Saturday, June 30, 2007

Him We Proclaim 2.0

Who are your favorite preachers?

What do you consider good preaching?

What makes a "good" preacher?

When does a preacher "cross the line" from preaching to teaching? From sermon to lecture?

What does a "biblical" preacher look like?

Ok…that's enough. Even if you answered these questions with a concordance in your hand there is a boatload of subjectivity laced throughout your answers. My answers. Now, I've only been in supported ministry for a cumulative 6 years, but it seems to me that if you've got a church of about 150 people you've got at least 200 opinions when it comes to "this is the way a preacher should preach."

That's the reality we have to have in mind as we read Johnson's second chapter of Him We Proclaim. It's called "Priorities and Polarities in Preaching" (pp. 25-61) for good reason. If there's one area a pastor can be tempted relentlessly to cower to the idol called "Fear of Man" or "Foolishly Trying to Meet Everyone's Expectations" it's the area of preaching. Thankfully, Johnson gives some good advice for us to navigate the fluctuating opinions of preaching.

"Because human nature is prone to oversimplification and imbalance, differences of opinion on priorities to be pursued in preaching easily degenerate into polarization." (p. 27)

Of course I've opened up a can of worms, and neither this chapter , or my post, will answer all of the questions about what makes good, biblical preaching. Instead, we're gonna talk about purpose.

Our author identifies three general purposes of preaching are 1. To convert, 2. To edify, and 3. To instruct. Since you have the book (or could buy the book and read along with us) I won't reiterate the chapter. But essentially, Johnson summarizes (at length) the strengths and weaknesses of these three preaching purposes. The 30 pages are well worth reading and will help you work through some very practical issues: felt needs, evangelism vs. edification, theological jargon, value redemptive-historical, the indicative and the imperative, etc.

Then in the last 10 pages, he recommends another purpose. It's really a hybrid of the three (especially #3) and is what the book contends for. He dubs it a very cumbersome, yet meaningful title: "Evangelistic, Edificatory Redemptive-Historical Preaching."Even if you don't read the footnotes (which you should in this case), you'll notice right away his interaction with/reliance upon Tim Keller. In fact if you've heard Tim Keller preach, then you've got an inkling of what Johnson is proposing. He defines this kind of preaching like this:

"Preaching must be Christ-centered, must interpret biblical texts in their redemptive-historical contexts, must aim for change, must proclaim the doctrinal center of the Reformation (grace alone, faith alone, Christ alone, God's glory alone) with passion and personal application, and must speak in a language that connects with the unchurched in our culture, shattering their stereotypes of Christianity and bringing them face to face with Christ, who meets sinner's real needs—felt and unfelt." (p. 54)

Keller gives props to his mentor Edmund Clowney and sees his method right in line with Clowney's redemptive-historical approach. He just kicks it up a notch. Here are some foundational characteristics of this "gospel changes everything" kind of preaching.

  1. Biblical Theology, Biblical Theology, Biblical Theology! If that term doesn't mean anything to you, if it doesn't cause your heart to skip an exegetical beat, then you need to repent and get saved…or at least read up a little bit more. Johnson gives a summary that'll do for now: "It emphasizes the unity of the history of redemption—the enactment of God's plan for the rescue, reconciliation, and re-creation of his people, climaxing in the person, obedience, sacrifice, resurrection, and exaltation of Jesus Christ, and reaching consummation at his return in glory." (pp.48-49) Biblical Theology (BT) is the discipline that traces all of the promises made in the OT to the promises kept in the NT (thank you, Mark Dever). One key result of BT is that we always see Jesus as the hero of every OT narrative: "The purpose of the Old Testament historical narrative is not to teach moral lessons, but to trace the work of God, the Savior of his people, whose redeeming presence among them reaches it's climatic expression in Christ's incarnation." (p.51)
  2. Believers and unbelievers both need to hear the gospel in preaching. As Keller says, "the gospel is not just the A-B-C's but the A to Z of Christianity."
  3. The root of all sin and misery is idolatry. "Our idols are whatever (other than the triune God) we trust in to gain 'salvation,' however we define it—whatever we believe that we cannot live without." (p. 57)
  4. Preachers and congregations must assume the presence of unbelievers in gathered worship and therefore not always speak in only Christianese. Rather than dumb down the gospel, though, the preacher should take apologetic sidebars that challenge non-Christians with the coherence of biblical truth and its superior ability to address the dilemmas of human life and thought.

Having read on, I'll encourage you that Johnson does a good job explaining how we can preach like this, but for now let's get to some discussion.

Discussion: (pick one and comment)

  1. How would you define biblical preaching? What's it look like? What does "meaty" preaching look like?
  2. Do you think that preaching can be intelligible enough for unbelievers and still remain edifying for believers? Why/not?
  3. What are some challenges that you've faced in preaching in a redemptive-historical fashion?
  4. In what ways is Keller's approach ("Evangelistic, Edificatory Redemptive-Historical Preaching") different from seeker-sensitive preaching?
  5. Have you taught or preached the Bible (esp. the OT) in a moralistic way? How does biblical theology help us move away from that?
  6. How do you combat the "fear of man" and the tyranny of others' expectations when it comes to preaching?


Jonathan Dodson said...

Outstanding post, Josh. Inspires me to read the book!

Joshua Otte said...

You'll definitely enjoy the book. He's putting together a clear hermeneutic and homiletic for all that we learned in loved at seminary.

By the way, y'all. Jonathan recently posted indirectly on the last discussion question: "Toward True Joy: Forsaking the Fear of Man and False Happiness."

Check it out here:

Joshua Otte said...

At this point, I'm seeing the most helpful strength of the preaching Christ from all the Scriptures is the way it exposes our idolatry.

When we rightly understand the Bible (Creation, Fall, Redemption, New Creation), we then rightly understand our place in this divine drama. And "our place" often is off the mark, ie we sin. But this sin is not merely moral failing. It is idolatry...worshiping anything in place of the One worthy of worship.

Luther said we never break the other 10 commandments without breaking the first two. It follows then that our over-working, our lying, our stealing, our dishonoring, our coveting, our lusting, our______ is grounded in our trusting in some substitute god, a functional savior instead of the One True and Living God.

When we let Scripture speak its anti-idolatry message, we can boldly proclaim the gospel to both Christians and non-Christians alike.