The Nature of the Bible and The Preacher’s Message

The Bible, is not a self-help book, or a Precious Promise Book, or an instruction manual for life’s problems. Instead, the Bible reveals God to man through his redemptive acts in the person of his Son Jesus Christ. This revelation is systematic, personal, and progressive.[1] Even an exciting historical narrative such as the story of David and Goliath has redemptive-historical value and must be preached properly (that is, in light of redemptive history) to do justice to the revelation.

Preaching is a message as well as a method. It is even arguable that preaching is a message rather than a method. The right message poorly proclaimed is preferable to a nonmessage well proclaimed. Paul saw his own function as being to declare the word of the cross. He had to proclaim the facts: Christ died, Christ rose. But he had also to proclaim the meaning of those facts. Uninterpreted, they were useless and meaningless. Interpreted as Christ’s vicarious suffering for sin and the attestation of his divine sonship and lordship, they were the saving power of God.[2]

Notice there is no mention made in Paul’s writings of using the Old Testament narratives to demonstrate “life principles” nor does Paul promote his ability to make the Scriptures “culturally relevant.” Sin is something that crosses cultural boundaries and, thank God, salvation crosses cultural boundaries as well. Paul made it clear that “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.”

Preachers today, however, in their attempt to make the Scriptures relevant to society and to demonstrate the practicality and earthly value of being a Christian have attempted to fulfill the Great Commission by taking a message that is contrary to the nature of man and making it palatable to the masses. The problem is that part of the message must be sacrificed for this to happen. That is the only way something unacceptable and irrelevant can become acceptable and relevant to the natural man. They have succeeded only in weakening the gospel message and distorting the truth of God’s salvific work in Jesus Christ.

Many preachers today would judge a sermon to be good if it had a good outline, a catchy title, and really “spoke to people’s lives.” Secondary are the considerations regarding how faithful it is to the text or how Christ was exalted. “If you preach a sermon that would be acceptable to the members of a Jewish synagogue or to a Unitarian congregation, there is something radically wrong with it.”[3] Many sermons have great outlines, catchy titles, and captivating illustrations, but these do not make Christian preaching. “Preaching, when truly Christian, is distinctive.”[4] These sermons may be great motivational speeches, but they are not sermons about Christ nor is Christ lifted up and believers edified. As a result, believers go home spiritually malnourished because they have not been fed on the Bread of Life. Meanwhile, the lost go home wondering what all the fuss is about. “Our Lord himself warns us, as he did the Pharisees, that any form of preaching or reading the Bible that misses Christ at the center is not genuine preaching or reading of Scripture.”[5]

[1] Geerhardus Vos, Biblical Theology, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1975), 5-7.
[2] Donald Macleod, “Preaching and Systematic Theology,” in The Preacher and Preaching, ed. Samuel T. Logan, (Phillipsburg: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1986), 246-247.
[3] Jay Adams, Preaching with Purpose, 147.
[4] Adams, 147. Emphasis in original.
[5] Michael Horton, In the Face of God, (Dallas: Word Publishing, 1996), 205

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About Michael R. Jones

Pastor and PhD candidate writing on Paul's theology of suffering.
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