Him We Proclaim, 6

June 4, 2008

The sixth chapter of Him We Proclaim  discusses “The Epistle to the Hebrews as an Apostolic Preaching Paradigm.” As Johnson notes, the Bible offers few glimpses into how the apostles preached to a Christian body. While some would point to the book of Acts as a good guide for how to preach, the reality is that “all but one of the sermons in Acts is addressed not to Christian congregations but to Jewish or pagan listeners whose response to Jesus hangs in the balance” (170). Acts, therefore, “is most instructive for the pastor’s responsibility to preach evangelistically to those not yet committed to the faith” (170).

Johnson concludes that Hebrews is the best picture of apostolic preaching in the New Testament. He believes that Hebrews is a sermon for a number of reasons, one of which being the author of Hebrews use of the expression “word of exhortation” to describe his work (13:22). This was a commonly used phrase to describe a sermon according to both biblical and extra-biblical references. While Hebrews may be considered an apostolic sermon, Johnson is careful to point out that it had both “a unique context and audience […] so it would be unwise to treat even Hebrews as a rigid structural template, as though all of its formal features were indispensable to ‘apostolic preaching’ in our contemporary venues” (171).

There is not time to give all the details that Johnson draws from Hebrews that are beneficial in understanding apostolic preaching. The following are what I found to be the three most important and applicable points:

1. Jesus should be the hero and foundation for the sermon – “The pervasive thesis of Hebrews is the superiority of Jesus to revelatory and redemptive institutions ordained by God for Israel in the Law of Moses” (175).

2. Preaching’s first priority is not trying to produce better, happier, more inspired people – “Truly apostolic preaching is not ethical imperative ungrounded in theological indicative. It is not psychological manipulation, moralistic harangue based on guilt, or pragmatic life coaching, untethered to the truth of Christ’s redemptive accomplishment on behalf of believers” (177).

3. At the same time, we have not effectively preached the Word if we give an academic lecture about the complexities of Scripture. The author of Hebrews not only knew his audience and used images from the surrounding Hellenistic culture (such as the image of a runner), but also made specific points of application to the lives of those listening – “Apostolic preaching is not merely literary analysis or theological contemplation that stops short of changing the values, affections, allegiance, and behavior of its hearers” (177).

There is so much more to the way that the author of Hebrews makes his argument for the supremacy of Christ while at the same time understanding and helping the spiritual needs of the audience. This shows that apostolic preaching is not so heavenly minded that it is of no earthly good. Instead, it both boldly preaches Christ as the hero of Scripture, acknowledging His Lordship as the only means of transformation, while at the same time providing help with the real, practical struggles that exist in the congregation.

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One Response to “Him We Proclaim, 6”

  1. Jonathan P said

    Bryan, this makes me want to preach! Praise God for the foolishness of preaching and that He has graciously called us to such a awesome task. The points that you summarized are worth jotting down and reading over everytime before preparing to stand behind the pulpit. I pray that God give us the grace to never move past those simple pointers, even when one day, by His grace, we are old men preachers (and I pray really old men who still faithfully preach) !!!

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