A Bit Less Preaching, Please?December 13, 2007
Today’s Featured Toolbox is a provocative post I came across this week. Though I disagree with some of what Gordon Cheng proposes, I found it stimulating to reconsider why declarative preaching must have a central place. How would you respond to Cheng’s points? Not least – I’d be interested for any Richard Baxter experts to comment!
A bit less on preaching, please.
I’ve never really agreed with the evangelical emphasis on preaching, and never quite understood how evangelicals make so much more of this than of other forms of teaching. It seems to me that the emphasis on public preaching, or should I say perhaps ‘pulpiteering’—as against private and personal ministry through, for example, conversation or Bible study groups—is quite unbiblical.
So I was heartened today to pick up Richard Baxter’s old but still revolutionary work The Reformed Pastor to discover that he agrees with me. He makes this sharp and relevant observation about ministry through conversation (or as he calls it, ‘interlocution’):
“I hope there are none so silly as to think this conference is not preaching. What? doth the number we speak to make it preaching? Or doth interlocution make it none? Surely a man may as truly preach to one, as to a thousand. And… if you examine, you will find that most of the preaching recorded in the New Testament, was by conference, and frequently interlocutory, and that with one or two, fewer or more, as opportunity served. Thus Christ himself did most commonly preach.”
Baxter gets around the difficulty I’m thinking about by redefining preaching, which is fair enough, I suppose. The quote is from p. 228 of my Banner of Truth edition, which I got for just under five bucks, a little while ago.
UPDATE: Gordon Cheng has added a helpful clarification comment in this posts comments section. Also, R. Scott Clark of Heidelblog has already replied on his blog and in our comments section. Here is the crux of it:
The practical reason that evangelicals still emphasize preaching, to the degree that emphasis still exists, is because they haven’t yet rid themselves of the every last vestige of the theology, piety, and practice of the Reformation or the original evangelicalism (as distinct from modern evangelicalism).
The original evangelicals, i.e. the Protestant Reformers emphasized the public proclamation of the Word (law and gospel) because they were convinced from Scripture that God has made promises specifically to use and bless the preached gospel (Rom 10). We summarize this understanding of the preached gospel by speaking of the preaching of the gospel as a “means of grace” (medium gratiae). It is our understanding of Paul’s teaching in Romans and elsewhere (e.g. 2 Tim 4:2) that the Spirit of God operates with and through Word (in the law) as it is preached to convict sinners of their sin and jeopardy before the all-holy God and through the Word (in the gospel) to raise them to life (regeneration), to give them faith, and to unite them to Christ.
Thus, in Heidelberg Catechism Q. 65 we confess that the Holy Spirit “works faith faith in our hearts through the preaching of the Holy Gospel and confirms it through the use of the holy sacraments.” We have a high view of preaching as a means of grace because Paul had a high view of the “foolishness” of gospel preaching (1 Cor 2). It doesn’t seem like it ought to “work” and if you’re looking for big numbers then call Bill Hybels or Bob Schuller. They know how to pull a crowd. If you want to know about preaching, however, look at Paul at Mars Hill. He preached the law and then he preached the gospel. Did he get a great response? Well Dennis (Dionysius) and a few others (Acts 17:34) followed him. That’s what happens sometimes. The Spirit blows where he wills (John 3).
What’s the big deal about preaching? It’s the vehicle, the instrument, the means by which God the Spirit brings his elect to faith. Otherwise, it’s not big deal.
Other Toolbox This Week
Challies Top 7 Books of 2007
Baxter – How to Spend a Day With God
Allan Jacob’s on Pullman’s Trilogy
MP3 – Carson on Jeremiah
The Foolishness of Preaching
Some Excellent Historical Theology Books
Os Guinness on Evangelical Relevance
Geoff Grogan MP3: Expository Preaching – Some Important Principles
I almost Died – Noel Piper
Derek Thomas – Puritan Preaching and Conscionable Preaching
4 Reasons It Might be Worth Visiting Israel
News Report: British Ignorance Over Nativity
That Time Before You Speak
Philip Ryken Sermons List
Why Join a Small Church
You Might be a Bi-Vocational Pastor If…
G Campbell Morgan: A Preacher Come from God (pt 2)
G Campbell Morgan: A Preacher Come from God (pt 1)
What Sam Storms Believes