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  • Writer's pictureScott Carr, Jr.

The Purpose of Preaching

Biblical preaching assumes the proclamation of good news. Jesus’ own public preaching and teaching are succinctly summarized by St. Mark: “Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God” (Mark 1:14 NRSV). Homiletic professor, Paul Scott Wilson, believes this lack of good news in modern preaching is the very reason so many people are walking away from Christian faith: “People leaving the church seem not to have heard the Gospel in a way that facilitates faith-filled lives in these difficult times. These folks leave church walking in the old creation, and if there is a new creation begun in preaching, they have not experienced it. The shadow of the cross did not fall across their pew, and the dawn of a new era did not illuminate their paths….If people find the Christian message irrelevant, it could be that God is hard to find in many sermons, and the gospel has gone missing. It is hard to proclaim the Gospel if God is not in the program” (The Practice of Preaching 160). I personally have extensive experience with two alternative views of preaching which seem to be prevalent. The first is one I have particularly noted with one of the pastors in my own family. The sermon serves as a time to motivate the congregation to do something, whether that be to start a spiritual discipline, deal with the sin in their lives, or to join the mission of the church (Wilson 169). The problem with this approach is it neglects the very good news which encourages faithful living. The second approach I interacted with during my time in conservative Presbyterianism. It assumes people cannot hear the goodness of good news until they fully understand the depth of their sin. Unfortunately, this approach spends an inordinate amount of time on this “bad news” and makes only a minimal use of the “good news”, if it arrives at all. There is an utter absence of the tension between “trouble” and “grace” which Wilson recommends. To return to the biblical example, St. Paul, who was not one to shy away from discussions of sin or the demands God makes on the lives of his followers, always rooted his teaching in the good news which deals with sin and compels Christians to faithfulness. “For I am not ashamed of the gospel; it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed through faith for faith; as it is written, ‘The one who is righteous will live by faith’” (Romans 1:16-17). While we as preachers are not called to shy away from the issues of sin and obedience previously mentioned, it is the good news which has the power to deal with sin and to bring us to obedience. Preaching which compromises or diminishes “good news” in favor of moralism or a lengthy diagnosis of sin fails to deal with those issues faithfully and fails to be biblical preaching.

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