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.