Preaching: Communicating Truth in a Contrary Culture

Preach: verb intransitive (2.) To give religious or moral instruction, especially in a tedious manner. -

Is preaching past its prime?

Is there anything more offensive in today's world than to preach? If there is, it would be hard to imagine what it could be. Preaching is the one thing the world still sees as sin. It is the single last thing we are allowed to slam. Take, as an example, this forcefully worded webposting,

"Everybody has the right to believe what they believe. NOBODY has the right to push their beliefs on their fellow beings. To preach at someone who does not wish to be preached at is RAPE. Not rape of the body, but rape of the mind and of the soul. There is no excuse for it."

Of course, most people are too polite to put it in these words. Still, one gets the idea that preaching is not the esteemed profession that it once was. Preaching, many would say, is a smokestack industry. The preacher is right up there with the typewriter salesman. Well meaning, perhaps, but irrelevant, or worse.

Preaching, some say, is anachronistic, an aged process past its prime. It is not a bad thing, it's just that nobody is interested anymore. Still others take a more malevolent view. Preaching is not only anachronistic, it is arrogant. In an age where we are more aware of alternate viewpoints and globalized perspectives, preaching which seeks to persuasively pro-claim truth once and for all is itself beyond redemption. Preaching which tries to homogenize diversity into a single truth claim doesn't appreciate the spirit of the age. The very word "preach" has come to speak of intolerance, impatience, and pride. At best the preacher is thought of as a well meaning relic of a quaint but irrelevant past. At worst the preacher is considered an enemy of freedom and a foe to be opposed.

Preaching Helps People Hear from God

And yet, still, God has called us to this task. If we believe the Bible, we cannot help but preach. It is our calling. It is demanded of us. Preachers are those people who believe that God is relevant and who are willing to help people hear from him. Preachers are men and women who are willing to get involved in God's great reconciliation project, announcing the truth of God's love and forgiveness. Put that way it doesn't sound so offensive. Preachers are not concerned to compel people to adopt opinions or to force a bland conformity. The preacher's prime concern is to help people hear what God is saying so that they will have to reckon with the Almighty himself. The listener's argument is not with the preacher, but with God.

What, then, is preaching and what does it require? Haddon Robinson says that,

Expository preaching is the communication of a biblical concept, derived from and transmitted through a historical, grammatical, literary study of a passage in its context, which the Holy Spirit first applies to the personality and experience of the preacher, then through him to his hearers (Robinson 21).

This definition presupposes the authority of Scripture and the need to understand preaching as the exposure and interpretation of truth as presented in the Bible. This approach to definition is faithful to 2 Timothy 3 and 4 which offers Scripture as the substance and content of preaching.

Sidney Greidanus supports this view. "Bible-centered preaching," he says, "is handling the text in such a way that its real and essential meaning as it existed in the mind of the particular Biblical writer and as it exists in the light of the over-all context of Scripture is made plain and applied to the present-day needs of hearers (Greidanus 11)." This definition disciplines the preacher to communicate that which was presented by God through his Word to people today.

These definitions are helpful, but perhaps we can find an even simpler way to state it: Preaching is Helping People Hear from God. This definition will help us get behind the concern for the text to the prior concern for the God who speaks through the text. It reminds the preacher that the task is not to serve his or her own idea or opinion, but to be a conduit or facilitator for that which God wants said.Preaching helps people hear from God.

Should preachers mind their own business?

Of course not everybody wants to hear from God. God can be so demanding, at least as he is represented by many of the preachers that we hear. Contemporary listeners have convinced themselves that God is irrelevant and that they are unaccountable. Preachers beg to differ, not for argument's sake, but out of loving concern for the well-being of the listener. The preacher loves the listener enough to tell him or her the truth. Yet the listener would prefer that preachers mind their own business. The postmodern listener is content to let the preacher believe and practice anything he or she might want, as long as the same courtesy is extended in return. Listeners want to retain autonomy, exercising freedom to choose whatever path they find fulfilling. Preachers wouldn't be so bad, they believe, if they were less dogmatic, maybe if they offered suggestions more than commandments, offering spiritual alternatives in a free and open marketplace. Preachers are seldom so complacent.

This is because the preacher believes that truth exists and that we can know it. Preachers believe that humans are accountable to a standard, eternal and objective. The postmodern listener bristles against the implication and questions the preacher's confidence. Even if such a proposition were in some way true, how could a human being know it? People live in space and time, locked within the limits of their personal perspective. How is it possible for a person to transcend their existence sufficient to judge such a question. Such things are beyond our reach and beyond discussion. What language would we use to describe such mysteries? How could anyone with confidence persuasively pro-claim truth's case? Is it not safer if we all just minded our own business.

Yet where is the hope in this? If nothing coheres, all we are left with is conjecture. How does one live without a sense of meaning? What is the point if it all distills to artifice?

People still need to hear from God.

Biblical preachers operate under the conviction that God is still speaking, through his Word, through His Spirit, and through the preacher who is faithful to the task. Preachers believe that people still need to hear from God.

Romans 10 reminds us that people without grace are at real peril. Salvation is available to everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord. But no one can call upon the one they have never heard of. No one will know about the grace that is available to them unless someone tells them. And no one will be told unless there is a preacher.

Contemporary preachers have to be willing to take a little heat. We will not be silent because we understand that people need to hear from God. We understand that absent a word from God we are left to our own devices and we know just how desperate that leaves us. Better, the preacher believes that there is a Word from God - that God has not kept silent but is actively communicating with a world dependant on his Wisdom. Humans could not conceive of God on their own. Such things are not discerned from the bottom up. Truth is revealed from the top down. The good news is that God is in the business of making himself known and making himself heard. We can know God because God is making himself known.

Of course the mystery is that he does it through preachers. Humans are weak and prone to arrogance. Yet, when the sermon is faithful to God's purposes, God works powerfully through the imperfect instrument. Preaching that exposes God's word helps people hear from God. Nothing could be more relevant than the word of the creator to those under his authority. Nothing could be more important than we preach that word.

Charles Haddon Spurgeon, put it well. "Life, death, hell, and worlds unknown, hang on the preaching and the hearing of a sermon." is the property of Kenton C. Anderson - all rights reserved.