02 May 2008

the living church (6)

John Stott, The Living Church (Downers Grove: IVP, 2007).

Chapter Six: Preaching
This chapter of Stott's reflections on the church is built upon 'five paradoxes' which he presents as the heart and soul of what preaching should be to the life of the church.  His opening statement demonstrates his perspective: "The contemporary world is decidedly unfriendly towards preaching.  Words have largely been eclipsed by images, and the book by the screen.  So preaching is regarded as an outmoded form of communication, what someone has called 'an echo from an abandoned past'" (97).  A quick survey of many Western evangelical churches will reveal that this is indeed the case, much to our culture's detriment.

What are the five paradoxes?
Biblical and Contemporary
"It is an exposition of Scripture which is related to the world in which we live" (98).  This is perhaps one of the greater challenges not only to preaching, but to the life of the church altogether - that we hold to an ancient faith but struggle to be relevant in our present and make ways toward the future.  Various models have been more or less effective (the Pope's recent reception in the United States helps us identify our own fascination with things ancient and traditional, but the rising trend of emergent churches also shows how our culture is looking for such ancient things to be in motion).  In regards to preaching Stott says, "I hope we are agreed that all Christian preaching is biblical preaching" (98).  This, unfortunately, will be vastly more readily agreed upon in theory than in practice.

Authoritative and Tentative
There is a manner in which the message from the pulpit is to be definitive and authoritative, but I agree that there is a danger in becoming overly fixed in one's own traditional reading of Scripture that it blocks out sound alternatives and new developments to understanding the text and shaping our faith.  But, as Stott reminds us, our authority is found in the text that we have before us and not, importantly, in the Spirit alone who speaks through the preacher (cf. 101).  Too often church leaders have gone only 'by the Spirit' as an excuse for not being diligent in their quest for the truth which is revealed in the Word of God.  No, we do not have to have the brilliance of a world-renowned biblical scholar but we do need to have a hunger and passion for Scripture's message.

Prophetic and Pastoral
Again, the paradox mentioned here extends beyond preaching and into the larger life of the church (103).  There is to be a balance between the voice which speaks loud and clear to definitively broadcast the gospel and the character which exhibits the care and grace which comes from living the gospel into the world.  Stott is right to show how many preachers and leaders usually fall on one extreme or another, but that the most effective work and witness is found in a balance struck (104-105).

Gifted and Studied
This ties in to comments made above, but still needs to be spelled-out.  In the author's words: "Does God create preachers?  Or do they have a share in the creative process?  The answer to these questions must again be 'both'" (105).  In the face of many congregations and denominations who are motivated by factors from all across the board but have no real understanding of the role of a church as a ministry of the kingdom, Stott challenges the selection of preachers: "The church has no liberty to ordain those whom God has neither called nor gifted" (105).  There must be a clear balance of both, with many churches and families paying the price for a failure to heed this fundamental principle.

Stott quotes from Bishop Phillip Brooks, from the 1877 Yale Lectures: "The preacher's life must be a life of large accumulation. . .Learn to study for the sake of truth, learn to think for the profit and the joy of thinking.  Then your sermons shall be like the leaping of a fountain, and not like the pumping of a pump" (107).

Thoughtful and Passionate
This is another of the paradoxes which so easily become pushed to one side or another, lacking a proper balance.  Many preachers who are great expositors of the word, pouring over their exegesis throughout the week and presenting sound doctrine often do not have the passion which should come from the truth of the gospel.  Others (indeed, many televised speakers) are quite passionate and exciting but have no foundation for their belief or their truths.  Some do not even use Scripture to make their points, appealing only to the emotion.

Stott states, "All preaching should lead people to the Scriptures" (103).  It's no wonder why people such as Benny Hinn, Joel Osteen, Joyce Meyer and Jeremiah Wright get it so wrong.  They fill seats and make noise, but to no avail.

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