Of Inner Screens and Communion Closets

Some more of Thielicke on Spurgeon:

When Spurgeon speaks, it is as if the figures of the patriarchs and prophets and apostles were in the auditorium – sitting upon a raised tribune! – looking down upon the listeners.  You hear the rush of the Jordan and the murmuring of the brooks of Siloam; you see the cedars of Lebanon swaying in the wind, hear the clash and tumult of battle between the children of Israel and the Philistines, sense the safety and security of Noah’s ark, suffer the agonies of soul endured by Job and Jeremiah, hear the creak of oars as the disciples strain against the contrary winds, and feel the dread of the terrors of the apocalypse.  The Bible is so close that you not only hear its messages but breathe its very atmosphere.  The heart is so full of Scripture that it leavens the consciousness, peoples the imagination with its images, and determines the landscape of the soul by its climate.  And because it has what might be called a total presence, the Bible as the Word of God is really concentrated life that enters every pore and teaches us not only to see and hear but also to taste and smell the wealth of reality that is spread out before us here.

Those who listened to these lectures of Spurgeon lived . . . in the atmosphere of the Bible.  They no longer needed to be exhorted to take the Bible seriously; it penetrated into what the psychologists call the “image level” of their unconscious.  Even the admonition to prayer was hardly needed, for the words that reached the hearer were spoken by one who himself had come out of the stillness of eternal communion with God, and what he said to the hearer had first been talked about with the Father in heaven.(v9)

Vivid preaching that reaches deeper than mere words ever could, aiming to transform the listener at every level of the heart, soul, spirit; penetrating to the screen in the inner man, so the vivid and striking reality of Scripture is lived even in the hearing, all coming from one who is personally intimate with the God whose Word he preaches.  It can’t get much better than that!

Theme Number One in the Church

I picked up a copy of Helmut Thielicke’s Encounter with Spurgeon.  Essentially it is a 45 page reflection on Spurgeon’s homiletics by a theologian you might not expect to rave so wildly about his work and ministry, followed by selected highlights from Spurgeon’s writings.  I have not read Thielicke since studying ethics at seminary, but I will have to be disciplined not to just copy most of the 45 pages here in the next few days!  However, I do think this can be a Thielicke on Spurgeon week as far as this blog is concerned.

It would be well for a time like ours to learn from this man.  For our preaching is, to be sure, largely correct, exegetically “legitimate,” workmanlike and tidy; but it is also remarkably dead and lacking in infectious power.  Very often it strikes us as an unreal phantom that hovers above and is isolated from what people feel are the actual realities of their life and what they talk about in their language.  There can be no doubt that for many preachers it is simply an escape when, in the face of this failure to get returns in the area of preaching, they take flight into the cultivation of liturgical ceremonial and even make a virtue of the vice of wanting to ignore the times and live in some timeless, spiritual world.

In this desperate situation which threatens to break down even the best of men – for it is a desperate thing to feel the burden of souls committed to our charge and not to be able to do anything about it – everything depends upon our gaining some standards for that which is “Theme Number One” of the church – our preaching. (p.2)

We can be technically good, but effectually useless.  If the preaching doesn’t connect with listeners in a meaningful way, then it is a ghostly imitation of the real thing.  So, for many preachers struggling with their ineffectual ministry, it is an easier cop out to act as if it is good to be irrelevant and aloof.  But souls are going to a lost eternity and we can’t do anything about it, and yet we can, we must, do this one thing – we must pursue effectual preaching because that is the main thing in the church.

Out of Our Depth

Charles Haddon Spurgeon once made this very true statement, “The best man here, if he knows what he is, knows that he is out of his depth in his sacred calling.”  How true that is.  Only with a keen awareness of that reality will we avoid a ministry empowered by the flesh.  Let me probe this issue briefly with some rhetorical questions:

Do I feel confident in my ministry based on previous experience, ministerial training or affirmation received? This is a dangerous confidence to lean on.  We need to lean on Him only when we step up to preach.

Do I feel stirred to worship, to confess, to pray, to focus on the Lord as I prepare to preach? If these responses and similar are missing in preparation, something is missing for the preaching too.

Do I concern myself more with what people will think of my message, than what God will think of it? Surely we preach to our listeners, but we ultimately answer only to One (consider 2Tim.4:1 in light of verse 2).

Let’s never allow ourselves to forget the simple fact that we are out of our depth when we stand to preach God’s Word.

Know Your Theology and Preach Your Bible

Last week I wrote a post that spoke against theological agenda-driven preaching.  Yesterday’s post affirmed the value and relevance of theology.  Are these positions contradictory?  Not at all.  We are living in a generation where there is an increasing biblical and theological illiteracy.  So as preachers we have a responsibility to really know the important doctrines of the faith.  And as preachers we have the responsibility of preaching the Bible so that listeners will know where that doctrine comes from and how to get it.

Here’s a quote from Spurgeon’s Lectures to My Students that seems appropriate:

Be well instructed in theology, and do not regard the sneers of those who rail at it because they are ignorant of it.  Many preachers are not theologians, and hence the mistakes which they make.  It cannot do any hurt to the most lively evangelist to be also a sound theologian, and it may often be the means of saving him from gross blunders.  Nowadays, we hear men tear a single sentence of Scripture from its connection, and cry “Eureka! Eureka!” as if they had found a new truth; and yet they have not discovered a diamond, but a piece of broken glass. . . . Let us be thoroughly well acquainted with the great doctrines of the Word of God.

Know your theology, and preach the Bible well so that people can see not only what to believe, but how to derive that belief from the pages of Scripture.  There are two potential challenges in this.  One is ignorance of sound theology.  The other is adherence to a system of theology not firmly rooted in the Bible.  Let us preach to counter the increasing biblical and theological illiteracy, and let’s do it demonstrating healthy handling of the text!