The Holy Spirit & Preaching

The Holy Spirit & Preaching

by James Forbes

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The Holy Spirit & Preaching by James Forbes

Describes what it means to be anointed with the Spirit so that one can preach "to raise the dead."

In The Holy Spirit and Preaching, James A. Forbes, Jr.--widely hailed as one of the nation's foremost preachers--offers four dynamic lectures originally delivered as the Lyman Beecher Lectures at Yale University, the most prestigious annual preaching event in the United States.

In each of the lectures, Forbes focuses on the Holy Spirit as it relates to preaching.  He traces the Holy Spirit's activity in Jesus' ministry and looks at the impact of being anointed by the Holy Spirit.  Forbes demonstrates how the Holy Spirit works with the pastor in the preparation and delivery of a sermon.  The Holy Spirit and Preaching concludes by focusing on the need for anointed preaching, and the way anointed preaching happens today.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781426720734
Publisher: Abingdon Press
Publication date: 09/01/2010
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
File size: 797 KB

About the Author

James A. Forbes, Jr. has spoken to more than 100,000 people every year, hailed as “the preacher’s preacher.” He is senior minister at Riverside Church in New York City, and has also held the position of Joe R. Engle Professor of Preaching at Union Theological Seminary in New York. 1989

Read an Excerpt

The Holy Spirit and Preaching

By James A. Forbes Jr.

Abingdon Press

Copyright © 1989 James A. Forbes, Jr.
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4267-2073-4



The person who preaches the gospel makes a statement about the Holy Spirit just by entering the pulpit. Even before the first word is uttered, presuppositions and definitions from across the centuries speak volumes about the Spirit-led event to be experienced by the preacher and the community of worshipers. The preaching event itself - without reference to specific texts and themes - is a living, breathing, flesh-and-blood expression of the theology of the Holy Spirit.

Consider how the Holy Spirit has been at work to make possible the traditional preaching situation: It is the Spirit who has inspired the scripture lessons of the day. It is the Spirit who has shepherded the word through compilation, translation, canonization, and transmission to the present time. It is the Spirit who convenes a congregation to hear the word of God. And it is the Spirit who opens our hearts and minds to receive anew God's self-disclosure as the living word.

The preaching event is an aspect of the broader work of the Spirit to nurture, empower, and guide the church in order that it may serve the kingdom of God in the power of the Spirit. It is a process in which the divine-human communication is activated and focused on the word of God and is led by a member of the community of faith who has been called, anointed, and appointed by the Holy Spirit to be an agent of divine communication. That person's authority is grounded in the self-revealing will of God as articulated and elaborated in the biblical witness. In addition, the preacher's authority is confirmed or ordained by the community of faith in response to the continuing counsel of the Holy Spirit.

Such pneumatological affirmations reflect the general understanding of a vast majority of Christians, with the emphasis being on Holy Spirit presence and action in the congregational settings where the preaching takes place.

Given this understanding, it seems to follow that the quality of the preaching is affected most significantly by the level of awareness of the movement of the Spirit shared by those in the pulpit and pew.

Although the church generally has subscribed to this view, the proper place of the Holy Spirit has been neglected in its life and work. Indeed, the history of the church records a pattern of ebb and flow of its attentive-ness to the ministry of the Spirit. Sometimes various communities are in states of vigorous excitement, mild acceptance, or benign neglect of the Spirit as the vital source of strength and guidance for the life of the church. It is only through periodic renewal and recovery of spiritual depth that the power and grace of the Holy Spirit actually can be appropriated.

In A History of Preaching, Edwin Dargan draws on his comprehensive review of preaching through the centuries to make this general observation regarding the life of the Spirit and the quality of preaching:

Decline of spiritual life and activity in the churches is commonly accompanied by a lifeless, formal, unfruitful preaching, and this partly as cause, partly as effect. On the other hand, the great revivals of Christian history can most usually be traced to the work of the pulpit, and in their progress they have developed and rendered possible a high order of preaching. (Vol. 1, page 13)

During recent years, we have seen some signs of spiritual revitalization. Still, it would be premature to celebrate the arrival of the long-awaited renewal. While we have heard periodic declarations about how the church is on the threshold of a spiritual revival, it seems evident that a considerable breakup of old patterns and perspectives is necessary before a significant breakthrough can come.

We can hope and pray that each aspect of the life and ministry of the church will be open to the revitalization the Spirit seeks to bring - especially in the area of preaching.

Jesus came preaching in the power of the Spirit. He shared with his disciples his awareness of power, rooted and grounded in God, which was at work in him and in the context in which he ministered.

The great prophets of Israel who came before Jesus also proclaimed, "Thus saith the Lord," as the Spirit moved them. They addressed their times out of a definite sense of divine appointment and empowerment.

The Apostles, whom Jesus initiated into the continuing work of the kingdom, were told to expect the coming of the Spirit, in whose power they were to bear witness to Jesus. Through the centuries, enthusiasts, as well as guardians of institutional forms of ministry, have found ways to account for that mysterious presence which touched their efforts with grace.

To preach today in Jesus' name, and to do so with power, still requires the enabling presence of the Holy Spirit. I do not know a conscientious preacher anywhere who would claim to preach without at least some acknowledgment of the aid of the Spirit, even if the minister did not tend to speak of it in that way. There are many preachers who are waiting for and depending on the power from beyond themselves - and there are many who are aware that if that power is not present, the preaching will not be effective.

Increasingly, clergy and lay persons are hearing more about the Spirit. Their sources may be television, periodicals, evangelists or church members who attend charismatic conferences. But many Christians are Holy Spirit— shy. For some, conversations about empowerment of the Spirit in one's ministry are occasions of anxiety and intimidation. Some preachers hesitate to speak of the Spirit in relationship to what they do. Others talk about the Spirit in traditional language of faith, but without personal meaning. Hence, many of the biblical provisions for Holy Spirit empowerment often are left unrealized like unclaimed packages or unopened letters.

In the church and society today, there are forces working to prevent us from fully receiving the power of the Spirit for preaching. Let us consider some of the reasons why preachers often feel the need to avoid Holy Spirit language and why many steer clear of claiming the Spirit as the power at the heart of their preaching.

In our secular, post modern age, we risk appearing unsophisticated if there is too much talk about a spiritual dimension of reality, or if we make too much space for the presence and activity of the Spirit in our day-to-day experiences. In fact, in some traditions there are well-defined, sacramental systems that rigidly insist that all talk of the experience of the Spirit be limited to the official means of grace. Even though word and sacrament are always appropriately viewed under the Spirit's guidance, we are cautioned against hints of enthusiasm or special, personal unctions. Sometimes ecclesiastical leaders fear that private and personal spiritual visitations will lead to excesses and potential conflict in the community of believers.

In other places there is reticence about referring to the Holy Spirit because of doctrinal positions and stereotyped manifestations, to which some ministers take serious exception. Some preachers would rather avoid discussing the Holy Spirit altogether lest they be understood in terms of popular notions that aren't consistent with their own doctrinal views, or that reflect reductionist understandings.

Often, mainline Christians are willing to leave the Spirit-talk as a special vocation for the Spirit-filled folks. "Let them talk that way," they may say. In such a response, avoidance of Holy Spirit themes or references are intended to defend against what could be exaggerated or distorted claims.

But there is another reason why some of us shy away from the Spirit. Many of us fear being grasped by an invisible presence we cannot control. In this regard, we share the problematics of spiritual experience throughout all ages.

We may wonder, "What am I likely to do? How will I behave if I surrender my control to the Divine Spirit? How can I be sure that some other spirit won't actually take over my mind?" Rudolf Otto in Idea of the Holy (pages 12-13) calls this strange feeling of attraction and dread "mysterium tremendum." It is the awe-filled experience of the majesty of God overpowering and yet enrapturing - both thrilling and chilling. But it nevertheless envelopes the longing for the Spirit with deep emotive ambiguity. In any event, respectful distance - not only from experiencing the Spirit, but also from language about the Holy Spirit - may seem to be the better part of wisdom, especially for moderns who are given to quantification and control. Consequently, the Holy Spirit is less understood, less experienced, and doesn't have a meaningful place in the world view or the sacred cosmos of most of us.

In his book Christian Spirituality(page 83), Wolfhart Pannenberg accounts for this trend by noting that in the "death of God" generation there was a philosophical and theological statement of the lost sense of spirit perception, but what we have now is an actual, existential living out of the fact that God's presence in the world, active in form of Spirit, is not a normal perception for most of us today.

Louis Dupre in Spiritual Life in a Secular Age makes a similar observation as he describes experiences of the Spirit in our secular age. He maintains that the ability to experience the sacred and to have some immediate sense of its authenticity has eroded for most people. No matter what we experience, our way of thinking requires us to try to give a scientific explanation of the factors that could have contributed to the phenomenon in question. And if we are led to affirm that an experience was caused by the presence of the Spirit, we take on the added burden of seeking its verification as we live out the implications of the faith claim we have made. Dupre says, "In our time, the religious interpretation comes as a result of further reflection, and only rarely with the experience itself. Since the interpretation remains separate from the experience, the doubt about its correctness can be resolved only by a subsequent, full commitment to it. Hence the experience receives its definitive meaning only in its final, voluntary act of assent" (page 5). All the while we hope that life's experiences will corroborate our spiritual sensitivity so that we can joyfully say, "Surely, that was the work of the Holy Spirit in my life." In a secular society, such affirmations become more difficult to make. This fact may be a persisting problematic of most serious proportions for spiritual development in our age.

Indeed, Dupre makes a disturbing observation which should be a source of special concern for those who serve in religious vocations.

The search for a deeper spiritual life is, in fact, more than a passing phenomenon on today's religious scene; it is a movement for religious survival. For without the support of a sustained personal decision, a religion that remains unassisted by the surrounding culture and is constantly under attack in the believer's own heart is doomed to die.... The doctrines, lifestyles and methods of a previous age were conceived within the reach of a direct experience of the sacred. This has for the most part ceased to exist, (page 13)

I am convinced that Pentecostals and charisma tics, as well as mainline Christians - be they conservative or liberal - face a common problem. Given the predominating view of reality in which we live, many find it difficult to know with certainty that it is indeed the Spirit of the Lord who shapes our personal and religious experience. Even those who have that deep and abiding certainty about the action of the Spirit in their lives sometimes find they too question the justification for their strong affirmation.

It is about this general problem that I write because I believe it isn't just a minority of people who are Spirit-shy. My sense is that most of us find it difficult to experience the sacred - which may explain why the high calling to live out the mandates of the kingdom (righteousness, justice, joy, and peace) finds decreasing compliance. To rise above preoccupation with, or fixation on, our own interests, or to respond to the mandate to give to others, presupposes strong assurances about Holy Spirit support.

To live as if we could indeed trust God places a strain on all who live in the time of scientific verification. If the religious foundation, the sense of the sacred, the visitation of the Spirit no longer is real for us, then we would begin to expect that the secular domination of our thought patterns would render moral and ethical patterns of life subject to steady decline. Given this situation, it would seem that the church as a whole shares the need to search for ways by which we may be in touch once again with the power of the Spirit.

If we intend to preach the gospel of Jesus the Christ, who calls us to serve the kingdom in our time, we need all the power that is available to us. Given the reality of a culture that has lost contact with the living Spirit of the one who announced to us the vision of the kingdom in the first place, we need preaching that is more than aesthetically delightful. Mere ranting and raving and excitation from some spirited pastor will not suffice. We need some sense of the Spirit accompanied by power sufficient to interrupt a decline in the sense of the reality of God.

Paul's testimony captures the sense of what is needed in our time:

When I came to you, brethren, I did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God in lofty words or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in much fear and trembling; and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of humankind, but in the power of God. (I Cor. 2:1-5)

The primary issue here is not how much one talks about the Spirit. Rather, the concern is that those forces that reduce our freedom to speak of the Holy Spirit also may be working against any diligence in seeking the guidance and the empowerment of the Spirit. It is not that preachers do not know the place of the Spirit. Rather, it is that those attitudes which urge silence or privacy regarding the role of the Spirit in our preaching also tend to rob us of the full empowerment crucial for all who preach the Word. Barriers to such anointings are very real and need to be faced if we are to experience additional dimensions of Holy Spirit power for more effective preaching.

What might it mean for preachers today if when we stand to preach we could say, "The Spirit of the Lord is upon us, because the Lord hath anointed us to preach the gospel?" This is the question at the heart of our quest. It is my goal that preachers all over this nation, regardless of their denominational background, piety, or theological perspective in general, would be able, with integrity, to say, "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me for the preaching of the gospel."

There is a way in which all of the church can experience the reality of the Spirit. The decline in the sense of the spiritual presence reflected in our age may be confronted by a new power in the life of the church. Let us seek that way by focusing on the anointing of the Holy Spirit in the life of Jesus.

The Anointing of Jesus

The anointing of Jesus can be viewed as a model of spiritual formation. If experientially appropriated, this same anointing will promote a renewal of the awareness of the Holy Spirit and the empowerment necessary for more effective preaching.

Once we understand more clearly what this anointing means and stand under its continuing influence, we will observe a marked difference in the way we preach, and the objectives of the gospel will be manifested more abundantly.

In conducting preaching workshops and conferences across the country, I have spoken with many members of the clergy and laity who have expressed eagerness to probe more deeply into the implications of the concept of anointing. Their questions reveal sharp differences of opinion about how the Spirit equips the church for ministry today. The development of the ideas presented here is in large measure an attempt to think through the many perplexing problems that have been discussed in ecumenical settings.

While we could profitably consider what effect the anointing has on various aspects of ministry, it is hoped that by focusing on preaching, the larger inquiry will be stimulated.

Jesus came to Nazareth. He unrolled the Scriptures and found the place where it was written, "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor" (Luke 4:18). He then gave the scroll to the attendant, took his seat, and said, "Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing" (verse 21).


Excerpted from The Holy Spirit and Preaching by James A. Forbes Jr.. Copyright © 1989 James A. Forbes, Jr.. Excerpted by permission of Abingdon Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Preaching and the Holy Spirit,
The Anointing of Jesus,
Preaching and the Holy Spirit's Anointing,
Sermon Preparation and Preaching,
The Spiritual Formation of Anointed Preachers,

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