“The Word Did It All”: The Necessity of Preaching According to the Protestant Reformers

Shawn Wright: One danger of being familiar with history is just that. It becomes familiar to us. Or so we think. Our familiarity with the facts, the cause-effect relationships, and the narrative may keep us from actually seeing what happened, or why what took place matters for us. The narrative of the Protestant Reformation serves as a case in point. Martin Luther (1483–1546) simply read the Bible, rediscovered the doctrine of justification by faith alone (sola fide), and preached the gospel. And in the process, he and later Reformers like John Calvin (1509–64) turned the world upside down. [1] Right? Not so fast, argues Brad Gregory. Gregory, a highly trained Reformation historian, argues that the Reformation unbound the tightly-knit-together world of the Thomistic synthesis between faith and reason and the Catholic conception of Christendom in which secular and religious cohered closely together. Unknowingly, Luther unleashed a torrent that swelled into the modern world with all its post-Enlightenment problems. In other words, the

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Yes, Preaching Really Does Change People

Mike Bullmore: If you’ve been in pastoral ministry for any length of time at all you’ve asked the question: Is my preaching actually doing anything? Is it having any effect? The question could be addressed on several different grounds. It could be addressed on historical grounds, pointing to the powerful effects of preaching in various times and places in the history of the church, notably, from the beginning in the book of Acts. It could be addressed on personal grounds by means of collected anecdotes—“Let me tell you about Joe and Mary Black and what God did in their lives through the faithful preaching of God’s Word.” But without question, the most compelling response is going to be a theological one, grounded in the realities presented in Scripture regarding who God is, what he is doing, what his Word does, and what he fully intends preaching to accomplish. AN UNDER-CELEBRATED CHARACTERISTIC We rightly celebrate the authority, the trustworthiness, and the sufficiency of

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If We Read Our Bibles, Why Do We Need Sermons?

John Piper: Let me try to answer this question in two stages. First, I’ll try to show from the New Testament that it is God’s plan and design that, besides the infallible word of God in the Bible, the church is to be led, underneath that infallible word, by fallible elders — sometimes called pastors or overseers or teachers — who are gifted to lead and to teach the flock. And then second, we ask the question why: Why did God set it up that way, so that the ordinary members of the church, who have in their hand an infallible Bible, should listen to and respect and esteem and follow and rejoice in the ministry of the word through fallible preaching? Shepherds for the Flock So, step one: God’s plan. Just this week, I was preparing a Look at the Book session on 1 Thessalonians 5:12–14, and I was compelled to address this very question before I knew that this question would be

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Preaching is Indispensable

By David Prince: Preaching is not optional to the life and health of the church. A church that does not emphasize and value preaching is not simply a different style church, it is an unfaithful church. J.I. Packer warns, History tells of no significant church growth and expansion that has taken place without preaching (significant, implying virility and staying power, is the key word there). What history points to, rather, is that all movements of revival, reformation, and missionary outreach seem to have had preaching (vigorous, though on occasion very informal) at their center, instructing, energizing, sometimes purging and redirecting, and often spearheading the whole movement. It would seem, then, that preaching is always necessary for a proper sense of mission to be evoked and sustained anywhere in the church. 1 Preaching is uniquely the God-ordained means for the proclamation of His gospel message and the nourishment of His people. Edmund Clowney critiqued the contemporary fascination with drama over preaching. He wrote,

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The Benefits of Preaching through Books of the Bible

Paul Alexander: There is a widespread assumption in many churches that preaching through books of the Bible is not enough to sustain a pulpit ministry over the long haul. Granted, there is a place for the occasional topical sermon that draws on multiple passages of Scripture. But as a steady diet for sheep and shepherds alike, the benefits of consecutive, expositional preaching through books of the Bible are too many to ignore; maybe too many to count. Here are nine.  It honors God (2 Timothy 3:15–17).  We consider it a mark of respect when others listen to what we’ve said, from beginning to end. It’s a mark of disrespect when others tune in late, tune out early, cut us off, or take our words out of context. How much more does God deserve our attention to every word he says? Context, storyline, structure, and typology matter if we want to honor God by understanding his words. All Scripture—all of it—is

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The Imperative-Indicative Balance

Bryan Chapell: Right application of Scripture necessitates Herman Ridderbos’s famous insight into Paul’s theology. Every imperative of Scripture (what we are to do for God) rests on the indicative (who we are in our relationship with God), and the order is not reversible (Acts 16:14–16; Col. 3:1–5; 1 John 5:1–5).[i] The human instinct with every non-Christian religion reverses the order, teaching that who we are before God is based on what we do for God. Thus, any preaching that is distinctively Christian must keep listeners from confusing, or inverting, our “who” and our “do.” What Christians do is based on who we are in Christ. We obey because God has loved us and united us to himself by his Son; we are not united to God, nor do we make him love us, because we have obeyed him. Our obedience is a response to his love, not a purchase of it. We keep this indicative-imperative relationship clear, not by when we happen to mention each element in a sermon, but by making sure

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10 Things You Should Know about the Necessity of Biblical Preaching

Sam Storms: In last week’s installment of our ten-things-you-should-know series I focused on the causes for the demise of biblical preaching. Today I want to focus on why it is so critical that pastors be committed to the exposition of the Word. (1) We must preach because of the power of the Word of God to change human lives and to transform the experience of the church. Tragically, although they would hardly admit it openly, many preachers have grown suspicious of the power of the Scriptures to change lives. Day in and day out they face marriages that are disintegrating, teenagers who are rebelling, both young and old fighting addictions from which they can’t break free, not to mention the spiritual apathy of their congregations, and they secretly doubt if there is much help to be found in digging deeply into an ancient book. Contemporary problems call for contemporary solutions, and nothing seems more irrelevant and obsolete than Scripture. If that

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What Does the Church Most Need Today?

W. Robert Godfrey: What does the church most need today? In answering this important but rather general question, Psalm 81 is uniquely important and helpful. This psalm obviously contains beautiful promises and clear directions to help the people of God. But careful study of this psalm will deepen our appreciation of it, increase its value for us, and show us how distinctive it is for helping the church. As we study psalms, we soon learn that the central verse of a psalm is often significant as a key to its interpretation. The central line of Psalm 81 is the heart of that psalm, as the plaintive cry of God is heard: “O Israel, if you would but listen to me!” (v. 8b). The center of Psalm 81—indeed the whole psalm—is a reflection on the Shema. The centrality of this line and its importance are underscored when we recognize that Psalm 81 is the central psalm of Book 3 of the Psalter. Book

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A Meditation Before Preaching

Erik Raymond: It’s Sunday morning ten minutes before the service. How are you feeling? If you had to put it into a word, what would it be? For the one preaching the sermon, it’s probably some combination of words that express his inadequacy for the task at hand. Each week, like clockwork, my hands get cold, and my stomach works itself into knots. I’ve studied hard, prayed, did my work, and am by all accounts prepared. But the awareness of the preaching event and my inadequacy brings me a weekly meeting with a personal Sabbath storm. Recently, during a preservice prayer meeting, a friend said something that seemed like it was a large font. It was, “Lord, remind Erik what happens when you speak.” What followed was a gracious answer to this prayer. I began to recount how powerful God’s Word is. It brought me great encouragement that day, and each week since. In this post, I’ll share 15 meditations about

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What Is Preaching?

Lewis Allen: Q. What is preaching? A. Preaching is declaring God’s truth in Jesus, to the praise of his name. This grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ. —Ephesians 3:8 God’s Truth Brought Home What is preaching? Peter Adam defines it as “the explanation and application of the word in the assembled congregation of Christ.”1 God’s truth is declared by the preacher, and its meaning is brought home to those who listen. Preaching, though, is ultimately divine activity. J. I. Packer says that it is “the event of God himself bringing to an audience a Bible-based, Christ-related, life-impacting message of instruction and direction through the words of a spokesperson.”2 If this is preaching, then just how important is it? William Greenhill answers, “Where the word of God is not expounded, preached and applied to the several conditions of the people, there they perish.”3 The Puritan John Flavel, tireless (and fearless) servant of Jesus Christ, insisted that

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When you proclaim the gospel, use words

THOSE WHO HAVE BEEN CHANGED AND SHAPED BY THE GOSPEL CANNOT HELP BUT SPEAK AND SHARE THE GOSPEL Paul Akin: The emphasis on good conduct and “witness without a word,” in 1 Peter might lead some to assume that verbal witness was not a priority for Peter and the witness of early Christians in Asia Minor. On the contrary, Peter, the apostle who preached the gospel to thousands on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2), demonstrates in his first letter that verbal proclamation of the gospel is central to Christian witness and mission in the world. Tom Schreiner writes, “The declaration of God’s praises includes both worship and evangelism, spreading the good news of God’s saving wonders to all peoples.” It is imperative for Christians around the world to rightly understand not only the missional nature of their identity and lifestyle, but also the critical gospel message that they must explain while living in the midst of a non-Christian world.

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The Word-less “Church”

W. Robert Godfrey: Many American churches are in a mess. Theologically they are indifferent, confused, or dangerously wrong. Liturgically they are the captives of superficial fads. Morally they live lives indistinguishable from the world. They often have a lot of people, money, and activities. But are they really churches, or have they degenerated into peculiar clubs? What has gone wrong? At the heart of the mess is a simple phenomenon: the churches seem to have lost a love for and confidence in the Word of God. They still carry Bibles and declare the authority of the Scriptures. They still have sermons based on Bible verses and still have Bible study classes. But not much of the Bible is actually read in their services. Their sermons and studies usually do not examine the Bible to see what it thinks is important for the people of God. Increasingly they treat the Bible as tidbits of poetic inspiration, of pop psychology, and of self-help

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What Makes a Good Sermon? Five Questions to Ask

Josh Vincent: Over the years I’ve heard a number of sermons that have moved me to tears, and yet, upon closer review, I discovered that significant elements of a good sermon were absent. Despite all my training, I recently realized I didn’t know a good sermon when it smacked me in the face. I recently discovered this glaring flaw while listening to a number of our pastoral interns preach. I created a rubric with important elements of a good sermon to give thoughtful feedback to students on how to improve. I noticed that occasionally I’d hear a sermon that I categorized as “not that good” merely on feel. But once I began considering the elements of a good sermon, I recognized some “below average” sermons were actually quite helpful. My instincts alone had simply failed.   DO YOU KNOW A GOOD SERMON? So what about you? How do you know when you’ve just heard a good sermon? Did it make you

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Why Every Healthy Church Emphasises Preaching and Teaching

Greg Gilbert: As the pastor of a local church, I have to make decisions every day about where to invest my time and what to prioritize in the life of the church I lead. There are so many worthwhile activities vying for attention. If I didn’t have clear direction from God’s Word about what is most critical for building a healthy church, I might be swept away by the dozens of new church programs that arrive in my mailbox every month. Fortunately, God has promised to use one thing to give life and grow his people. And that one thing is the proclamation of his Word. The Word of Life Throughout the Bible from start to finish, it’s clear that God’s Word is the life-giving Word. When God brought the universe into existence out of nothing, he did so simply by speaking. When he gave life to Adam, he breathed into his body the breath of life. When the dry bones

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What is preaching?

  Erik Raymond: In the excellent book Preach the Word, which is a collection of essays in honor of R. Kent Hughes, D.A. Carson writes a most helpful chapter entitled Challenges for the Twenty-first-century Pulpit. When I pulled this book from my shelf today I saw the note I wrote after reading it,Outstanding! Reread annually! After looking through it again, I want to share a section of it where Dr. Carson identifies five observations about what preaching is (from pages 176-177). First, preaching is re-revelation. Preaching is more than the oral communication of information, no matter how biblical and divine that information may be. Rather, we should think in terms of what might be called “re-revelation.” …Preachers must bear this in mind. Their aim is more than to explain the Bible, however important that aim is. They want the proclamation of God’s Word to be a revelatory event, a moment when God discloses himself afresh, a time when the people

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The Urgency of Preaching

Al Mohler: And how will they hear without a preacher? Romans 10:14 Has preaching fallen on hard times? An open debate is now being waged over the character and centrality of preaching in the church. At stake is nothing less than the integrity of Christian worship and proclamation. How did this happen? Given the central place of preaching in the New Testament church, it would seem that the priority of biblical preaching should be uncontested. After all, as John A. Broadus–one of Southern Seminary’s founding faculty–famously remarked, “Preaching is characteristic of Christianity. No other religion has made the regular and frequent assembling of groups of people, to hear religious instruction and exhortation, an integral part of Christian worship.” Yet, numerous influential voices within evangelicalism suggest that the age of the expository sermon is now past. In its place, some contemporary preachers now substitute messages intentionally designed to reach secular or superficial congregations–messages which avoid preaching a biblical text, and thus

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How Then Should We Preach?

Ryan McGraw: However well constructed and attractive, a car is useless without fuel. On the flip side, a motor may have fuel without being a vehicle. Likewise, preaching is a vehicle that requires fuel. God designed preaching to bring us to himself through faith in Christ. If preaching does not have the right content, then it becomes more of a motor than a vehicle, since it can no longer take us where we need to go. If preaching has the right content, yet the Holy Spirit is absent from it, then it functions like a vehicle without fuel. It is only when Spirit shapes the content and blesses the act of preaching that preaching become a vehicle to bring us to God, through Christ, by the Spirit. In 1 Cor. 2:1-5, the Apostle Paul teaches these things when he writes: “And I, brethren, when I came to you, did not come with excellence of speech or of wisdom declaring to you

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Luther, and the Creative Power of the Word

. Carl Trueman: . The importance of Luther to the Christian faith cannot be overstated. For many today, he is probably a figure who looks larger as a symbol of defiance or a heroic rebel against a corrupt church and decadent theology.There is much truth in such images. His stand at the Diet of Worms was a remarkable act of courageous defiance. And his theology represented nothing less than a self-conscious attempt to overthrow the medieval thought which he had been taught and replace it with a comprehensive understanding of God and the gospel as refracted the incarnate and crucified Christ. . Yet there is more to Luther. Indeed, perhaps his greatest contribution to the faith, and one that we can still learn from today, is his understanding of God’s Word. When we hear this term, our modern evangelical minds typically go to the contemporary debates about inerrancy, infallibility, interpretation and the like. Certainly such questions are legitimate. But for

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Three Reasons to Include a Concise Summary of the Gospel in Every Sermon

Timothy Raymond: Among conservative evangelicals, there’s a longstanding, friendly debate over whether or not every sermon should include a concise summary of the gospel message. By this I’m not talking about the use of a gospel-centered hermeneutic which connects every passage of Scripture to the person and work of Jesus, say, the approach to Bible interpretation taught by Graeme Goldsworthy or Edmund Clowney. Instead, I’m talking about inserting, somewhere in your sermon, hopefully in a natural way that connects to the rest of the message, a short explanation of the main truths about who Jesus is and what he has done (in perhaps 2-6 minutes), along with an exhortation to repent and believe. While this approach is admittedly not followed by every conservative, evangelical preacher, perhaps the best-known proponent and model of including a gospel summary in (nearly) every sermon is Mark Dever, pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, DC. For a wonderful example of what I’m talking about, consider

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Why every preacher needs “The Doctor”

Darryl Dash: When I taught preaching, I’d assign Preaching and Preachers by Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones (“The Doctor”). I also assigned a weekly reading report. The reactions were priceless. What could this opinionated old preacher have to teach us today? As it turns out, a lot. Lloyd-Jones does have his opinionated moments. “I believe in wearing a gown in the pulpit,” he writes — advice I’ve never taken. But he expresses many views that I have adopted, and he expresses them strongly. For instance: The work of preaching is the highest and the greatest and the most glorious calling to which anyone can ever be called. If you want something in addition to that I would say without any hesitation that the most urgent need in the Christian Church today is true preaching; and as it is the greatest and the most urgent need in the Church, it is obviously the greatest need of the world also. Every time I pick

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