Him We Proclaim, 2

April 22, 2008

Chapter 2 of Him We Proclaim strives to explain the Priorities and Polarities in Preaching. The chapter begins with a powerful quote from Episcopal Bishop Philips Brooks, who in 1877 at a lecture at Yale summarized preaching in this manner: “And what is preaching for? The answer comes without hesitation. It is for men’s salvation” (25).

Not many evangelicals would disagree with this broad definition, but Johnson points out that the purpose and intent of the preacher must go deeper. Therefore, he spends the remainder of the second chapter investigating three different purposes in preaching, and then concludes by giving what he thinks is the best model for preaching.

The three cases that are made for preaching are (1) to convert (2) to edify, and (3) to instruct. The following is a brief summary of each.

Preaching to Convert is probably the most criticized method of today, particuarly in the wake of the seeker sensitive, church growth movement and churches such as Saddleback (Rick Warren) and Willow Creek (Bill Hybels). Johnson mentions that this comes from a desire to “follow the apostolic model visible in Acs and take their gospel preaching out of the church’s ‘territory,’ and into venues of public discourse, rather than waiting for non-Christians to venture through church doors” (29). Much of this preaching will center on “felt needs” and attempt to meet the practical issues of the congregation’s lives. The method avoids church jargon as much as possible and assumes little to no theological understanding of the audience. Some problems that have risen from this method are sermons that are “fundamentally man centered rather than God centered”  making the “non-Christians’ perception of their need primary and the Word of God secondary” (33), risking the failure to preach the “whole counsel of God” (33), replace the need for sovereign grace with moralistic advice, and the distortion of the message when attempting to translate it for non-Christians.

Preaching to Edify assumes more of a congregation that consists of professing believers and attempts to “engage Christians in the intentional pursuit of transformation in both behavior and relationships” (37).  This is often trying to show how to effect biblical change by pointing to the biblical text itself. It is more than just transferring information (40), and is dependent on Christ’s grace, but the emphasis is put on more Christ-like lives (better lifestyles). Possible dangers with this is giving the impression that grace is being obscured, the assumption that few unbelievers are present, and the possible failure to understand the diversity of biblical genres that do not simply teach the need for moral lives.

Preaching to Instruct, emphasized by denominations such as the Christian Reformed Church and United Reformed Churches, focuses on “the pastor’s responsibility to preaching doctrine- that is the “whole counsel of God” (44). Topical and expository sermons are used to address a single theme in order to educate the congregation on doctrinal matters. Potential dangers are encouraging imbalance in spirtitual growth and losing sight of the need to preach to those who are not saved.

After summarizing these three divisions, Johnson then explains Evangelistic, Edificatory Redemptive-Historical Preaching. This desires to be

“Christ centered, must interpret biblical texts in their redemptive-historical contexts, must aim for change, must proclaim the doctrinal center of the Reformation […] with passion and personal application, and must speak in a language that connects with the unchurched in our culture, shattering their stereotypes of Christianity and bringing them face to face with Christ, who meets sinners’ real needs-felt and unfelt” (54).

The remainder of the chapter investigates this definition in more detail and also lets  Tim Keller defend and explain his homiletical methods. Clearly this final definition strives to be a best of all worlds from the three preaching methods explained earlier.

I leave this chapter asking if this is really possible. Clearly preaching should attempt to do all the things that are stressed in Evangelistic, Edificatory Redemptive-Historical Preaching, but is is realistic that the preacher can do all these things well in the time given? Sermons will definitely have to be longer in order to educate, edify, provide the redemptive-historical context, and also define terms and give explanation to those who are listening that are not Christians or have little theological knowlege. Can the preacher really do this on a weekly basis or is this taking on too much? Johnson’s first two chapters have been great and I am looking forward to his explanation of how to put such a method into action.

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5 Responses to “Him We Proclaim, 2”

  1. Jonathan Parnell said

    I think that Tim Keller is an great example, given his context in Manhattan.
    Yes, I think that you can preach in a way that all three aspects are in sweet, unboring, passionate harmony (but I didn’t say short).
    Man, I want to learn how to do this. I want to preach this way. I want to preach like God is real.

  2. Bryan Barley said

    Great point. I’ve been thinking more and more about the role of apologetics in preaching. Do you have anymore thoughts about that? I was originally discouraged from pursuing more in the apologetics field from a pastor because he felt it would touch such a small portion of people. I’m beginning to reconsider that after reading Johnson’s thoughts on the matter.

  3. love the post, it was used in my sanctification. John you are correct, Tim does do a great job. I have yet to here of anyone from a city like mine, religious/bible belt.. to preach that way. One day many years from now i hope to be in the middle with Chandler confronting religious hypocrisy practice/ and keller apologetically confronting not only the sin in the text but also the sin under the sin.
    Remind me to get you those c.d. of Keller and the method behind his Madness

  4. i forgot something, Keller instead of going 1,2,3,4, – Like Chapel- and Edmond Clowny – in his model, that he calls “the keller evangelistic, historical redemptive, expository, model” he does 1,2,4,3, it is rich, unlike i have ever heard.

  5. Jonathan Parnell said

    Stephen, so what do you mean exactly by the 1, 2, 4, 3 ?

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