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A theology of preaching – part 5

Christ must be proclaimed biblically

Hopefully it is not a new thought that Christ is the Word of God.  Perhaps, though, it is a new thought to consider preaching as the word of God.  Therefore some may wonder whether we have lost the vital importance of Scripture as the word of God.

Absolutely not.  Without Scripture we have no Christ.  Without Scripture we have no preaching.  Yet here is the irony. When the preacher is viewed simply as ‘explainer and applier’ of God’s word (the bible), this results in a lower view of Scripture.

If preaching is simply explanation and application of the bible then it’s difficult to avoid the impression that the Bible stands in need of our interpretive and psychological expertise: the Bible needs explaining as an obscure text and it needs applying as a distant text.  On this understanding preaching either doubts or dilutes the authority of the Bible.  It doubts it if the preacher ‘comes between’ word and congregation as the word’s helper.  It dilutes it if the preacher ‘comes between’ simply to pass on Scriptural information.  In either case we are left with this question:  Why should the preacher even attempt to offer words in addition to the written word?  If, as the reformers contended so fiercely, the Bible is perspicuous, why should the preacher take up thirty minutes of the service but the Bible reading only three?  If all that can be called ‘word of God’ exists in the Scriptures alone, how do we dare to embellish with our own blessed thoughts?

Here is the problem: if the preacher is reduced to a bible-expert we inadvertently reduce the bible to a difficult text.  And simultaneously the preacher is raised up to stand in the gap.  The ‘scholarly’ among us will dissect and expose the text with expert exposition.  The ‘dynamic’ among us will ‘enliven’ the Word with rhetorical flair, persuasive apologetics and well-aimed application.  However, in either case, whether as explainers or appliers, preachers become essential aids for a word that seems less than ‘living and active.’

In all this we communicate the idea that the bible is actually obscure, boring, weak, vague and disjointed.  So then the preacher’s task is making the obscure clear; making the ancient relevant; enlivening the dead letter; making pointed application where we find the bible too vague and providing cohesion to the disjoined Scriptures – bringing things back to ‘the gospel’ or ‘the kingdom’ or ‘the cross’ etc.  Yet the bible is already perspicuous, already living and active, already a persuasive word, already a pointed (application-making) address, already a witness to Christ. 

Perhaps the greatest need for preachers today is to understand the significance of this ‘already.’ 

We think of the bible as an obscure and distant text given to the individual believer for the sake of their personal morality. On this understanding the preacher comes along merely to strengthen Scriptural admonishments to piety.  Yet the bible was not given for the prayer closet but the pulpit.  The Scriptures are the Spirit’s living testimony to the Son, addressed to the church and intended for proclamation to the world. 

What then is the role of the preacher?  We don’t ‘stand in the gap’.  We stand in a stream.  We don’t draw out the living waters.  The Scriptures overflow.  Already the written word has this out-going character.  God’s word cannot be chained (2 Tim 2:9).  Preaching is simply the expression of the Scriptures’ own uncontainable witness.

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