First Person Life

2006-03-25

Just what is a sermon?

I'm not sure why, but I'm subscribed to Rick Warren's newsletter. In a recent issue he has an article with 9 "tips" for better preaching.

It's unfortunate that some who have confessed that the contents of the Book of Concord are a correct exposition of the Scriptures hold Warren in such high regard. The fact is, Rick Warren preaches something completely contrary to a right understanding of Scripture. He preaches a "different gospel."

There are ways to "Lutheranize" what he says, but it usually involves rewording what he has said to mean the opposite.

Here is how he opens his "9 tips":

I'll say it over and over: The purpose of preaching is obedience. Every preacher in the New Testament – including Jesus – emphasized conduct, behavioral change, and obedience. [dm42: emphasis added]


And here are his "tips":

1. All behavior is based on a belief
2. Behind every sin is a lie I believe
3. Change always starts in the mind
4. To help people change, we must change their beliefs first
5. Trying to change people’s behavior without changing their belief is a waste of time
6. The biblical term for “changing your mind” is “repentance”
7. You don’t change people’s minds, the applied Word of God does
8. Changing the way I act is the fruit of repentance
9. The deepest kind of preaching is preaching for repentance


My question: Where's Jeus?

No doubt, we can agree with some of these statements if they existed in a different context. It's not the statements themselves which are problematic, but it is the meaning that they convey when put together that is the problem.

And this is the entire problem I find that I have with Warren and his ilk. They sound "just enough" right that people are taken in by what they say. For example, we can all agree, "You don't change people's minds [by preaching], the Word of God does." It's a correct statement.

But what is the “Word of God” that does this changing.

I've recently republished J.M. Reu's Homiletics textbook from 1922. He was a professor at Wartburg Seminary in the early 20th Century and wrote some really great stuff.

Unlike Warren who claims “Obedience” is the heart of a sermon, Reu has a different approach.

The centre of the sermon will always be the Gospel, i.e., the testimony of the grace of God, forgiving sin and conferring righteousness; for “the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.” [Jn 1:17]. - (J.M. Reu, Homiletics, A Manual of the Theory and Practice of Preaching, 1922, p.60)


As a more complete answer to Warren's “9 tips,” I include below additional information from Reu (pp. 44,57-59):

[p.44] Apart from the Word of God there can be no sermon; On the Word of God the sermon is based, from the Word it draws its contents. Indeed, the sermon is nothing else than the offer and proclamation of the Word.

[pp.57-59]The heart and centre of the Word, as well as of the whole saving revelation of God, is Jesus Christ. The Old Testament points to Him as the coming one; the New Testament testifies of Him as come. To preach the Old Testament alone would be a deplorable relapse to the stage of pre-Christian preparation. God the Father can be known only through the Son, in whom He has revealed Himself; the Holy Spirit speaks not of Himself but takes the things of Christ and declares them unto us. If God, in all the fulness of His grace and truth, is to be brought to the souls of men by means of preaching, and if men are thus to know and appropriate Him, in order to an ever completer communion between God and man, it is necessary that the sermon be Christocentric, have no one and nothing else for its centre and content than Christ Jesus. This is true not only of the missionary sermon as Paul practiced it, but also of the sermon before the established congregation, as is clear from the whole epistolary literature of the New Testament, and as John expressly states at the close of his gospel. Indeed, this follows of itself from the fundamental truth that a genuine Christian faith and life can exist only so long as it remains a daily appropriation of Christ. “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ,” must ever be the watchword, until we ascend from faith to sight. The sermon must, therefore, continually placard Christ before it's hearers' eyes and glorify Him before men; otherwise it ceases to be a Christian sermon. [emphasis added]

But Christ cannot be the content of the sermon as mere revealer of God's will to men, as teacher, prophet or exemplar. These sides of Him will indeed never be absent. The sermon will need to present the holy will of God as revealed by Christ, if it is to inculcate New Testament and not merely Old Testament morality, and evangelical and not a mere natural or legalistic piety. No other embodiment of the divine will can exert so strong an attraction upon men as its embodiment in the person and life of Christ. But the sermon of which Christ is the heart and centre must come nearer than this to the heart and centre of Christ. No one can so completely and reliably reveal the riches of the Father's will to salvation as the Only-begotten Son who is in the bosom of the Father. Whoever undertakes, therefore, to declare the saving will of God must bring men the message of Christ concerning the Father in heaven. He cannot omit from his message, notwithstanding the objections of modern theology, the miracles of Jesus, nor will he treat them as a mere nimbus round His person, but rather as the inner expression of His personality and His proper works and “signs.” As little will he conceal from his hearers the mystery of the person of Christ, as it is confessed in the Small Catechism, - “True God, begotten of the Father from all eternity, and also true Man, born of the Virgin Mary.” This will rather form the constant undercurrent of all his preaching, breaking forth again and again in unmistakable clearness and spontaneous adoration.

But the preacher will need to rise higher and delve deeper even than this, if his sermon is to be truly Christocentric in the sense of Jesus Himself and of His great Apostle. It must be a witness to the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself for me, in His whole life from the manger to the cross, and who rose on the third day and lives and reigns forever as Savior and Lord. Such preaching alone can produce faith, justifying and saving faith, which can have no other object than Jesus the Son of God, who gave His life as a ransom for all. Christ crucified must ever be the alpha and omega, the heart and centre, the life and soul of the sermon; for nowhere else has God so fully revealed Himself as on the cross of Calvary, where, in order to declare Himself both just and a justifier, He set forth Jesus as propitiation for the sins of the whole world. Here is the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. Here the veil is completely rent in twain, and God bares to us His inmost heart. The sermon, if it is to set for God as He really is, so that He may draw men to Himself, must present Him as the God who was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself. Only then will the sinner venture to draw near to Him and rejoice in His salvation.



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Perhaps I should send Rick a copy of J.M. Reu's book.

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