As those who preach, we have a whole raft of subject areas worthy of our study. Central, in my estimation, is the ongoing engaged and dynamic personal study of Scripture. We also must be studying the people to whom they preach, what they struggle with, their life experiences, how they think, etc. Then there are numerous other areas of study, some of which might motivate you to buy books and read, others of which might only serve to cure insomnia. But what about the subject of the history of preaching?
I know some reading this are avid readers of biography, church history and even preaching history. I am also sure that some are definitely not. Here’s a brief quote on the subject from David Larsen, writing in the Journal of the Evangelical Homiletics Society:
The history of preaching can encourage our hearts (as in the providential appearance of significant Biblical preaching in the most unlikely places and at the most unexpected times) as well as warn us about the perils and pitfalls which surround the practitioner of the craft at all times. Our times call for the wise and judicious balance which attention to history provides.
So for those less inclined to the history of preaching, where to start? There are several (often multi-volume) series of books that address the subject directly. Yet in many cases they, like most historical writing, tend to focus in one area, but remain blind to another. Perhaps the best place to start is with biography of a preacher you find intriguing or encouraging – a Spurgeon, Sibbes, Luther or Edwards. Perhaps it would be worth getting David Larsen’s A Company of Preachers and starting there.
One thing seems clear though, to ignore the past would be naive and might condemn us to repeating errors unnecessarily, or perhaps to leave our hearts weakened by missing the blessing offered by some of these great preachers.
(Here is an accessible starting point – take a look at this introductory article to Richard Sibbes that was just posted over on theologynetwork.org – click here)
According to Augustine, our task is to say what God says. One of our core convictions must be that when the Bible speaks, God speaks. So let’s take a moment or two to run a quick evaluative test to make sure our passion in preaching has not grown pale. These three indicators are by no means an exhaustive list, but they represent perhaps the foundational layer of passion for us as preachers. How would you rate . . .
Your passion for God Himself. This is primary. As Christmas approaches and we contemplate the incarnation again, are we stirred by the passion of a God willing to go to such extreme lengths, to step into His creation, to become like us and redeem us? The spreading goodness of God spread very far and very low in reaching us. Are we truly captivated by the great and glorious God who in grace reached out for us? Is He the object of our affection, our worship, our attention?
Your passion for God’s Word. This is how we know Him. This is the means by which all other channels of spirituality and experience can be evaluated. The Bible is an amazing gift. Has it become just a tool of your trade? Or is it still gripping your thoughts as you dive ever deeper into God’s great revelation to us?
Your passion for God’s people. This is not just the concern of those in formal ministry. This is an indicator of spiritual health in all of God’s people. We become like the One we love and worship. Over time His values become ours too. Consequently a passion for people is an indicator of spiritual health. People you will preach to this Sunday, and people you will never meet until heaven. Local, global. For God so loved the world . . . so if we are close to Him, we will too.
Then there is the strand running through it all. It was implicitly there throughout yesterday’s post, it is here stated overtly. The strand going through all three indicators in this post is prayer. Prayer indicates your passion for God. Prayer shows the difference between dutiful drudgery through required study and delight-filled questing through God’s Word. Prayer reveals your heartbeat for others.
How is your passion for preaching? Paler than it should be? As hot as it could be?