What is Preaching Anyway?

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This following is an excerpt of a longer article by Jared C. Wilson on preaching. The whole article is written specifically to pastors, but for our sake, and to apply it to Romans 10:14-16, and to give us a great definition for preaching, I have scaled it down a bit. To read the full article go here. Otherwise, read on:

Lots of theologians and ministers define preaching in different ways, but I tend to think that preaching is proclamation that exults in the exposing of God’s glory.

Preaching can employ instances of conversation and laid-back chit-chat but preaching cannot be typified by conversation and chit-chat because it is first and foremost declarative. The Bible does not come with fill-in-the-blanks. It isn’t MadLibs. Preaching in essence declares, “Thus saith the Lord.”

Because the gospel is good news, not good advice, we come proclaiming “It is finished,” not “Get to work.” Because the gospel is a God-authored story, we come proclaiming his wisdom revealed in Christ, not our wisdom revealed in fortune-cookie bon mots. With our sermons we are meant to be delivering what we’ve received, not what we’ve created.

The soundest and safest Christian reflection consists in “what you have received, not what you have thought up; a matter not of ingenuity, but of doctrine; not of private acquisition, but of public Tradition; a matter brought to you, not put forth by you, in which you must not be the author but the guardian, not the founder but the sharer, not the leader, but the follower.” (Vincent of Lerins)

Preachers approach God’s word as its recipient, its servant, and its deliverer, not its author, manager, or marketer. Because our triune God is holy, infinite, almighty, and wise, we preach like he is. Preaching assumes authority, from God and from his infallible word. So then we don’t preach like so many ninnies as if every sentence ends with a question mark. And we preach like we’re at a pulpit even when we’re at a music stand or plexiglass lectern. These words from Lloyd-Jones offer powerful wisdom:

God is not a subject for debate, because He is Who He is and What He is. We are told that the unbeliever, of course, does not agree with that; and this perfectly true; but that makes no difference. We believe it, and it is part of our very case to assert it. Holding the view that we do, believing what we do about God, we cannot in any circumstances allow Him to become a subject for discussion or of debate or investigation. I base my argument at this point on the word addressed by God Himself to Moses at the burning bush (Exod. 3:1-6). Moses had suddenly seen this remarkable phenomenon of the burning bush, and was proposing to turn aside and to examine this astonishing phenomenon. But, immediately, he is rebuked by the voice which came to him saying, “Draw not nigh hither: put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground.” That seems to me to be the governing principle in this whole matter. Our attitude is more important than anything that we do in detail, and as we are reminded in the Epistle to the Hebrews, God is always to be approached “with reverence and with godly fear: for our God is a consuming fire” (Heb. 12:28 and 29).

To me this is a very vital matter. To discuss the being of God in a casual manner, lounging in an armchair, smoking a pipe or a cigarette or a cigar, is to me something that we should never allow, because God, as I say, is not a kind of philosophic X or a concept. We believe in the almighty, the glorious, the living God; and whatever may be true of others we must never put ourselves, or allow ourselves to put, into a position in which we are debating about God as if He were but a philosophical proposition.

I don’t believe we ought to forbid talking about God in any position, whether it be from an armchair or from a ditch on the side of the road, but as it pertains to preaching, Lloyd-Jones’s point is sound and important. We do not approach preaching casually unless we approach God casually. We can make jokes about ourselves and be self-deprecating when we preach, because we do not “preach ourselves.” In the preaching ministry, we take ourselves lightly and the word of God heavily.

We preach the terrors of God’s wrath as if they are terrifying, we preach the joys of God’s salvation as if they are joyful. We preach hell in serious, sober ways, neither being glib about it nor speaking as if it is the only word. And we preach the gospel in declarative ways, bold and certain and full of Christ’s glory.

“of God’s glory.”
Moses says, “Please show me your glory” (Exodus 33:18). Deep down, this is the cry of every human heart. Ecclesiastes 3:11 says eternity is written there. The gospel of God’s glory in Christ must be central in our preaching because nothing else even comes close to filling the eternal gap.

We all agree that fallen man has a “God-shaped hole,” but then we go on to suggest all kinds of fillers that are not God—financial success, good sex, promotions at work, healthy relationships, happy spouses and children, community service, outlets for our creativity, etc. All good things but all things you can have and do and still be eternally bankrupt.

The scale is enormous, the stakes are high. Instead of spiritually dressing up the idols we know people want, let’s give them what they need—God as all in all, the filling of the Spirit, the exaltation of the risen Lord.

“Behold what manner of love the Father has given unto us, that we should be called the sons of God!” (1 John 3:1a). That should be the chief service…beholding. Behold our glorious God and his lavishing of grace on us in his precious Son.

We are aiming for awe of God. Preaching advice is a poor means to that end. We want the Lamb to be beheld, so we must hold him up high and long. We proclaim not helpful hints but eternal visions.

We can’t do this if we are making the Bible’s words serve our words. Biblical preaching trusts that the Bible can be set loose to work its power.

Brothers, isn’t it wonderful that we are set free from the tyranny of our good ideas to the power of the Bible’s good news?