Whoa, now that’s a headline. What I am really asking is this:
Is the vaunted, specialized place of preaching within the Evangelical tradition something recommended by the Bible,
is it simply a vaunted, specialized Evangelical tradition?
Many of my heroes, both from history and in the contemporary church, hold a very “high view” of preaching. I am about to suggest that this “high view” is something developed historically in Evangelicalism and not something that we see much of in the Bible. So, please put on your heresy armor and let’s tackle this.
Today, and for the past few hundred years, we hold a view of preaching that borders on the mystical. Seminaries teach special courses and have institutes on preaching, our theological luminaries tell us that preaching is an ordained art form, and we have magazines on preaching. Our preaching heroes are Edwards, Spurgeon, Whitfield, Moody, Wesley and Calvin. In some traditions, the “pulpit” is raised above the heads of the congregation to show the preeminence of the preached Word of God.
It’s not only good enough to be a preacher: real preachers are expositors. They take a chunk of the text and expertly filet it for all to digest. If one ventures off the expository reservation they are subject to all sorts of polemical wrath. It’s important not just to preach, but to preach in the “right way.”
Last year I read Scot McKnights book The King Jesus Gospel. He notes that most of the preaching in the New Testament is directed at those who don’t follow Christ. It is rarely expository in nature. You will note that I left Billy Graham off of my list, above. Surely his method of speaking topically to those outside of the faith is more in line with the Biblical models we have of preaching.
This last week I came across this list of “sermons” in Outcome Magazine:
- Street preaching by Jonah (Jonah 1:2, 3:1-5)
- John the Baptist preaching in the wilderness (Matt 3:1-3)
- Jesus preaching on a mountainside, and from a boat (Matt 5:1-3, and 13:2)
- Jesus’ ministry to demoniac in a graveyard in the Decapolis (Mark 5:1-5)
- The gospel of the kingdom being preached in the whole world (Matt 24:14)
- The disciples preaching everywhere (Mark 16:20)
- Phillip, Peter, and John in Samaria (Acts 8)
- Paul preaching in numerous Gentile cities (Acts 13 and 14)
- Paul preaching in Athens, to philosophers at the Aeropagus (Acts 17)
- Paul preaching the gospel in his prison in Rome (Philippians 1:18)
- Proclaim it .. send it out to the ends of the earth.. (Psalm 9:11, Isaiah 48:20, Matt 28:18-20)
- Proclaiming peace to the nations and to the ends of the earth (Zechariah 9:10)
- It seems that God goes to almost any length to save the lost, even abandoning the ninety and nine to pursue the one last sheep (Luke 15:1-7), and sending out his workers into the highways and byways to compel people to attend the king’s feast (Luke 14:15-23)
The writer makes the point that there was no “pulpit” involved in any of the above. I would build on this to note other differences between the “high view of preaching” and what we see going on in most Bible preaching:
- The audience is overwhelmingly not found in a church. There are few examples of “church preaching.”
- The audience is overwhelmingly not following Christ and outreach is a goal of the preaching.
- The preaching is overwhelmingly topical and not expository.
- There is little instruction about the specifics of the preaching form.
I note that Jesus went about teaching, preaching, and healing (Matt 4:23). The original languages use different terms for teaching and preaching. Preaching (krygma) seems to have more of a public and proclamational flair whereas teaching (didach) has more of an instructional aspect. Romans 10:14 says, “And how are they to hear without someone preaching?” The context of that verse is again aimed at missionary work, not church preaching.
Preaching is clearly Biblical.
What I quibble with here is this concept of preaching as an art form, an elevated spiritual practice, or a well defined form and format within the Bible. It’s fine that it is seen in its historical perspective but let us not equate that tradition with the preaching of the New Testament.
One very important point made in the book of Acts was that the Apostles (until Paul joined the team and ruined an otherwise perfect record) were ordinary, uneducated men (Acts 4:13). They were decidedly not seminary taught professional clergy who could preach with incredible oratorical skill. Instead, they were marked as having been with Jesus.
In my humble opinion preaching, as we have come to know it, is more of vaunted, specialized Evangelical tradition. Nothing wrong with traditions as long as they don’t become accepted dogma. I am fearful that within some strands of the Evangelical church this “high view” of preaching is dogma.