Saturday 20 January 2018

Preaching With Convictions

I recently wrote two short articles on preaching, as possible alternatives to go on the LICC website. This is the one that wasn’t selected! The other one focuses on Scripture, and I’ll post it here when it appears on the LICC website.

John Stott said of preaching that ‘the essential secret is not mastering certain techniques but being mastered by certain convictions’ (John Stott with Greg Scharf, The Challenge of Preaching [Carlisle: Langham Partnership International, 2011], 13). That rings true. It seems somehow appropriate that the starting point in preaching begins not with ourselves as preachers, or even with our congregations, but with convictions about God himself – his gospel, his word, and his mission.

1. We see a vision – the gospel of God

What’s in mind here is a big picture view of the gospel – which involves not only the rescue of men and women from judgment, but the renewal of God’s relationship with humanity, and the restoration of creation itself. The good news of what God has done in Christ carries zoom-lens implications for the personal redemption of individual men and women, and wide-angle lens implications for the cosmic reconciliation of all things. As such, it’s a whole-life gospel. It shapes our attitude and approach to even the mundane things of everyday life, like washing the dishes and walking the dog.

So, as preachers, we first and foremost proclaim the gospel. We declare the good news of what God has done in Christ for the sake of the world. And in doing that, the purpose of the sermon is not to send people away with a list of things they must do, but with a reminder of what God has done – in Christ and through his Spirit – and with a different way of seeing God and the world and themselves, flowing out of the reality of Jesus as Lord over all things.

Then, our perspective on preaching will also be shaped by our convictions about Scripture, God’s word.

2. We hear a voice – the word of God

In some traditions, the reading of the Bible ends with the statement, ‘This is the word of the Lord’, to which the congregation normally replies: ‘Thanks be to God’. That declaration and response capture something significant about the Christian confession of Scripture – that the Bible is the very word of God, God speaking to us. And it’s to be received with gratitude – ‘thanks be to God’ – which isn’t always easy, perhaps, depending on the passage!

Paul writes in 2 Timothy 3:16-17 that Scripture is breathed out by God, and that it makes us ‘wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus’, and is useful for ‘teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness’, so that God’s people ‘may be thoroughly equipped for every good work’. And he goes on to say to Timothy: ‘preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage – with great patience and careful instruction’ (4:1-2).

God has spoken in the Bible, and continues to speak through what he has spoken. That gives us great confidence as preachers. We preach what was being said in the biblical passage, so that the same instruction, encouragement, commission, warning, or promise is passed on to the congregation. And we trust that the same Spirit who inspired the text will press it home to today’s hearers.

Our conviction about the Bible as the word of God means we see it as that through which God speaks to his people today and equips us to live out the salvation brought by Jesus.

But equips us for what? Which leads nicely to our third conviction – preaching and the mission of God.

3. We receive a call – the mission of God

Mission doesn’t start with Christ’s commission to ‘make disciples of all nations’ in Matthew 28. It has always been God’s plan to bless all nations – and the whole Bible tells the story of God’s mission, which comes to its culmination in Christ and in the sending out of the whole church in the power of the Spirit.

The Bible tells the story of God’s mission, but also equips us for God’s mission. That means we can ask questions like: how does this passage help us understand God’s mission in the world? What kind of people does this passage call us to become in order to embody God’s purposes in our everyday lives?

So, if John Stott is right when he says that the secret of preaching is not mastering certain techniques but being mastered by certain convictions, what might it mean for our preaching to be mastered by convictions about the gospel of God, the word of God, and the mission of God?

It leads us to be confident about preaching in the way God works, because we’re able to see that a Christ-centred, Spirit-dependent preaching of Scripture forms the gathered people of God, a people who are then sent into the world to testify in word and deed to the presence of God’s reign, bearing witness to what God has done in Christ.

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