How Do You Define Preaching? 3
Last week we began a short series on the definition of preaching. Preaching is that noble and glorious task that Christians either practice or consume. So, thinking about defining preaching has implications for all Christians. We’ve been considering a definition o preaching I used in the John Reed Miller Lectures at RTS Jackson:
“Preaching is God speaking in the power of His Spirit about His Son from His word through a man.”
What Was Jesus’ View?
If the Bible is God preaching, then God only has one sermon. From beginning to end, the Father keeps proclaiming through the Spirit the person and work of His eternal Son, Jesus Christ. This was our Lord’s own understanding of the Scripture:
He said to them, ”How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.
He said to them, ”This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.” 45 Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. 46 He told them, ”This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things. 49 I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.” (Luke 24:25-27, 44-49)
I still find Ligon Duncan’s T4G treatments of preaching Christ from the Old Testament (2206) and the necessity of sound doctrine/systematic theology (2008) two of the best single talks I’ve heard on the subject of preaching Jesus from all of Scripture.
If Christ reads and teaches the Bible in a way that makes Him the main point of the Bible, then all our preaching should demonstrate the same centrality. If God speaks about His Son through His word then we should speak about His Son through His word. If the Spirit testifies with power about the Son then we should testify with power about the Son through the preaching of the word. We have not preached a sermon until we have preached Jesus Christ and Him crucified and the relevant applications or implications that follow.
What Is It to Preach Christ?
I think this follows from the apostle Paul’s declaration: “When I came to you, brothers, I did not come with eloquence or wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (2 Cor. 2:1-2).
By “preaching Christ” I don’t mean tacking a few short comments onto the end of a homily that otherwise had nothing to do with Jesus. By “preaching Christ” I don’t mean reducing every sermon to the facts of Jesus’ life, death, resurrection and coming. By “preaching Christ” I don’t mean the preacher is barred from addresses other subjects in Scripture or in life.
By “preaching Christ” I mean something along the lines of what Sinclair Ferguson means when he exhorts us to develop an instinct or nose for finding Christ in legitimate ways either directly from the text preached, from the arc of redemptive history, from prophecy and types, etc. Jesus is the warp and woof of Scripture, so we should be able to trace the threads back to the Savior. The entire sermon ought to be in some sense preparatory for, a meditation on, and an outworking of the whole counsel of God, which is the disclosure of the Person and work of His Son in redemption, sanctification, and glorification.
I want to suggest that resolving to know nothing except Jesus Christ and Him crucified when it comes to preaching includes five things: ethos, pathos, logos, demos, and telos.
A Jesus-Centered Ethos
By “ethos” I mean the fundamental and underlying spirit and sentiment of a culture. The ethos of a culture or group is its distinguishing characteristic. This is the essence of a thing that prompts it to behave the way it does.
The ethos of Corinth included worldly wisdom, power, and popularity based on eloquence. We see the same things today. There’s so much coveting of platforms and influence and so much striving after being novel and clever and worldly wise. But what ethos motivates Christian preaching and a resolve to know nothing but Christ and him crucified?
Judging from Paul’s example it’s gotta be something like humility, self-abasement before God, combined with deep confidence in the power of God’s word. There’s deep poverty with regard to ourselves and great riches with regard to Jesus. There preacher is a nobody trying to tell everybody about Somebody who can change anybody. The gospel is the inner-logic of his life and ministry. Everything is a loss compared to knowing Jesus Christ and participating in His suffering and resurrection as Paul tells us in Phil. 3. That produces a self-abasing, world-denying, Jesus-seeking ethos. That should be the inner-dynamic and power of our preaching.
A Jesus-like Pathos
By “pathos” I mean that quality of feeling, of sympathy and pity. To be resolved to only know Christ and Him crucified must surely mean preaching Christ such that the emotion of preaching matches the emotion of the Lord in the text.
The Corinthians knew no sympathy. They boasted in strength and power. They cared little for weakness and brokenness. They had a thorough-going survival of the fittest sentiment. One thinks of the lawsuits in 1 Cor. 6 and the disregard for the needy at the Lord’s Table in 1 Cor. 11. We get hints of this in some preachers’ tendency to despise small churches as weak, or to think that their gifting places them somehow above the untidiness and inconvenience of “regular” Christians. I think we see it in the youthful anger that characterizes the emotion of some popular preaching we hear today. They are men like the “sons of thunder” who would call down lightning and judgment on everyone they think to be enemies of Christ.
Our Lord’s words are so instructive. Such men don’t know what spirit they are of. In contrast, Paul says to the Corinthians, “I came to you in weakness and fear, and with much trembling.” What we want with the perishing—both the self-conscious unbeliever and the self-deceived nominal Christian—is that kind of weeping that Jesus himself felt for Jerusalem. If ever there were a self-deceived religious community it was Israel of Jesus’ day. And how does our Lord feel about them? “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!” (Luke 13:34)
Jesus Our Logos
To the Greek mind, the “logos” was the rational principle that governed and developed the universe. A worldly wisdom can creep into our preaching and ministry philosophy. Sometimes it enters in because men have simply abandoned the Bible as sufficient. But sometimes, perhaps more often, it enters subtly. I’m tempted toward worldly wisdom when there’s a combination of great desire to help the sheep in some way and an impatience with results. Then I start to feel a tug toward some pragmatic solution, some “wisdom.” That combination of desire to help and impatience with results exposes a fault line in my confidence in God’s word and in God’s way.
But to the Christian, the word “logos” has been re-appropriated and redefined, no longer in terms of a governing rationality but in terms of the Divine Word or Reason Incarnate in our Lord Jesus Christ. We see that in 1 Cor. 1:30—”It is because of Him that you are in Christ, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption.” God has placed us “in Christ,” united us to His Son, through which we receive all the benefits of Christ. One such benefit is Christ has become our wisdom. He is the Logos made flesh, who has accomplished and provided our righteousness, holiness, and redemption. In other words, He has become the governing reality for not only this life but for eternal life. He has become the sufficient Source for everything we need to rightly understand our existence and to be rightly related to God.
So the preacher’s task is to get the saints to abandon the elementary principles of the world and to embrace the substance and reality of Christ. Christ becomes our philosophy. For as Paul says in Col. 2:3-4—”in [Christ] are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. I tell you this so that no one may deceive you by fine-sounding arguments.”
“Demos” refers to the common people, the populace. If we’re resolved to preach only Christ and Him crucified, we have to keep in mind that Christ is building a people for himself—a new spiritual ethnicity. Peter tells us in 1 Peter 2:9 that we “are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belong to God, that you may declare the praise of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” This means the preacher has to keep before him the people of the church and the forming of that people.
Knowing only Jesus Christ and Him crucified is not resolving to be individualists in our conception of the Christian life. It is not reducing the faith to “my personal relationship with Christ.” Such efforts, to use a term coined by Kevin DeYoung, would be to “decorpulate” the Lord. Rather than cut off the head, it is to cut off the body of Christ.
We preach to a nation and we preach to build a nation—the blood bought people of God. Eph. 2:19-20—”You are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone.
Jesus as our Telos
“Telos” is the end of a goal-oriented process. It’s the conclusion of a thing; it’s a desired result.
What appeared to be the Corinthian goal of preaching? It was perhaps to grow the factions and cliques that followed certain leaders. It was perhaps numbers and notoriety. Again, we often see people defining the success of ministry by church size. The terminus of Corinthian thinking is self. Everything lands on the preacher. If you ever meet a Corinthian-minded preacher, you leave wishing something would land on him.
But when we resolve to know nothing but Jesus Christ and Him crucified we’re then preaching for a particular end. Paul expresses this in his writings in a number of places and a number of ways:
- Col. 1:27-29—”To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. We proclaim him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone perfect in Christ. To this end I labor, struggling with all His might which so powerfully works in me.”
- Eph. 4:12-15—”…to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of god and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into Him who is the Head, that is, Christ.”
We could look at several other similar passages. Conformity to Christ is the goal. Everything ends on and with and in Jesus.
This is not accomplished intellectually or merely by preaching. The Lord uses the crucible of life to totally form the people of God. But preaching is necessary and preparatory to that goal, the kind of preaching that addresses people with the wisdom of Christ as they negotiate and live in this hostile world.
And it’s not accomplished by one sermon. At best a life of preaching is like chopping down a mature oak tree with karate chops. The effect is had with patient repetition and the accumulation of blows that eventually groove and shape the tree. People are shaped into Christ not by sudden, violent, and devastating blows—but by the patient strokes and moldings of the Potter’s hand. And insofar as we preach Christ, our preaching becomes the Potter’s hand.
Resolving to know only Christ and Him crucified is the only way to cut the tentacles of worldly wisdom attached to our preaching. Resolving to know only Christ means five things:
- Preaching with Christian ethos—humility, dependence and confidence in the gospel of our Lord;
- Preaching with Christian pathos—sympathy and shepherding concern;
- Preaching with Christian logos—Christ our wisdom, the organizing and governing knowledge of the universe;
- Preaching Christ for a demos—trying to form a nation, a holy people; and
- Preaching Christ with a telos—to see everyone fully conformed to the Lord