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The High Call of Preaching How Can I Be Faithful to What God Intends Preaching to Be and Do?
Convictions of Biblical Preaching
To do the tough work of being biblical preachers, men and women in ministry must be committed to certain truths.
(1) The Bible is the Word of God. As Augustine put it, 'When the Bible speaks, God speaks.' This is the conviction that if I can really understand a passage in its context, then what I know is what God wants to say. (I don't believe that many evangelicals as well as liberals really believe this.)
(2) The entire Bible is the Word of God. Not only Romans but Leviticus, not only Ephesians but Esther. Not merely the 'hot' passages but the 'cold' ones.
(3) The Bible is self-authenticating. If people can be exposed to an understanding of the
Scriptures on a regular basis, then they do not need arguments about the veracity of Scripture.
Therefore, a listener or reader doesn't have to buy into the first two commitments before God can work in a person's life through his Word.
(4) This leads to a 'Thus saith the Lord'
approach to preaching. I am not referring to a homiletical method here, but to a desire to open up the Scriptures so that the authority of the message rests on the Bible. (This works against the anti-authoritarian spirit of our society.)
(5) The student of the Bible must try to get at the intent of the biblical writer. The first question is, 'What did the biblical writer want to say to the biblical reader? Why?' The
Reader Response theory embraced by many literary scholars today will not work for the study of the Bible. Simply put, 'The Bible cannot mean what it has not meant.'
(6) The Bible is a book about God. It is not a religious book of advice about the 'answers'
we need about a happy marriage, sex, work, or losing weight. Although the Scriptures reflect on many of those issues, they are above all about who God is and what God thinks and wills. I understand reality only if I have an appreciation for who he is and what he desires for his creation and from his creation.
(7) We don't 'make the Bible relevant'; we show its relevance. Truth is as relevant as water to thirst or food to hunger. Modern advertising creates needs that don't really exist to move the merchandise.
A Definition of Biblical Preaching
Iintend to supply a definition of biblical exposition and to present a case for it. It seems to me that these two tasks belong together in that the case for biblical exposition is to be found in its definition. Here, then, is the definition: To expound Scripture is to open up the inspired text with such faithfulness and sensitivity that
God's voice is heard and his people obey him.
Now let me draw out the implications of this definition in such a way as to present a case for biblical exposition. The definition contains six implications: two convictions about the biblical text, two obligations in expounding it, and two expectations in consequence.
TWO CONVICTIONS ABOUT
THE BIBLICAL TEXT
(1) It is an inspired text. To expound Scripture is to open up the inspired text. Revelation and inspiration belong together. Revelation describes the initiative God has taken to unveil himself and so to disclose himself, since without this revelation he would remain the unknown God. Inspiration describes the process by which he has done so, namely, by speaking to and through the biblical prophets and apostles and by breathing his Word out of his mouth in such a way that it came out of their mouths as well. Otherwise his thoughts would have been unattainable to us.
The third word is providence, that is, the loving provision by which God has arranged for the words that he has spoken to be so written down as to form what we call Scripture, and then to be preserved across the centuries so as to be accessible to all people in all places and at all times. Scripture, then, is God's Word written.
It is his self-disclosure in speech and writing.
Scripture is the product of God's revelation,
inspiration, and providence.
This first conviction is indispensable to preachers. If God had not spoken, we would not dare to speak, because we would have nothing to say except our own threadbare speculations.
But since God has spoken, we too must speak, communicating to others what he has communicated in Scripture. Indeed, we refuse to be silenced. As Amos put it, 'The lion has roared---who will not fear? The Sovereign
LORD has spoken---who can but prophesy?'
(Amos 3:8), that is, pass on the Word he has spoken. Similarly, Paul echoing Psalm 116:10,
wrote, 'We believe and therefore we speak'
(2 Cor. 4:13). That is, we believe what God has spoken, and that is why we also speak.
I pity the preacher who enters the pulpit with no Bible in his hands, or with a Bible that is more rags and tatters than the Word of the living
God. He cannot expound Scripture because he has no Scripture to expound. He cannot speak because he has nothing to say, at least nothing worth saying. Ah, but to enter the pulpit with the confidence that God has spoken and that he's caused what he has spoken to be written and that we have this inspired text in our hands, why then our head begins to swim and our heart to beat and our blood to flow and our eyes to sparkle with the sheer glory of having
God's Word in our hands and on our lips.
That is the first conviction, and the second is this:
(2) The inspired text to some degree is a closed text. That is the implication of my definition.
To expound Scripture is to open up the inspired text. So it must be partially closed if it needs to be opened up. And I think at once I see your Protestant hackles rising with indignation.
What do you mean, you say to me, that Scripture is partly closed? Is not Scripture an altogether open book? Do you not believe what the sixteenth-century Reformers taught about the perspicuity of Scripture, that it has a seethrough quality, a transparent quality? Cannot even the simple and the uneducated read it for themselves? Is not the Holy Spirit our Godgiven teacher? And with the Word of God and the Spirit of God, must we not say that we need no ecclesiastical magisterium to instruct us?
I can say a resounding yes to all of these questions, but what you rightly say needs to be qualified. The Reformers' insistence on the perspicuity of Scripture referred to its central message---
its gospel of salvation through faith in
Jesus Christ alone. That is as plain as day in
Scripture. But the Reformers did not claim that everything in Scripture was plain. How could they, when Peter said there were some things in
Paul's letters that even he couldn't understand
(2 Peter 3:16)? If one apostle did not always understand another apostle, it would hardly be modest for us to say that we can.