The Voice of the Good Shepherd: Cultivate Your Preaching, Chapter 13[1]

Gregory Edward Reynolds

Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching. (1 Timothy 4:13)

Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth. (2 Timothy 2:15)

Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. (2 Timothy 4:2)

The person today who cannot read a Shakespearean sonnet with pleasure or understanding can learn. . . . To preach the Word of God well, one must already have cultivated, at a minimum, three sensibilities: the sensibility of the close reading of texts, the sensibility of composed communication, and the sensibility of the significant. (T. David Gordon[2])

Open the Word

The Word alone nurtures true Christian piety. In this world of late modernity, we must emphasize that God’s Word is absolutely true. It is his infallible Word, and it is thus to be believed because it is true; believed because God has spoken. Many evangelicals claim that there is no absolute truth. So the idol of tolerance has even infected the church. Furthermore, the gospel is utterly unique; it is the only way of salvation. “And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).

Although it may seem to contradict my emphasis on the importance of orality in the preacher’s life and ministry, the preacher must ever be a man of letters—a man saturated with the Word and widely read. McLuhan once observed that as the printed word has lost its monopoly as a channel of information, “it has acquired new interest as a tool in the training of perception.”[3] McLuhan was a professor of English and a literary critic before he became a media critic. The preacher must not stand above the Bible as an analyst but be absorbed by it as the environment of thought and life into which the risen Lord draws us by his grace.[4]

If the Bible is essentially a book written to preserve its oral message to God’s people, then sticking closely to the text will enhance orality, not diminish it, especially when we seek and discover the sermon already in the text.[5] The text’s own organization should be our cue in sermon preparation. Furthermore, this will provide a continual, living example for the congregation of hearers of how to hear, read, and understand God’s Word.

As the quote above by T. David Gordon indicates, the preacher must cultivate “three sensibilities: the sensibility of the close reading of texts, the sensibility of composed communication, and the sensibility of the significant.” Orality and literacy must work in tandem; one without the other will impoverish our preaching.

Teach the doctrines of the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:27). Using the catechisms and confessions of the church help people to see how the system of doctrine is rooted in and discovered in the text of Scripture. Every sermon should be full of doctrine but not a doctrinal lecture. Without the Word the preacher has nothing to say.

Tell the Story of Redemption[6]

As we saw in the last chapter, “There are no ‘modern’ preachers; there are only preachers.”[7] With Paul and John we are in the final, that is eschatological, epoch of redemptive history. However, this does not eliminate the challenges that the preacher faces in our unique cultural situation. The biblical response to that challenge is exemplified by Paul in terms of his approach to the two different audiences: the synagogue in Pisidian Antioch, and the pagan forum in Athens. The era of electronic communication media represents a unique challenge to the preacher in our new century. But, as with Paul, our situation demands that we tell the story of redemption. The centrality of narrative in the Bible cannot be overemphasized. The covenantal structure of the entire Bible places the narrative text in the context of God’s plan and work of redemption. Every other biblical genre is rooted in that covenantal narrative. For example, many Psalms were written about the historical event of the Exodus (e.g. Pss. 78, 80, 81, 105, 106, 114, 135, 136). Thus, we should not be surprised to find New Testament preaching focusing on the story of redemption, even when it is given to an audience that has only natural revelation at its disposal. Without the Gospel-Acts narratives, for example, the epistles are meaningless.

The importance of storytelling in the ancient world has been largely overlooked by Reformed preachers. The reaction to evangelical anecdotal preaching has left a void which needs to be filled. In the orally-aurally oriented culture of the ancient world, where personal possession of “books” was rare, storytelling was the primary means of propagating and transmitting and remembering tradition. “Oral people tend to see truth in the context of story. . . . Stories are how we organized ideas without ink.”[8] This appears to have been the case during the millennia from Adam’s fall to the Mosaic revelation. The increase of oral-aural sensibilities in the electronic age is a providential prod to call us to return to the power of the story of redemption to impress the souls of our hearers.

Those, like Neil Postman, who sought to fend off the purposelessness, dumbing down, and evacuation of public education, affirm the transcendent value and necessity of the great narratives, of which Christianity is one.[9] But the church itself has atomized Scripture by quoting proof-texts and taking Scripture’s stories and examples and using them as if they came out of nowhere. We have eviscerated the Scripture by tearing apart the single story of redemption into little timeless pieces, used for moral lessons and schemes for successful living. The power of the great epochal narrative of redemption thus disappears. With Christ at its center every text has a location in that history, as Jesus reminds the disciples on the Emmaus Road (Luke 24).

To call it a story does not necessarily imply fiction. It is a single history with a beginning and an end. It is a true story. It is full of characters and concrete detail, full of interest and told by the great Raconteur, the Holy Spirit, to reveal the original hero, Jesus Christ. The narrative power of television and cinema as the great storytellers of our time can only be countered by the story of redemption in the Bible. The story line of the Bible is the structure of the whole. The electronic media, especially television and film, narrate the stories of a lost world seeking transcendence apart from God, and thus disciple the world. The church needs to be discipling God’s people in the story of salvation. God has spoken. God has entered history. The self-attesting Christ of Scripture is his final Word to this present evil age.

“Biblical theology imparts a new life and freshness to the old truth by placing it in its original historic setting. The Bible is not a handbook of dogmatics: it is a historical book full of dramatic interest.”[10] Biblical theology represents the interface between the text of Scripture and our system of theology. It is, after all, God’s way of accounting for his redemptive acts in history. Thus, far from being a threat to either systematic theology or supernaturalism, biblical theology lends cohesiveness and coherence to the orthodox account of truth. Without systematic theology, biblical theology will tend toward immanentism; without biblical theology, systematic theology will tend toward mere abstraction.[11]

Immanentism in all its forms, including evolutionary thought, and process theology’s idea that God is himself developing, is best answered on its own grounds: the historical. The “history of special revelation” is the divinely given account of the way in which the absolutely transcendent creator God has acted in history through the vehicle of his covenants. Ultimately all forms of immanentism fail to find meaning and direction in history for the very reason that, in seeking concreteness in the historical, it has no reference point by which to interpret the very history it investigates. Only the covenant theology of the Bible presents the absolute One and history together. It

grants us a new vision of the glory of God. As eternal, he lives above the sphere of history. He is the Being, and not the becoming one. But, since for our salvation he has condescended to work and speak in the form of time, and thus to make his work and his speech partake of the peculiar glory that belongs to all organic growth, we must also seek to know him as the One that is, that was, and that is to come, in order that our theology may adequately perform its function of glorifying God in every mode of his self-revelation to us.[12]

For the preacher there is no other theology which will answer his practical purposes in the church.

The knowledge of God communicated by it [the historic character of revelation] is nowhere for a purely intellectual purpose. From beginning to end it is intended to enter into the actual life of man. Hence God has interwoven his revelation with the historic life of the chosen race, so as to secure for it a practical form in all its parts. This principle has found its clearest expression in the idea of the covenant as the form of God’s self-revelation to Israel. The covenant is an all-comprehensive communion of life, in which every self-disclosure is made subservient to a practical end.[13]

And yet at once the practicality of this historical concreteness stands as a most needed corrective to the subjectivism of our age and of the church which has taken on too much of the world’s mindset in this department.

Sacred history deals with the redemptive realities created by the supernatural activity of God. Biblical theology deals with the redemptive knowledge communicated in order to interpret these realities. . . . Revelation is designed to prepare, to accompany, and to interpret the great objective redemptive acts of God, such as the incarnation, the atonement, the resurrection. It is not intended to follow the subjective appropriation of redemption in its further course.[14]

It is primarily by the work of the Holy Spirit through preaching of the Word that this “subjective appropriation of redemption” is carried on.

The faithful preacher will demonstrate from every text of Scripture the connection of his hearers to the history of redemption. “Practical” in this context is not to be understood as advocating the kind of “world-catering” application to which many preachers give the same label. In our day, “practical” often means meeting the so-called “needs” of people who are wedded to this world. In this false construction the gospel becomes another program for promoting self-help and self-esteem. The practical nature of the covenant of grace is found in its revolutionary altering of the entire orientation and framework of the believer, who is connected by Christ to heavenly reality. “Seek first the kingdom of God” (Matt. 6:33). The world’s order of concerns is reversed. The source of this reversal is the present historical situation in which the Christ has come and reigns from his heavenly throne, guiding history towards its consummation. The preacher will therefore avoid co-opting the gospel for a surreptitiously idolatrous agenda in the church, which is being promoted with renewed vigor through the new electronic means.

The subject-object distinction of the Cartesian worldview tends toward logical sequential formulations in which discreet realities are abstracted from their context. The history of redemption brings subject and object together, without the relativizing tendency of postmodern alternatives to the Cartesian model. Unlike the “meta-languages” of structuralism, post structuralism, deconstruction, and all earth-bound attempts to describe the world, the narrative of redemption functions as the metanarrative by which all others are to be interpreted and judged.

Truly there are no biblical-theological preachers, only preachers. Preachers who do not tell the story of redemption are not preachers in the biblical sense. The preaching in the book of Acts exemplifies this emphasis.

Be Simple and Direct: Preach with Purpose

The Westminster Larger Catechism (Q. #159), as we have noted, tells the preacher to preach “plainly,” using 1 Corinthians 14:19 as its proof text: “in church I would rather speak five words with my mind in order to instruct others, than ten thousand words in a tongue.” The catechism enjoins preachers to apply “themselves to the necessities and capacities of the hearers.” Paul took the ability of his hearers into account. “I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready” (1 Cor. 3:2). The Puritans, with all their immense learning—and they were among the most learned men of their times—were known for their “plain speaking” in the pulpit. William Perkins, in The Art of Prophesying (1592), concludes, “To speak plainly is to be charged with telling the truth in the moment. The plain style puts the emphasis on a natural voice, but it does so with great enthusiasm for the drama of the Word.”[15]

We must take special care with the language of theology and common Christian parlance. Some approach this problem by avoiding the use of terms like “propitiation” or “regeneration” altogether. This is a grave mistake. But it is also a serious error to use these words without explaining them in a vivid, plain, and memorable way. Never assume, especially given the current level of biblical illiteracy, that your congregation, or an evangelistic audience, has a biblical vocabulary. Best to assume that an evangelistic audience knows nothing except its culture; that the church knows a little more, but still not much, because there are always unbelievers or new Christians present. The call is not for sermon-lite, but for clarity. As Augustine counseled: “The speaker should not consider the eloquence of his teaching but the clarity of it.”[16] With Cicero he advised a “studied negligence” of high sounding speech in the interest of clear communication. As ambassadors our goal is to be understood in order to win our hearers, not to impress people with our vocabularies or our learning.

Believing, as we do, that preaching is God’s direct communication to his church, we must labor to engage people. Use the introduction as a porch that invites people in. Begin where people are, not where the text begins in history. Ask a challenging question or make a provocative statement. Give a pointed illustration or story. But be careful not to try to “make the text relevant.” This is not the purpose of a good introduction. The hook of the introduction is meant to draw the church out of the world in which they are absorbed and into the text of which the church is a part.

It is into the Bible world of eternal redemption, that the preacher must bring his people. This eternal world from whence Christ came is contemporary with every age. . . . The only preaching which is up to date for every time is the preaching of this eternity, which is opened to us in the Bible alone—the eternal of holy love, grace and redemption, the eternal and immutable morality of saving grace for our indelible sin.[17]

Peter used the questions, misinterpretation, and scoffing of the crowd, due to the phenomena of miraculously speaking an unknown foreign language by the disciples at Pentecost, to introduce his sermon. Paul used the statue to an “unknown god” in Athens to introduce his sermon on Mars Hill. The introduction should be directly related to the purpose of the sermon, as these two biblical examples demonstrate. It should make the congregation hungry, like an hors d’oeuvre, to know what God has to say to them. “Tell me more!” should be their response.[18]

Conclusions should leave the congregation with the difference the sermon makes in their lives. “How shall we then live?” should be the question the conclusion answers. This is not the same as a “practical how to” at the end of every sermon. It leaves the hearer with the point of God’s Word in the expounded text. The conclusion should be brief, memorable, and done only once. Both introductions and conclusions are best constructed after everything else in a sermon has been determined, then studied with extreme care just before the preaching event.

An important aspect of simplicity is sermon length. As a young fan of the Puritans, I used to believe that limiting sermon length was akin to heresy or quenching the Spirit. I have learned the opposite. To tax people beyond their capacity, especially in an era of short attentions spans, lacks the compassion and wisdom of an undershepherd of Jesus. Better to hold people’s attention for half an hour with a clear, well pointed message, than to lose people for an hour. When the point of the text has been made, stop! In a generation informed by sound bites, anything extraneous is not appreciated. The preacher would do well to heed the advice of W. Somerset Maugham to playwrights in 1938:

It is very different now, and the difference has been occasioned, I suppose, by the advent of the cinema. Today, audiences, especially in English-speaking countries, have learnt to see the point of a scene at once and having seen it want to pass on to the next; they catch the gist of a speech in a few words, and having caught it their attention quickly wanders. . . . His [the playwrights] dialogue must be a sort of spoken shorthand. He must cut and cut till he has arrived at the maximum of concentration.[19]

Add excessive length to a lecture-like sermon and you will foster a new motto of communication: the tedium is the message.

On the matter of directness John Angell James enjoins:

Our hearers must be made to feel that they are not merely listening to the discussion of a subject, but to an appeal to themselves: their attention must be kept up, and a close connection between them and the preacher maintained, by the frequent introduction of the pronoun “you;” so that each may realize the thought that the discourse is actually addressed to him.[20]

Spurgeon used the apt analogy of shooting barbed arrows. Arrows without feathers fly nowhere, like most applications and many illustrations. And if they arrive without barbs, they do not stick. The Westminster Larger Catechism (Q. #159) uses the same archer’s metaphor: “sincerely, aiming at his glory, and their conversion, edification, and salvation.” When we aim, we should ask if our target includes these elements. If we have no target in mind, we will leave people wondering why we spoke. Aimless preaching is one of the reasons why critics say preaching is dead. Our aim is the God-given purpose of the text. We may think of the use of the second person as the feathers which direct the arrow of the sermon. The third person aims at no one in particular. Many preachers are afraid to say YOU, because they feel that people will think they are arrogant. There is certainly value in including yourself when appropriate, but you are God’s spokesman and he wants you to address his people directly, as the voice of the Good Shepherd. This directness must be reflected in your title and main sermon headings of oral cues. Preaching is first of all his Word to his church. The barbs are the specifics of the application.

Let us consider Matthew 15:13–20 as an example. Notice our Lord’s use of “you.”

He answered, “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be rooted up. Let them alone; they are blind guides. And if the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit.” But Peter said to him, “Explain the parable to us.” And he said, “Are you also still without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth passes into the stomach and is expelled? But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person. But to eat with unwashed hands does not defile anyone.”

Jesus does not leave it to us to identify the specifics of what defiles man.

Make preaching that transforms people into the image of Jesus Christ the focus and soul of your pulpit ministry. Romans 12:1–2:

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

A very helpful book on preaching with directness is Jay Adams’s Preaching with Purpose.[21] Adams pleads with preachers to stick to the purpose (telos) of each text. This is not simply a summary or description of its meaning, but communication of God’s purpose for his church in light of Paul’s dictum in Romans 15:4: “For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.” Only when this purpose is kept clearly in mind will directness be the result. With the purpose in his sight the preacher will hit the target intended by his Master.

Here a word about “effectiveness” is in order. Joel Nederhood refers to preaching effectiveness as “the great temptation.”[22] As Cornelius Trimp points out that “our age is characterized by a strong attraction to observable and measurable events.”[23] As we have seen in Chapter 6, persuasion seeks a certain result. Evangelists brag about the number of decisions recorded as a result of their “revival” preaching campaigns. We are overly impressed by denominational statistics. Much of the “marketing the church” movement motivates churches and pastors to adopt its techniques based on measurable statistical results. Visible success becomes the proverbial bottom line. One of the subtle, but pernicious, forces in this equation is the desire to join culture in its putative forward movement. We want to fit in and demonstrate to the world that we are not as bad as we have been painted. We are here to aid the progress of human culture, just like any other social institution.

This mentality means that our greatest fear is of being removed to the margins of our society. When we observe the results of New Testament preaching, we see that it often caused social upheaval, as in Jerusalem at Pentecost, and in Ephesus. To be faithful to our calling as heralds of the Head of the new humanity, we must be prepared to preach without fear of the consequences and without discouragement that our message may not meet with great visible success. Faithfulness, not measurable results, is the hallmark of the herald (1 Cor. 4:2).

Draw Attention with Compelling Language

The challenge of the preacher in an age in which words are cheap and devalued, due to the all-at-onceness of mass electronic media, is to

find ways to convey through the dynamics of his words and the interrelations of words the sensible realities embodied in such ancient “carriers of meaning” as God, Christ, Holy Spirit, reconciliation, redemption, salvation, sacrament, heaven, hell, faith, hope, love. In order to reach with words a people accustomed to communication through total sensory stimuli enwrapped in the convincing and attractive environments of electronic media, we must be able to unwrap and enwrap in similarly convincing and attractive ways the great words in which our Christian tradition is stored.[24]

While we must not concede, as Mehl seems to in this statement, that the Scriptures need to be made relevant, the point of the power of words should be well taken. The Hebrew word for “word” (דָּבָר dabar) “carries with it the dynamic connotation of ‘event.’ . . . Words have evocative power. They can call things into existence, change the old, undo what was, bring forth the new.” Hebrews 4:12 declares: “the word of God is living and active.” [25]

David Buttrick asks, “What will happen to a religion of book in an age dominated by the epistemology of the electronic media? Obviously the whole notion of biblical authority will not wash in an electronic age.”[26] He advocates a “street smart” strategy of “visual logic.”[27] Since biblical religion has by definition always been a religion of the book, we should not panic. The answer is not in the electronic media but in the Bible itself. The visual, along with all the senses, and the metaphorical have always been a vital part of human knowing and communicating. Rather than signaling the demise of biblical authority their use in preaching reminds us that we are God’s creatures and live in his world. He has created the structures of experience, and word pictures, poetry, and metaphors, all given in the Bible, and used to communicate biblical truth are assertions of his Lordship over all of life. And, after all, Christianity is primarily a religion of the Word, which is preserved in a book.

Compelling language, whether painting pictures, telling a story, or describing an emotion, stimulates the imagination in a biblical way. Jesus used metaphors and drew verbal pictures throughout his earthly ministry. Study and use the biblical model of vivid, concise language (stories, illustrations, and metaphors) to capture the imaginations of your hearers, thus making the theme of your pericope stick to their souls. Use the images and metaphors of Scripture. From Jesus we also learn that images from our culture are effective means by which to make a point. He used soils. We may use automobiles and computers. Notice that Scripture metaphors and images are inspired, and though at times requiring explanation in urban culture, they are universal. They involve finance, agriculture, family life, etc. They engage people in the concreteness of their everyday lives in God’s world. For example, the ungodly are “like chaff that the wind drives away” (Ps. 1:4).

Spurgeon was a master of what Jay Adams calls “sense appeal.” His book Studies in Preaching: Sense Appeal in the Sermons of Charles Haddon Spurgeon is instructive in this regard.[28] Adams observes that most homiletics texts advocate vividness, which is an appeal only to sight. However, all the senses should be used in a biblical model.[29] In an age of image media, it is especially important that preachers take full advantage of this biblical resource. It is also an excellent antidote to the danger of icon worship, since the meaning of metaphors is interpreted by the written Word of God.

Our language, generally, ought to be the language of Scripture and be calculated to arrest, awaken people to the awful danger of being outside of Christ, and the awesome glory of being his.

Point Them to God: “We would see Jesus”

The ultimate object of all preaching is to bring people into contact with God himself. “The sense of being an ambassador of God makes preaching a holier experience than any other kind of public speaking.” Our inspiration and authority in preaching comes directly from God. “When so many are preaching to the times, let one brother speak eternity.”[30] Jonathan Edwards beautifully depicts the glory of tasting heaven on earth. Good preaching should aim at this.

Intellectual pleasures consist in the beholding of spiritual excellencies and beauties, but the glorious excellency and beauty of God are far the greatest. God’s excellence is the supreme excellence. When the understanding of the reasonable creature dwells here, it dwells at the fountain, and swims in a boundless, bottomless ocean. The love of God is also the most suitable entertainment of the soul of man, which naturally desires the happiness of society, or of union with some other being. The love of so glorious a being is infinitely valuable, and the discoveries of it are capable of ravishing the soul above all other love.[31]

Bring God’s people into the presence of God. As preaching overcomes the secular dichotomy between transcendence and immanence, the preacher as God’s spokesman does not leave the congregation or the evangelistic audience on the horizontal plane, but draws them through the Word of Christ into heavenly reality, into their spiritual relationship and status as new creatures, united with Christ. At the center of this homiletical trajectory is the only Mediator between God and man, the Lord Jesus Christ. As the heart and soul of every text He is the One who makes the hearts of his disciples burn within them.

It is this Word—evocative, dynamic, creative, saving, sin-annulling, death-defeating, healing, life-giving—which the church proclaims. This is the Word the pulpit must preach, and those in the ministry are summoned by God to proclaim.[32]

Our preaching must encourage contact with heaven:

If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. (Col. 3:1–2)

The importance of this pursuit cannot be overstated. “Our task is to find a way to take God’s unchanging message into a world nearly void of biblical categories and rife with theological confusion.”[33] It should remind us also that we preach in Paul’s world in two ways. First, since Adam’s fall rebel sinners have resisted God’s revelation of himself in all the world, “who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth” (Rom. 1:18). Second, Paul’s world was radically syncretistic and pluralistic as ours is, or America is rapidly becoming. But the West, and soon the entire world, is radically affected in a way that Paul’s culture was not. We are all part of the electronic dispersion which ill suits us to receive the message of the gospel, much less preach it. This challenge is exacerbated for preachers who do not come from strong, well-informed, Christian backgrounds as well as those for who lack the breadth of education that Paul had. More on this in the last chapter. T. David Gordon sums this problem up well:

As a consequence of this cultural shift, those human sensibilities essential to expository preaching have largely disappeared, so that a theological seminary attempting to teach a person who is not comfortable with texts, nor comfortable with writing organized prose, is analogous to a theological seminary attempting to teach a dachshund to speak French.[34]

If preaching, in its authentic Biblical, apostolic (and Reformational) sense, is to be recovered, it will be necessary also to recover an enduring commitment to Christ-centered, expository preaching, in addition to cultivating the necessary pre-ministerial sensibilities. Ministers will need to renounce their tendency to use the pulpit as a catch-all; a place from which they attempt to do everything, and will need to return it to its proper place of proclaiming how (and how well) God reconciles himself to hopelessly lost sinners through the person and work of that beloved Son in whom he is well-pleased.

A return to such Christ-centered preaching, however, probably cannot occur apart from cultivating the sensibility of reading texts closely (since it is the New Testament texts that teach us to preach Christ). And almost surely this change will not occur apart from cultivating a sensibility of the significant; because only a true sense of what is significant will cause a minister to realize that nothing in the entire history of human affairs is more significant than what the God-Man has done; and therefore nothing should crowd the proclamation of Christ from the center of Christian preaching.[35]

One way Christ-centered preaching may be fostered is by embedding the ministry of the Word in a Christ-centered liturgy. At Amoskeag Presbyterian Church, where I was pastor, we have two very important elements in our liturgy: corporate confession of sin and an assurance of pardon in Christ, and the Lord Supper at the end of each morning service. The church motto is “preaching the Christ of Scripture.” No one will ever leave a service without having heard the gospel.

English Puritan preacher Thomas Brooks has a wonderful section in The Unsearchable Riches of Christ on the importance of preaching Christ in Chapter 6, “Christ the Great Subject of the Gospel Ministry.” He gives five reasons why it is “the great duty of ministers to preach Christ to the people.” First, the gospel of Christ is the only way to save sinners. Second, preaching Christ is the best way to win sinners to love Christ. Third, the gospel is the only weapon against all opposition to Christ. Fourth, preaching Christ frees the preacher from “the blood of souls.” Finally, such preaching comforts the souls of preachers both now and forever. Then he goes on to describe eleven ways to preach Christ.[36] Unlike modern “how to” suggestions, these have to do with the attitude and delivery of the preacher. He is to preach plainly, faithfully, humbly, wisely, boldly, painfully, exemplarily, feelingly, rightly, acceptably, constantly. Here are twenty pages every minister needs to take to heart.


[1] Adapted from Gregory E. Reynolds, The Word Is Worth a Thousand Pictures: Preaching in the Electronic Age (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2001), 386–98.

[2] T. David Gordon, Why Johnny Can’t Preach: The Media Have Shaped the Messengers (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2009), 106.

[3] Marshall McLuhan, Counterblast (London: Rapp & Whiting, 1969), 99.

[4] Joel Nederhood, “Effective Preaching in a Media Age,” class notes, Westminster Seminary California, 1990.

[5] Cf. Dave McClellan with Karen McClellan, Preaching by Ear: Speaking God’s Truth from the Inside Out (Wooster, OH: Weaver, 2014), 114.

[6] This section is a slight modification of the original based on Gregory E. Reynolds, “Preachers: Tell the Story of Redemption!” Kerux: A Journal of Biblical Theological Preaching 15:3 (Dec. 2000): 26–30.

[7] Charles G. Dennison, “Preaching and Application: A Review,” Kerux: A Journal of Biblical Theological Preaching 4:3 (Dec. 1989): 52.

[8] McClellan, Preaching by Ear, 97.

[9] Neil Postman, The End of Education (New York: Knopf, 1995). Cf. Teaching as a Subversive Activity (New York: Dell, 1969); Teaching as a Conserving Activity (New York: Dell, 1979); The Disappearance of Childhood (London: Allen, 1983).

[10] Geerhardus Vos, “The Nature and Aims of Biblical Theology,” Kerux: A Journal of Biblical Theological Preaching 14/1 (May 1999): 7. Originally from The Union Seminary Magazine 13/3 (February-March 1902): 194–99.

[11] It should be noted that abstraction is a necessary part of the human thought process. It is when this process in theological reasoning is not rooted in history, that it leads to the kind of abstraction with which I am concerned here.

[12] Vos, “The Nature and Aims of Biblical Theology,” 8.

[13] Vos, “The Nature and Aims of Biblical Theology,” 5.

[14] Vos, “The Nature and Aims of Biblical Theology,” 4–5.

[15] William Perkins, The Art of Prophesying (1592; repr., Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1996), 124.

[16] Augustine, On Christian Doctrine, trans. D. W. Robertson, Jr. (427 AD; repr., Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1958), 133 [Cicero Orat. 21. 69].

[17] P. T. Forsyth, Positive Preaching and the Modern Mind (New York: Hodder and Stoughton, 1907), 32–33.

[18] Jay Adams, “Preaching with Purpose,” class notes, Westminster Seminary California, 1990.

[19] W. Somerset Maugham, The Summing Up (Garden City, NY: Doubleday and Company, 1938), 126.

[20] John Angell James, An Earnest Ministry: The Want of the Times (1847; repr., Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1993), 117.

[21] Jay Adams, Preaching with Purpose (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1982).

[22] Nederhood, “Effective Preaching in a Media Age.”

[23] Cornelius Trimp, “Preaching as the Public Means of Divine Redemption,” trans. Nelson D. Kloosterman, Mid-America Journal of Theology, Theme Issue: Preaching, vol. 10 (1999), 42.

[24] Duane Mehl, “Mass Media and the Future of Preaching,” Concordia Theological Monthly 41 (1970): 210.

[25] Daane, Preaching with Confidence, 20–21.

[26] David G. Buttrick, “Preaching to the ‘Faith’ of America,” in Communication and Change in American Religious History, ed. Leonard Sweet (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1993), 319.

[27] Buttrick, “Preaching to the ‘Faith’ of America,” 310, 316.

[28] Jay Adams, Studies in Preaching: Sense Appeal in the Sermons of Charles Haddon Spurgeon, Vol. 1. (Nutley, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1976).

[29] Adams, Preaching with Purpose, 87.

[30] Gerald Hamilton Kennedy, His Word Through Preaching (New York: Harper, 1947), 10–11. Dr. Ian Maclaren quoting an old Puritan.

[31] Jonathan Edwards, Sermon on Matthew 5:8, The Works of Jonathan Edwards, ed. Edward Hickman. Vol. 1. (1834; repr., (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1974), 907.

[32] James Daane, Preaching with Confidence: A Theological Essay on the Power of the Pulpit (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1980), 29.

[33] David Helm, Expositional Preaching: How We Speak God’s Word Today (Wheaton: Crossway, 2014), 89.

[34] Gordon, Why Johnny Can’t Preach, 36.

[35] Gordon, Why Johnny Can’t Preach, 92.

[36] Thomas Brooks, The Unsearchable Riches of Christ, in The Select Works, C. Bradley, ed., vol. 1 (London: L. B. Seeley and Son, 1824), 268–88.

Gregory E. Reynolds is pastor emeritus of Amoskeag Presbyterian Church (OPC) in Manchester, New Hampshire, and is the editor of Ordained Servant. Ordained Servant Online, April, 2024.

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Ordained Servant: April 2024

Irresistible Grace

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