What should we all have in common when it comes to preaching? A commitment to preaching the Word of God as the Word of God.

The following three quotations come from theologians representing different theological traditions, but who speak with a unified voice on one issue of preaching. Few would be as bold as Lutheran Roy Harrisville, but his directness is matched by his correctness in my view. Presbyterian Elizabeth Achtemeier offers a needed word about the hubris which afflicts some of us who preach. Finally, Baptist systematic theologian Wayne Grudem’s salient connection of the authority of preaching and God’s powerful words in Scripture is right on the money. 

“. . . in all that confused prattle of an entire guild of interpreters, amnesiac, and reading only themselves, in a frenzy to tell or hear something new, but emerging only with ‘the same song, second verse, a little louder, and a little worse.’ . . . Whoever you are, if you do not repent and believe the testimony laid down in this book [the Bible] concerning God and his Christ, it will judge you to inconsequence, render your reading of it, your interpretation of it, your preaching on it a comic spectacle to the world to which you believed you had to adjust it, and your church will die. As well it should.” (Roy Harrisville, “The Loss of Biblical Authority and Its Recovery,” in Reclaiming the Bible for the Church, eds. Braaten & Jenson, [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995] 60-61.)

“Human pride . . . is in our time the terrible disease of the mainline churches. . . . It is not only the historical critics who are to blame, of course, but also those preachers in countless churches who, instead of preaching from the Scriptures, are preaching from the commentaries. . . . To be sure there are hundreds of faithful preachers in this country. But there are also hundreds who would be astounded to think that God actually speaks through the Bible and who have never had that expectation.” (Elizabeth Achtemeier, “The Canon as the Voice of the Living God,” in Reclaiming the Bible for the Church, 121-122.)

“Throughout the history of church the greatest preachers have been those who have recognized that they have no authority in themselves and have seen their task as being to explain the words of Scripture and apply them clearly to the lives of their hearers. Their preaching has drawn its power not from the proclamation of the their own Christian experiences or the experiences of others, nor from their own opinions, creative ideas, or rhetorical skills, but from God’s powerful words. Essentially they stood in the pulpit, pointed to the biblical texts and said in effect to the congregation, ‘This is what this verse means. Do you see the meaning here as well? Then you must believe it and obey it with all your heart, for God himself is saying this to you today!’ Only the written words of Scripture can give this kind of authority to preaching.” (Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine [Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994], 82.)

Preach the Word!