Chapter 5

Theology of Powerful Preaching

Nine beliefs at the heart of biblical preaching

What we truly believe determines what we do. What we believe in our heart of hearts about preaching will determine how we carry it out. In that sense, nothing can be more practical than our theology of preaching. The following nine beliefs are foundational to biblical preaching.

It is a core belief of the faith that God is sovereign and all things must be done to please him. Pleasing a sovereign Creator means discovering what he desires and, through his grace, doing it. To preach God's Word God's way should be the aim of faithful preachers. As sovereign, God tells us what to preach and how to do so. Ministers of the Word have no right to deviate from his instructions. Human ideas and speculation, therefore, must be foreign to the pulpit.

To preach God's Word God's way should be the aim of faithful preachers.

Christian preaching begins with the Scriptures. Unless a preacher acquires and maintains the proper beliefs — and therefore attitudes growing out of these — about the Scriptures, he will fail to preach in ways that please God. Whether our preaching is effective is determined not by the number of persons who attend it, nor the number of professions of faith, but by the faithfulness of preachers to the message that we are called to preach. Those who do not faithfully proclaim God's Word may claim numbers and supposed professions of faith. And some who do, fail to attract large followings. The sovereign God is the one who produces the results. When he began to preach to a rebellious people, Isaiah was told beforehand that the results would be minimal because the people lacked the eyes to see and the ears to hear. Failure to obtain outward results, however, may never be used as an excuse for flawed preaching.

This message, in every instance, must be true to the Bible. The preacher is a herald (kerux) whose task is to convey God's Word to his people and to call the elect from the world into the church. To these ends, we must understand what is required of us and how to pursue it.

All true preachers acknowledge the Bible as the source from which to learn and proclaim God's truth. They accept what they read there as inspired and inerrant in the autographs. By inspiration (the term in 2 Timothy 3:16 means " God-breathed " ) they understand that Scriptural words are as much God's Word as if he spoke them by means of breath. If one could hear him speak, he would say nothing more, nothing less, and nothing different from what is written by means of his apostles and prophets. The Scriptures are the very Word of God written.

The attitude that these beliefs should call forth is one of reverence for the text that the preacher expounds, along with a great desire to learn what each passage means so as to impart this understanding of the message to those who hear. Moreover, trustworthy interpreters of Scripture recognize that they are handling the most important information in all of life and want to be faithful in doing so. We will not engage in shoddy study or inadequate preparation of messages. We will recognize that in all that we say we represent the God of the universe, and if we fail to understand or faithfully proclaim the truth we will misrepresent God. To be faithful to the text and the Holy Spirit who caused it to be written is our fundamental concern. In this connection, conscientious ministers keep 2 Timothy 2:15 before themselves at all times.

As heralds who bring a message from God to those who listen, we will not be satisfied with an approach to the text that views it as long ago and far away. We appreciate that the Scripture is for all times, for people in all lands. We keep in mind Paul's words when he declared that " these [Old Testament] events happened as examples for us " (1 Corinthians 10:6), and that " they were recorded as counsel for us " (v. 1 Corinthians 10:11). Consequently, we will understand that the message of the text is for the edification of our listeners every bit as much as for those to whom it was originally written.

Believing this, we will preach the text as a contemporary message. We will direct the words of the passage to our congregations as if it were written with them in mind. We do so because, as Paul explained, that is the actual fact. Therefore, we will not lecture on what happened to the Amalakites; rather, we will talk about what their experience has to do with our church members. That means that we will not preach about the Amalakites, but about God and his people from the account of God's dealings with the Amalakites. Our preaching, then, will be fresh and contemporary in nature.

Preachers today, like the Lord who powerfully wrote to seven of his churches in Revelation chapters Revelation 2:1 and Revelation 3:1, analyze their congregations so that what they preach meets their needs. While preaching may be expository, as one preaches through a Book, the choice of the biblical Book itself should be made with those needs in mind.

Informed preachers will demark portions of Scripture for sermons on the basis of their intent. This intent may also be referred to as the telos, or purpose of the portion. Every preaching passage, then, is selected because in itself it is a complete message from God. This message may be but the part of a larger one, but it is a message that calls on the listener to believe, disbelieve, change, or do something God wishes that ultimately will contribute to the two great purposes of the Bible — to help the members of our congregations to love God and their neighbors.

Throughout the history of preaching, unfortunately, that has often not been the case. Men have used the Scriptures for their own purposes rather than for the purposes for which they were given, thus losing the power inherent in any given preaching portion. It is not without reason that the Gospel of John has been used more frequently than any other to bring people to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ; it was written for that purpose. The Spirit, who produced the Bible, will bless its use when the preacher's intent is the same as his own.

Contemporary preaching that proclaims God's message to his people is always personal. That means the preacher will not attempt to preach in a lecture form. We will avoid abstract language and concepts. We will not speak about the Bible, but will preach about God and his congregation from the Bible. We will " open " the Scriptures as Jesus did (Luke 24:32), informing our listeners about its content, but always making apparent the relevance of the text to them. We recognize that we are not merely giving a speech, but are preaching to people about their personal relationships to God and their neighbors. That is to say, we will cast our sermons in a second-person mold. The dominant word will not be I, he, she, it, but you. We will take our cue in this regard from the preaching of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount.

In order to preach effectively, we will adopt a clear, simple style that is easily understood by those who hear. We will recognize that the apostle Paul declared it a duty to be clear (Colossians 4:4) and even requested prayer from his readers that God would help him to fulfill this duty. We will not only pray about our preaching ourselves, but will enlist our congregation to do so too.

In our efforts to maintain clarity throughout, we will adopt nontechnical language (unless we explain it). We will avoid " preachy " terminology, obsolete terms, and phraseology. We will proclaim God's message without strange tones, singsong, or anything else that calls attention to itself rather than to the truth. We will keep ourselves in the background as much as possible, while thrusting Christ to the forefront of the message.

In order to achieve clarity, we will use illustrations and examples that help listeners to comprehend. These will be culled largely from contemporary experiences so that through them we may be able to demonstrate not only what the passage means in everyday life, that it is practical and not merely theoretical, but also how God expects the listener to appropriate the truth.

God's truth must not be jumbled up in the proclamation. It should flow inexorably from start to finish in a reasoned, logical manner. This means that an industrious preacher will take the time to think not only about content, but also about the form in which this is presented. Caring preachers labor to make God's truth as simple and easily understood as possible (without loss of meaning) so that their people may readily receive it.

Humble preachers resemble the apostle Paul, who asked for prayer that he might " make known the secret of the good news boldly " (Ephesians 6:19). They keep in mind what might be called the preacher's prayer, in which the disciple prayed for " all the boldness needed to speak " (Acts 4:29). Such preachers recognize that the word for boldness used here, and throughout the Book of Acts, that characterized New Testament preaching means " freedom to speak without fear of consequences. "