Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Does Preaching Work?

As you might have read yesterday, last Sunday I went through a few moments of crisis after preaching. I questioned whether preaching certain parts of the Bible were really worth it. I even wandered whether or not I should read an entire text of Scripture that my sermon is on if it seems boring. There are many reasons why these thoughts have passed through my mind. But one of them seems to be a growing sense by some people that preaching is not really that important. It really doesn't work. There are so many other ways of communicating that really help someone learn so much more so than simply standing up front, reading an ancient text, and declaring a monologue.

It was no accident that on Monday I started reading a new book by Mark Dever and Greg Gilbert called Preach: Theology Meets Practice. Towards the beginning of the book, they had a few very helpful words of reminder for me. 
"We wonder if part of the loss of confidence in God's Word preached is due, ultimately, to a theological misunderstanding of exactly what preaching is in the first place. Think of it like this: if preaching is simply a way--one way among many--of ascertaining new knowledge about God and the Bible, then there are myriad ways for a person to do that. Reading books, watching videos, listening to podcasts, and having conversations with other Christians all fill that bill. Similarly, if preaching is nothing more than one man doing a bit of public meditation on spiritual truths, then there are countless ways for people to get that benefit. Why not meditate on God's truth together, in a conversation, for instance? 
But if preaching really is the proclamation of God's life-giving, ex nihilo creating Word, then the stakes are raised considerably, and it's no longer a matter of preference whether we do it or not. It's literally a matter of life and death. The Bible presents the act of preaching as having just that sort of power and authority. It is the preached Word, it seems, which the Holy Spirit uses in a unique way to give life and ignite faith in a person's soul. Look for example at what Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 1:2-5. The gospel he proclaimed to them came 'not only in word,' he says, but also 'in power and in the Holy Spirit.' What Paul proclaimed to the Thessalonians was, yes, words. But it was more than words; it was words clothed in power and ignited by the Holy Spirit to bring spiritual life where there had been none before. And what was the result? That the Thessalonians' faith 'sounded forth' (v. 8) all over the region and indeed went forth 'everywhere!' There was power in the preached word" (30-31).
Preaching the Bible is NOT like trying to teach someone math or science. It is not simply a transfer of information. It is spiritual! And when we preach, we are entrusting ourselves to God to do the work of changing the hearts of mankind. For that, I am thankful and trusting. And because of that, I will keep on preaching. And keep on studying. And keep on praying. And keep on preparing for a word for our people every week. All to the glory of God, so that He will get the praise when He changes people's hearts.

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