I have a suspicion that this post could prove somewhat contentious, but here goes.

While surfing some sites I keep an eye on I came across one where you can download (for a small price) the full transcript of sermons by “some of today’s most respected preachers”.   There is even a page of advice on using other people’s sermons with integrity – the answers being to do it with a good motive, in an attitude of prayer and meditation and by giving credit where credit’s due.

My question is:

can you ever use someone else’s sermon with integrity and really call that preaching?

Answers in a post please.

 

Here are some lessons drawn by Hugh Oliphant Old and me from the ministry of Isaiah.

1. From Isaiah 5: “What a sermon outline!  From the standpoint of the art of public speaking, what clever strategy!   Isaiah knew how to awaken the conscience of his people.  Here we see a preacher who knew how to use rhetoric with great mastery and power..” (p63)

2.  From Isaiah 7:  “While the prophet delivers a formal oracle, he delivers an interpretation of that oracle as well.   Clearly the text implies that this interpretation of the original oracle has authority, too…”  (p63)  The faith of the prophet in the word he utters is an essential component of this ministry.” (p63)

3.  From Isaiah 11: “It is filled with word pictures.   Isaiah, like the Old Testament prophets generally, abhorred the use of idols, and yet his preaching is remarkably visual.  His use of words was so skillful that he let his congregation see what is essentially invisible.” (p68)

Old here draws attention to two aspects of preaching that I have dwelt a lot on in recent times and am continually raising with my students.

i. The preacher as orator.  I am not, of course, and neither, I believe is Old, looking for pretentious, dramatic and articifical preaching.  But is it not true that the greatest preachers of the past have been orators; men whose carefully chosen and spoken words have captured and riveted people’s attention?  In an earlier post today I linked to Guy Davies who comments on listening to ‘The Doctor’  on CD.

“Lloyd-Jones was an orator-preacher not a chatty conversational speaker. In places he raised his voice and quickened the pace in floods of gospel-inspired, passionate eloquence. Utterly, spine-tinglingly captivating.”

Guy also comments, “As the sound echoed round the house members of the family filed into the study one by one, strangely drawn by this fifty year old sermon.”

Preparing to preach is not only about preparing what you preach but also how you preach it;  prayerfully choosing the precise word and crafting the precise phrase in order to emphasise the burden of the message and make it more memorable in the minds of our hearers.   If politicians and lawyers realise how important the right words are, how much more ought we to, the stewards of the riches of the Gospel.   It’s one of the reasons I teach my students to write out their message word for for, even several times, going over it again and again, so as to refine it and improve it.   I know that some of what I am talking about her in terms of oratory or eloquence is connected with unction and annointing, but that’s no excuse for us not to do our part as well.

ii.  The preacher as artist. Just a few days ago in class I was saying that that in recent years this aspect of exegesis and sermon preparation has become such a thrill and delight to me.   Perhaps in some future posts I’ll share some of these and solicit examples from readers.   The Hebrew and Greek texts are immensely rich in language and with all the resources available today you don’t even need to know them well to unearth some priceless treasures to share with your hearers.   The Word of God comes alive, speaking to all our senses.  Who needs PowerPoint and video clips when you have such resources in the text of Scripture itself.   Preachers – get your exegetical easels out and get painting!

Each week I want to give a quick round up of a few of the profitable things that have caught my eye around the blogs and encourage others to visit and gain from them as well.

1.  There’s a wealth of great audio out there at the moment with recordings from T4G 2010 and the current Basics 2010 at Parkside now available

2.  Thanks to Tim Challies for a link to an interesting article on The Biblical Languages in Life and Ministry by Bill Mounce

3.  Expositionalogistix has a helpful article on dealing with external issues that affect our exposition

4.  Exiled Preacher hears Lloyd-Jones again (on CD) and reflects

5.  My wife and I were blessed by watching and listening to this recording of  John Piper preaching on Easter Sunday evening

In 2007 and 2008 I was involved, along with the Elders at my home church, Harper Memorial Baptist Church, Glasgow, in organising and leading a series of workshops for expositors.   A number of gifted Guest Expositors – Dominic Smart, Derek Prime, Peter Grainger, Colin Dow,  Colin Adams, Sandy Roger, Geoffrey Grogan and Willie Philip shared from their own experience and I ran a series of training sessions, ‘Preparing to Preach’,  working through the stages of getting from text to sermon.

I’ve added a new page to this site with links for all the mp3s, pdfs, and powerpoints from the sessions.  You can access this new page at the top of the site or clicking the logo below:

Last week I posted an inital comment on allegorical preaching, and I thought I’d follow it up with a word of explanation.   This approach to biblical interpretation goes back to the earliest days of the church and, so it goes, arose from a desire on the part of Greeks to reconcile their philosopy and theology.   If they took the Scriptures too literally it would conflict with their philosophy and so they had to come up with another way of interpreting scripture.

One of the chief proponents of an allegorical approach to the biblical text was Origen who developed a three-fold view of Scripture as having three layers that needed to be penetrated and understood – literal, moral and spiritual; the ultimate meaning being the spiritual one which lies beneath the plain meaning.  Each point of a passage needs to be analysed and interpreted in order to uncover the hidden spiritual meaning.

A good example of this would be the one given by Paul Tan in his book The Interpretation of Prophecy where he gives Pope Gregory the Great’s interpretation of the Book of Job:  “The patriarch’s three friends denote the heretics; his seven sons are the twelve apostles; his seven thousand sheep are God’s faithful people; and his three thousand camels are the depraved Gentiles.”

This method is both inadequate and dangerous  for the following reasons:

  1. At its core is the flawed assumption that God does not really mean what he says in the plainest of language
  2. It denies the doctrine of the clarity of Scripture
  3. There are no limits in this method, and this is evidenced in a great variety of contradictory theological positions among allegorists
  4. Scripture is interpreted apart from its grammatical-historical meaning;  what the author was plainly communicating is almost totally ignored and what the interpreter wants to say is imposed on the text

Preaching in the Prophets

I am really enjoying my continuing journey through Old’s history of the reading and preaching of Scripture (first post here).  He is a brilliant writer and I suspect, in terms of communication at least, must be an inspiring preacher to listen to; certainly if he preaches as he writes.

In the second part of chapter 1, Old analsyses the style of prophetic preaching among the prophets, focussing briefly on Samuel and Elijah and then at more length on Amos, Isaiah and Jeremiah.  In this post I’ll sum up his coverage of Amos and pick up Isaiah and Jeremiah in later posts.   In his overview of the prophetic preachers there is a brilliant summary of the power of the word as understand by the prophetic preachers and I posted this quote a few days ago.

What struck me most about his study of Amos was the demolishing of the common idea of a ‘country bumpkin’ (my words!) type of character and the protrait of  an experienced orator who was probably one of Tekoa’s elders who sat at the gate dispensing justice.   “It is hard to escape the conclusion that there must have been a considerable preaching culture in eighth-century Israel and Judah.  One does not learn to preach like Amos obviouusly did unless one has practice, and one does not get that kind of practice unless preaching is a regular feature of the religious life of the community.”  (p58)

Old shows how Amos’s prophetic oracles are carefully and homiletically constructed and “directed to the human mind and will so as to get the attention and obedience of the people to whom they are addressed…The prophetic oracle generally was understood to be the Word of God in every bit as direct a way, but it was sharpened and pointed to be shot like an arrow into a particular situation” (p49).

Old examines Amos 4 and the sermon against the cows of Bashan, with as good a contemporary application of this passage as I have ever read or heard:

“They knowingly violated the prescriptions of Scripture in order to make worship more inclusive, more pluralistic.   The sumptuous liturgical forms of the Old Canaanite religion were becoming popular once again.  These lavish sacrifices turned solemn worship into a carnival, and God was offended by this kind of worship.” (p53)

Sound familiar?

Drawing lessons fromAmos for today, Old correctly points out that

“The task of the minister of today…is to bring the written Word to living speech…The word of God written is not the same thing as the Word of God preached.  That is why in both the synagogue and the church the Word is read as well as preached…In public worship the Scriptures are supposed to be both read and preached.   The two are not the same.” (p58)    “The Nicene Creed tells us that the Holy Spirit spoke through the prophets.  It is also true that the Holy Spirit inspires preachers to interpret those Scriptures today.  As similar as the two may be, they are not exactly the same.  Preaching, especially prophetic preaching, demands a special charisma.  It is not always easy to tell when preachers have this special grace.  In time, however, we will know them by the fruit of their preaching.”  (p59)

It seems to me that Amos stands as a reminder to our generation of some of the marks of a great preacher:

  • privileged to be schooled by great preachers – how much we need to value – and be – such role models in our day and generation
  • dependence on God for a message – his message was far more than social comment but a declaration of God’s holiness, justice and righteousness
  • confidence in the message God gives him – his fearlessness was evidence that he believed his own constant refrain of ‘Thus says the LORD’
  • ability to connect with his listeners – as a man of the people Amos was able to speak to the people effectively

 

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