Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Learning from the Great Preachers

This morning, Pastor Christopher Jackson had a series of tweets on Twitter (@revcjackson) that I slightly edited for posting here.

Reading the great preachers of the past (Chrysostom, Nazianzus, and Luther, in particular), I’m struck by a few things. (Oh yea, should add Walther in there too.)
  1. Their preaching is guileless and straightforward. No cutting edge sermon forms. No gimmicks. No Fordean* manipulation of the congregation. They often just jump into the text, even going verse by verse to explain the text. Illustrations are there (Luther is one of the best at illustrations, actually!), but these illustrations are ministerial rather than magisterial. They serve the exposition of the text, which in turn governs the very outline and arc of the sermon. (Again, verse by verse is common!) This also makes sense given the preaching demand they had. Preaching a couple times a day, one doesn’t have time for slick intros, etc.
  2. They weren’t afraid to repeat themselves. They seemed to understand that the apprehension of truth requires hearing it again and again. This also goes for some of their illustrations. I keep finding Luther using the “God is a doctor making us well” illustration.
  3. They weren’t as strict as modern exegetes in their hermeneutical approach. They were faithful expositors, mind you. In fact, I think in some ways more faithful than many modern exegetes. But they weren’t tied to modern methods, which I think have a way of atomizing the Scriptures. (Which is the very opposite of the Sola Scriptura principle, btw.) This occurred to me when I was in seminary choir, btw. Singing Bach and other great composers, I realized that they were making exegetical connections within the Scriptures that were at the same time incredibly illuminating but also questionable if sticking to modern exegetical methods, strictly. God is an artist. I’m siding with Bach on these matters.
  4. They didn’t follow, any of them, not even Walther, a strict Law/Gospel outline. Even Walther would at times end his sermons with scathing Law, and yet, despite that, the Gospel predominates.
  5. They weren’t afraid of moral exhortation. Sometimes it wasn’t even related to the text at hand. My favorite example was a Chrysostom sermon I read recently. In it he laid out pretty simply the meaning of the text, and then he just goes on to say: “Some of you are usurers. This is not how Christians treat others. Cut it out.”  I gather by this that he became aware of an issue in the congregation and felt beholden to address it. Which leads to the final observation:
  6. They were aware of the spiritual needs of the people, and they addressed them. Preachers need to be in their shut-ins homes, in the nursing homes, in the prisons, aware of what’s going on in people’s lives. Even aware of what’s going on at the bar down the street. (This inspired several Luther sermons!)
*  A reference to the Radical Lutheranism of Gerhard Førde.

No comments: