Spirit is grieved and his influences may be withdrawn. When that happens, repentance and urgent prayer are the need of the hour. Spirit empowered preaching concerns congregations as well as preachers. That is why Paul often asked the churches to pray for God's blessing upon his preaching. Under God, Spurgeon attributed the success of his ministry to the fact that his people prayed for him. Dutch Reformed pastors tell their people, "You pray me full, and I'll preach you full."
Several other books on preaching may have something to say about the work of the Spirit. But this is the only one that I'm aware of that is entirely devoted to this vitally important subject. I commend this attempt to construct a biblical theology of Spirit empowered preaching. It is certainly true that preaching is (or at lest should be!) "theology on fire". But we also need a theology that will set fire to our preaching. If we take the lessons of this book to heart, we will moved to pray without ceasing for more of the "vitality of the Spirit" in the proclamation of the Gospel.
Art Azurdia III will be the main speaker at the 2008 Evangelical Movement of Wales Aberystwyth Conference.
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