Category Archives: Religion
Peter Sanlon is vicar of St. Mark’s Church, Tunbridge Wells, and author of Simply God: Recovering the Classical Trinity (IVP, 2014) and Augustine’s Theology of Preaching (Fortress, 2014). I am currently enjoying Peter’s book on Augustine’s Theology of Preaching and am really thankful for the snapshot he offers in this post of the riches to be found in spending time with Augustine!
The ﬁrst ever book written on preaching, began with a chapter of doctrinal reﬂection — the topic of Christ’s incarnation loomed large. Augustine’s short book ‘On Christian Teaching’ was written with the awareness that people often found the Bible difﬁcult to understand. Of course there were those who thought reading and understanding easy — but Augustine warned those who thought all they needed was their intelligence and the scripture, that they should be more humble and realistic about their spiritual abilities!
What role did Augustine think the incarnation played in preachers’ understanding of the Bible? Augustine wrote:
In what way did Christ come but this, ‘The Word was made ﬂesh, and dwelt among us’? John 1:14. Just as when we speak, in order that what we have in our minds may enter through the ear into the mind of the hearer, the word which we have in our hearts becomes an outward sound and is called speech; and yet our thought does not lose itself in the sound, but remains complete in itself, and takes the form of speech without being modiﬁed in its own nature by the change: so the Divine Word, though suffering no change of nature, yet became ﬂesh, that He might dwell among us. (1.13)
Augustine viewed the incarnation as God speaking to humanity in the most intimate, powerful manner possible. The inner heart and desires of God were revealed in the earthly life, teaching and death of Jesus. This incarnation was unique, mysterious and spectacular. The Word did not change, yet became ﬂesh. Mystery indeed. The incarnation was a unique means of communication with sinful humanity — perfectly designed by God to overcome our inner blindness to his revelation:
Seeing, then, that man fell through pride, He restored him through humility. We were ensnared by the wisdom of the serpent: we are set free by the foolishness of God. Moreover, just as the former was called wisdom, but was in reality the folly of those who despised God, so the latter is called foolishness, but is true wisdom in those who overcome the devil. We used our immortality so badly as to incur the penalty of death: Christ used His mortality so well as to restore us to life. The disease was brought in through a woman’s corrupted soul: the remedy came through a woman’s virgin body. To the same class of opposite remedies it belongs, that our vices are cured by the example of His virtues. On the other hand, the following are, as it were, bandages made in the same shape as the limbs and wounds to which they are applied: He was born of a woman to deliver us who fell through a woman: He came as a man to save us who are men, as a mortal to save us who are mortals, by death to save us who were dead. (1.14)
The Incarnation was beautifully orchestrated by God as the only means to deal with the inner problem of sin, which blinds us to anything God says to us. The relevance of all this to preaching, the ultimate topic of Augustine’s book? Only when the incarnate Christ has cleared away the sin that blinds us to God’s words, can we begin to proﬁt from the tools of interpretation explained in subsequent chapters. To put all this in contemporary terminology — hermeneutics apart from the incarnation is the blind leading the blind. Only those who feel their need of the incarnate Christ are able to understand the Bible and preach it to others.
This Thursday I am leading a webinar on “An Introduction to Poetic Literature” at 18:00 GMT. It is free and if you would like to join, you just need to register on this page.
The Union Podcast Interview continues today as I am asked “How is Christ becoming man vital for our salvation?” (I believe there will be five episodes this week. I won’t post every day, but will list the links after the series completes.)
Ramesh Richard serves as leader of Ramesh Richard Evangelism and Church Health, as Professor of Global Theological Engagement and Pastoral Ministries at Dallas Theological Seminary, and as General Convener of the Global Proclamation Congress for Pastoral Trainers, DV, June 2016, Bangkok, Thailand. Dr. Richard’s Preparing Expository Sermons was named in the top 25 most influential preaching books of the last 25 years by Preaching magazine. I am thankful to Ramesh for this thoughtful contribution to the Guest Series on the Incarnation – what is it that distinguishes the Christian preacher?
How (and more importantly, why) is a Christian preacher different from preachers in non-Christian religions, especially those of other monotheistic faiths?
All preachers tend to moralism—the preaching of behavioral expectation—in sermon application. Christian preachers share this penchant with rabbis and imams. Without a grace-based foundation and environment to preaching, moralism turns into legalism, radicalism, and terrorism. Have divine demands already been met which can overflow into a grateful, responsive life-style or should divine pleasure be manipulated by human application of moralistic sermons? What would move people from moralism to a grace-infused living?
Preachers also lean toward principilization—preaching around, above, under, even beyond a text that seems theologically distant or deemed culturally irrelevant. Indeed we are forced to principilize in some way, when a plain reading of the text calls for a response antithetical to contemporary ears (e.g., stoning homosexuals, or beheading infidels). So less orthodox rabbis and less conservative imams have to make their texts more suitable by preaching the principle of what the author is supposedly doing with his text. But then they severely compromise what the author is proposing in the text. Why would Christian preachers preserve the primacy of preaching the text itself, and only secondarily subsume its theological meaning as it forms and informs the central proposition of the text?
Finally, any faithful preacher wants to get across the message of their respective gods and books to their audiences. And yet their pontifications are as lofty like their heavenly gods. Their gods sit in their heavens and write prescriptions for the human race without having experienced the earthly, existential realities of their followers. How would Christian preachers mitigate and overcome this one-dimensional, theoretical stance of heaven toward earth?
May I suggest that the inclinations of moralistic, principilized, one-way behavioral expectations of God (and His preacher) are substantially eradicated by embracing the Incarnation model for hermeneutics and homiletics? The Lord Jesus Christ was full of grace and truth. The incarnation is not an abstract, theological idea, but is a uniquely, specifically, identifiable, in-flesh proposition; and further, the incarnate One built the bridge from God to humanity, between the extremes of the soteriological and communication-divides, as both faithful and relevant mediator.
All Christian preaching then should be spiritually speaking, grace-based; hermeneutically speaking, traceable to a historically unique text; and homiletically speaking, bi-dimensional and cross-cultural, all because of the incarnate One we proclaim.
Today sees the release of the first ever Union Podcast and I am privileged to be the guest. It is just five minutes long and I am answering the question – Why think about the Incarnation when it isn’t Christmas? I will link to it when I am on it, but I’d recommend following the podcast as I am sure there will be plenty of great little podcasts in the months to come! Click the picture to go to it. This week I am in Portland, OR, so won’t be getting back into a regular routine of blogging about preaching until next week.
Following on from yesterday’s link, here is a recent post I wrote on the issue of losing our first love. Again, important for preachers to ponder prayerfully for ourselves, and for our listeners! Click here to go there.
I just posted a blog over on Cor Deo that is getting some good feedback from folks. I entitled it, “The Greatest Peril for Bible Churches?” . . . it would all be equally true for preachers. Click here to go over and take a look.
I am really thankful to everyone who contributed to a great series. I hope that these posts helped to stir an appetite for the wonderful subject of the Incarnation. In case you missed it, here is the page to go for information on Pleased to Dwell: A Biblical Introduction to the Incarnation. And here are the posts: we started with an Introduction to the Series. Then . . .
Glen Scrivener is a good friend of mine and the ministry I am involved in, Cor Deo. Every year Glen joins us for a day during the full-time course and shares with the team about the Gospel and evangelism. Back in 2012 he spoke at our Delighted by God conference in London. Here is his latest episode of The Evangelists Podcast in which he interviews me about Cor Deo, about the book, Pleased to Dwell, and a little bit about Bible reading too.