September 07, 2012
Session 5 speaker: David Wells--"Theology of Preaching: The Biblical Word in the Contemporary World"
Introduction: In order to understand our task as preaching we must understand the issue that Paul engaged in Corinth. As a way of introduction to our point, the issue today is the migration of the preacher from pulpit to plexiglass stand and sometiimes to the bar stool. The pulpit used to be the focal point of a church. It symbolized the authority of God's word and it's centrality to the life of the church. When the preacher was in the pulpit, he was in the presence of God to declare God's word to God's people. The pulpit symbolizes the authority of God's word and it's necessity within the life of the church. But many today have done away with the pulpit (plexiglass stands and barstools), so what is going on here? Have we discovered that the word of God can be preached outside of a pulpit? Wells doesn't think so.
We all know the word of God has been preached ini many settings, from street corner to home to on horseback. Quite often the word of God is not preached from the pulpit and it would be strange to think that a pulpit would be needed. No, this is not the issue, where the word of God is preached from. The pulpit symbolizes a connection with God and the barstool the connection with the people as a friend. Is there something wrong with trying to be connected to an audience? No, of course not. The issue is not the place, but what is going on in our minds when we feel obliged to make this change with our audience. Our horizontal connection with our audience can eclipse the vertical relationship with God! Without the vertical connection the preacher is at best a counselor. This is the issue that Paul engaged.
This is where Wells is going this morning, 3 points:
1) Look at the Corinthian correspondance and think about Paul's conflict which he engaged with the preachers in Corinth. Conflict begins in 1 Corinthians 1:12, a sectarian problem of people follow specific leaders in a divisive way. Outsiders sensing opportunity have come in and distorted the word of God, using it for their own ambition, to get a following (problem in 2 Corinthians). There were many people eager to flock to such preaching, sadly in our day as well. Unworthy motives are at the base of false preaching. Authority is at the base of false preaching, the preachers in question believed in their own authority over God in Corinth, they were self appointed. As preachers, our authority lies in the word that we preach! We need authoritative preaching, not authoritative preachers. Resources are at the base of false preaching. Our resources are in Christ but these false preachers have their resources in themselves. Paul is thinking vertically and these false teachers are thinking horizontally. Corrupt motives leading to corrupting behavior leading to a corruptive message.
2) The Nature of the Conflict: Paul's Rhetoric. 1:18-2 is the entire unit in which we find this specific problem, 1:21. The folly of what we preach is how God speaks. Is it the content that is folly, the Gospel? Or is it the fact of the preaching, that God would use the form of a sermon, a message from imperfect people, is it stupid to think God would use that? Most have opted for the content, the Gospel is absurd, how can salvation be wrought on the cross! But is it not equally stupid and was not Paul viewed this way, in that the preaching, the form is considered folly? We must consider this. Many criticisms of Paul by the Corinthians have to do with his ability as a preacher (but he was sent to preach not with words of eloquent wisdom, the horizontal)! Lofty speech and preaching speaks horizontally as impressive. Eloquence was everything in Corinth, a form of speech widely admired and expected. This kind of speech was first and foremost audience centered, horizontal, so the orator could gain sway over the audience. But Paul refused to walk this horizontal road. His message was God centered, vertical, not audience centered in this other way, not horizontal. He would not lean on rhetoric if it obscured the power of the cross. Paul came as a herald, not a rhetorician, he came under the authority of another.
3) Bring this whole consideration to our present time, contemporary culture. Our expectations are different than what was present in Corinth. Our congregations don't know anything about this oratory in Corinth and yet there is some commonality, that congregations have expectations! Congregations have expectations of us as preachers. There are common expectations in our congregations, and they arise from a place in the culture. The culture echoes in our congregations, it echoes in their minds. Every preacher stands between these two worlds (Stott). We stand before God and before the congregation. One major issue of congregational expectations: never have we had so much, never have we had so little (the American paradox). This impact is showing up all over, even though we have so much, we feel like we have so little, we are so unhappy. There is not a pastor in America who has not seen this. Our experience of this paradox shapes the way we see God and what we want from Him and in turn it shapes what people expect from the preacher.
It comes down to two things in how people's desires have been shaped: 1) on the one hand people want God to be their therapist, to heal their wounds, to solve their sense of emptiness. 2) on the other hand, they want God to be their concierge, to arrrange the good things in life to come their way, to orchestrate pleasing experiences. This grows more acute as we go down the age brackets, highest in teens (moralistic therapeutic deism, God solves problems and makes them feel good). Teens think Christianity is about experiencing contentedness without being disturbed by God. Joel Osteen fits this perfect, he reflects this cultural paradox.
But it's not just our teens with this distorted view, many of us have the same. We are all vulnerable to unrealistic expectations and we bring this into the church before the preacher. No Biblical preacher can allow this, we come to God on His terms, not our own. What our culture inclines us to be is inspirational and therapeutic, we cannot acquiesce to this demand, any more than Paul would to the demands of eloquence in Corinth. We must be met by God, not our thought of who God should be. The vertical dimension is being lost with what preachers are doing horizontally. The whole point of theology and preaching is that we might become God centered in our thoughts and God fearing in our hearts. Bring the congregation into the very presence of God! This is our task in preaching, the vertical. Preaching is not merely communication, the preacher comes with the revelation, not simply a speech, the preacher comes with God's self disclosure and not simply with the skills to rouse an audience.
JT Holderman is pursuing a Th.M. in Homiletics here at Gordon-Conwell. He earned his M.Div. from Princeton Theological Seminary in 2012. JT is currently in the ordination process of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church with hopes of taking a call as a pastor in the coming year. His journey to Gordon-Conwell began when he sensed a deeper need for clear Biblical teaching in preaching to prepare him for ministry. He hails from Seattle, WA by way of Idaho and New Jersey. JT blogs at Praise and is an avid Mountain Biker and Bodyboarder.
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