Thursday, June 16, 2011

Thoughts on Comments on Preaching

In my previous post there were two poignant comments about preaching, and I'd like to give them each a little bit more thought and consideration.

"Look at the Word. If you look at the Word, you'll preach. If you don't, you'll tell stories and illustrations."

Now, this actually is a rather profound statement. One of the questions, the things that revolve around the background of preaching theory is the use of story and the like. How do I use illustrations? How can I find some good ones? And one of the underlying ideas behind illustrations is the idea that they are needed to keep the listener's interest.

Think about that for a second. This Scripture stuff we are talking about is too boring - we need a good story to make it interesting.

Do you see how that is an attitude and an idea that is totally, totally dismissive of the Word and its efficacy?

Our preaching is not to be an attempt to improve upon the Word - it is to be proclamation of the Word of God. Might we use story and illustration in that - sure, but only as a means of explanation or example. Our illustrations ought never be the point. The point must always be the Word.

In High School English, I was taught the S-E-E format of paragraph construction. Statement, Example, Explanation. And I think this is a very good way to shape an informative paragraph. Let me give an example:

(Statement) We in the Church know that Christ Jesus desires all sorts of people to be saved. (Example) Jesus says, "make disciples of all nations." (Explanation) The Church isn't limited to just you or I, isn't isn't just our own Holy Club, but God will bring in people from all nations. God isn't like some 50s Segregationist who's going to tell you to back away from the streams of living water if your skin's the wrong color - all nations - He has won salvation for all nations.

Illustrations and imagery can make for a good explanation, a good emphasis -- but it can never be the statement, the focus. And the center of all things needs to be the Word - the example of anything we say needs to be backed up by the Word.

So consider your own preaching -- how much of your preaching is the Word of God? If more of it is your own great stories or ideas... not a good sign.

"Gentlemen, unless you preach the atonement, you haven't preached."

And the real icing on the cake is this - what is the point of the Word of God? It is always, Old Testament or New, to point us to the death of Christ Jesus to win salvation. Always. If you aren't pointing to this, what's the point of your sermon?

Seriously - if you aren't going to preach Christ and Him Crucified, why are you wasting my time? What do you think is more important than the Cross?

It's just something to think about, to ponder. How much Word is in my sermon. How much of the sermon points to the cross. If I don't see much Word, if I don't see much Cross... I'm not really preaching, am I?


Robin said...

"Gentlemen unless you preach the atonement, you haven't preached."

When this is lacking you will always get despair or pride. There is no real answer to the sin problem without this. I grew up in church and at home where law was emphasized or even deemphasized but very little cross.

Anonymous said...

"What do you think is more important than the Cross?"

The resurrection, maybe?

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

Anonymous - Without the Cross there can be no resurrection. Without the Cross there is no redemption. This is why Paul says that He is determined to preach Christ and Him... crucified.

The Cross is the battle.
The resurrection is the victory parade.

Which is more important - winning the battle or the celebration afterward?

Anonymous said...

Of course, you can't rise from the dead unless you're dead. But dying doesn't win the battle; it's the resurrection which proves that the verdicts of Caiaphas and Pilate are false, that the promise of life is a reality instead of a theory.

By what authority do you merge the "preach" of 1 Cor. 1:23 with the "Christ and him crucified" of 2:2? Paul never said that he preached the cross alone, or even above other doctrines, which explains why no one even attempts to base the "cross focused" theory on the later Pauline works (Thessalonians, Pastoral epistles, Philemon).

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

And you just made a massive logical jump - I never said "I preach the cross alone" or "I don't preach the resurrection." But rather this - the resurrection rests upon the Cross - and without the Cross there can be no resurrection for us.

So God lives -- well, duh - in Him was life. But we, you and I, as sinful man, we had no life. We were guilty of sin and consigned to death - oh wretches that we are, who will save us from this body of death?

Ah, yes, Christ Jesus - who when He dies cries out, "It is finished."

There - at the Cross. That's the hinge of all the history of the world. Because it is at the Cross where atonement is made. And that is the basis of everything - including those later Pauline Epistles. For example:

1 Timothy 1:15: The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.

Hey - that's atonement starting everything off.

2 Timothy 1:8: Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God...

Look there - at the start focus on a share in... suffering. That sounds like Cross language to me. Indeed, how can Christ abolish death but with His own death?

Or Philemon 17-18: So if you consider me your partner, receive him as you would receive me. 18If he has wronged you at all, or owes you anything, charge that to my account.

Wow, that's subsitutionary atonement language there.

As for the Thessalonians - what were there concerns? About the resurrection. So of course Paul will talk more about the resurrection there - but how is this based?

1 Thessalonians 1:10 - and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.

Again - the movement to talk about the resurrection can only come when it is clear that Christ's own death for our deliverance has really happened. Then there can be a real resurrection, one that we can share in.

But the biggest problem is this - you are rejecting and countermanding Scriptural language - you try to set Paul against himself (oh, the later Paul wouldn't think that way), as though the Scriptures are divide against themselves. Does not our Lord even tell us directly that a House Divided against itself will not stand? Do you think He divided His own word against itself?

Thus - let Paul's advice and encouragement to Timothy in 2 Timothy also hold to you - "Follow the pattern of the sound words that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus." (2 Tim 1:13)

That pattern has been preaching the Cross, showing the death (and then the resurrection) of our Lord. If you become determined to focus on some Jesus other than a Crucified Jesus, you have left the sound words that give life.

Yes, the Cross is icky. Death is icky. But we do not have salvation by ignoring death and the Cross - we have salvation precisely because Christ Jesus Himself goes to the Cross.

"Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7but(N) made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.

8And being found in human form, he humbled himself by(Q) becoming obedient to the point of death,(R) even death on a cross.

9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father." Phillipians 2:5-11

Why is Christ exulted? Why do we praise Him? Because He is the Crucified one.

God died for you - and that is an awesome thing.