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Preachers are Waiters not Chefs

‘Have I got to interpret the Bible facts for you? I want to tell you it is a great relief to me that I don’t have to do that… Now it would be very grim thing if I had these 66 books of the Bible, all these thousands of pages, and God gave me the job of taking all this raw material and cooking it – so that I present to you an understanding of the Christian faith. That would be quite beyond my wisdom. It seems people are trying to do that but I am not trying to do that. No, the Bible writers have already cooked the material. That is, they have already prepared it so the finished product is here. The Bible is not asking us to interpret it. The Bible is an interpretation. My job is to tell you what the explanation is.’  Dick Lucas (from here)

Preachers are waiters not chefs.  We haven't got to concoct a tasty message from raw and unpalatable ingredients.  We haven't got to make the dish work through bold and imaginative combinations.  We haven't got to water down the strong stuff or spice up the bland.  We haven't got to flavour it to taste.

We just have to get the dish onto the table, as piping hot as possible and trying not to spill any.

Et voila!  Bon apetit!

No-one cares if their waiter can cook.  No-one wants to hear their waiter speak about their culinary abilities.

What's actually helpful is if the waiter is something of a gourmand and can wax eloquent on the dish of the day.  Yes that can be very helpful.  As the waiter enthuses on the chef's special, we swallow hard, widen our eyes, deepen our appetite.

What we need are food lovers not food technicians.

God save us from waiters who think they are chefs.  God grant us waiters with a passion for the plat du jour.

(And yes, I've now exhausted all the French I know).

And it all makes me think of Dave's super-instinct.

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0 thoughts on “Preachers are Waiters not Chefs

  1. Paul Blackham

    Thanks for this, Glen. Very helpful.

    The Bible is not only already the definitive interpretation of the Way of Jesus, but it is also applied. This interpretation is applied into different church congregations that originally received it.

    I remember vividly an occasion when I had attended a lecture on Kant at King's College. I heard how Kant believed in a division between facts and interpretation, between history and meaning. Then, literally the next day, I heard a well known preacher assert that we are to first obtain the Biblical facts and then we are to provide the true interpretation. It was very surreal!

    Dick Lucas is such a legend.

  2. John B

    This seems like the best frame of mind towards preaching, always seeking to magnify Christ and the Word that witnesses to Him, while diminishing the focus on the messenger.

    But, at the same time, the called and ordained preacher is also the voice of the corporate body, the church. In that capacity is he not making disciples and not only tidily delivering the biblical material? I'm concerned that if we deny any place for interpretation, we're veering towards Scripture "only" rather than "alone". I like the thoughts about "super-instinct" when considered as mediated through participation in the church, but if taken in an individualistic sense, it can begin to sound somewhat gnostic.

    The Scriptures are the norma normans non normata, but the church, to be the church for one another, needs to be in accord as to the biblical hermeneutic by which they will walk together. In shorthand this might be, Sola Scriptura *and* Tradition!

    Monsieur, l'addition, s'il vous plait.

  3. Glen

    Merci Beaucoup Paul and Richard.

    John, tell me more about the preacher as voice of the church. I'm happy to acknowledge that the preacher's humanity is part and parcel of this divine-human word, the preacher is also a recipient of the Word, is also a member of the church that is addressed and that the 'super-instinct' of knowing how to 'dish it up' is communally formed. But in all that I'm wanting to maintain the direction of travel from heaven to earth. Do you mean something else by saying the preacher is the 'voice' of the church as well?

  4. John B

    Bonjour Glen.

    By virtue of the office, we hear the minister in the service of the Word and sacraments, as the vicar of Christ, speaking the very word of God. When we receive the servant that Jesus sends to us, we receive Jesus Himself, and the Father. (John 13:20).

    The keys of the Kingdom have been committed to the ministerial office and in this regard Calvin likened ministers to heaven's porters. I think we might also compare ministers to chaperones, escorting and protecting Christ's bride, until the groom's return.

    Seems like there's elements of all of these roles in the ministry: ambassadors, porters, chaperones, and waiters. Though there is the account in Acts about calling deacons so that the apostles could be kept from waiting on tables! (Sorry about my mixing of metaphors!) :-o

    As a postmodern, my inclination is to reject the notion of an ordained hierarchical order within the church in favor of a more egalitarian approach. And, as a Protestant, I reject the Catholic exaltation of the persons who hold priestly and magisterial offices in the church. But I follow the Reformers, who I believe were faithful to Scripture, in upholding and exalting the ministerial office, as those who have been called by the church, the priesthood of all believers.

    So yes, I'd say that the preacher is the 'voice' of the church, and even more, he's the voice of it's LORD, as well.

    "Christ acts by ministers in such a manner that he wishes their mouth to be reckoned as his mouth, and their lips as his lips." ~Jean Cauvin

  5. Pingback: Barth on “Interpretation” « Christ the Truth

  6. Glen

    Ah, je comprends! Je pense...

    Would this be a case where you prefer the *objective* genitive? "The voice of the church" is Christ's voice *to* the church? ;-)

  7. John B

    Switching back to English, as I'm in way over my head with French!

    I think that the distinction between the objective and subjective emphasis towards revelation is a very helpful one. I see this as objective in the sense that God condescends to our creaturely level to pursue us and manifest Himself to us who by nature are estranged from Him. But as God stoops down to us and speaks to us in language that we can understand, yet we can't know God merely in the revealed data, in the way that we can know His creation.

    The New Testament presents the paradox: salvation is knowing the only true God, but we cannot know God. God is incomprehensible by means of human reason or intuition. Like our first ancestors, Adam and Eve, we can't by nature empty ourselves in unknowing and rest securely in God, and yet it is only by resting in Christ that we may know Him.

    I've gone beyond the topic of the role of preachers, but I think that it's a subset of the question of knowing God, who is objectively revealed in His immanence, but is known by negation in His transcendence.

    In French, English, or any other language, the apophatic knowledge of God is impossible to describe, beyond the language of the New Testament.

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