Theology of Preaching (1)

For Homiletics class this quarter I had to write a short “Theology of Preaching” paper. Here are some thoughts:

Preaching is witnessing to the word of God for a particular group of the people of God so that God’s story becomes their story.

The definition of preaching is witnessing to the word of God for a particular group of the people of God. Scripture is the word of God for the people of God, and we share that word because we believe God still speaks through that word, in new and particular ways, through the Holy Spirit. The function of preaching is calling the people of God to make God’s story their story. We preach to allow the reality of Scripture to become their reality and to allow the Lordship of Christ to become their Lord. Preaching is an act of allowing God’s word to call the people of God into God’s kingdom in all its fullness.

Witnessing to the Word of God

Preaching is fundamentally witnessing to the word of God. Borrowing the image of witness from Thomas Long in The Witness of Preaching, “The preacher as witness is not authoritative because of rank or power but rather because of what the preacher has seen and heard.”[1] Preaching as witnessing to the word of God is preaching that testifies to what the preacher has heard God speak. The preacher has listened to Scripture and the Holy Spirit and then testifies to what has been heard. This idea moves the preacher from the center, where one claims authority to proclaim what God says, to the side, pointing to what God has done and said to God’s people, correctly placing God at the center of preaching. This means that the task of preaching the word of God is a fearsome calling, to be done with awe and humility, as one strives to give as clear and correct a witness to God as possible.

When we preach, we preach Scripture. God has given us Scripture as a gift of God’s word to us, so when we preach, we turn to Scripture as the source of God’s word. God has spoken to the people of God in many ways throughout the history of the church, but Scripture is the most definitive way in which God speaks to us, the canon against which we measure all other revelation. It is important that when we preach Scripture, it is God’s word that is preached, not Scripture itself as a historical document, a set of moral teachings, or stories and folklore. Preaching is not speaking about the text, as you might in an exegetical paper, but sharing God’s word proclaimed in the text. This means we consider Scripture as a sacred text, different than other texts, because God has spoken it to us.

Scripture speaks to us today through the Holy Spirit, so the preacher testifies to what the Holy Spirit has illuminated in Scripture for that particular community and context.[2] This means that preaching is just as much an act of listening to the guidance of the Spirit as it is an act of speaking. Preaching is thus an exceptional act, different than everyday speech. It is not the preacher sharing their thoughts about a passage, but is a space created where the preacher testifies to how the Holy Spirit has illuminated God’s word for that particular time and place. There is something sacred and exceptional in the act of testifying to what the Holy Spirit is bringing to light for the community.

As the word of God, Scripture is sufficient. When preaching, there can be a temptation to make Scripture say things that are not there, to embellish, to exaggerate, to see words and connections that are not in the text, or to preach ideas beyond the text that do not proceed from the text. We may try to make Scripture answer questions that Scripture does not ask itself, or shape Scripture to say what we hoped it will say. All of these are symptoms of not trusting that Scripture is sufficient. We may wish for a text to say something it does not say, or may hope that Scripture gives a definitive answer to an issue in our context or community that it does not, but we must trust that what Scripture does say is sufficient. In the act of preaching, we preach Scripture as the word of God and must trust that God has given us sufficient word.

Part 2 will cover what it means to preach to a particular group of the people of God. 

[1] Long, Thomas G., The Witness of Preaching (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2005), 47.

[2] Stanley Grenz talks about this concept of illumination in his book Theology for the Community of God, saying, “The Spirit’s work within Scripture did not end in the distant past. Throughout history he continues to act, speaking to people through the Bible. Theologians commonly refer to this dimension of his activity as illumination” (382). (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2000).


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