A Classic Contrast Revisited

In Between Two Worlds (I Believe in Preaching), John Stott contrasted the typical weakness in more liberal churches from the weakness in the preaching in more conservative churches.  One connected with the audience, but had no rooting in Scripture.  The other started with Scripture and built straight up to heaven, without ever touching down.  Timothy Ward’s book Words of Life revisits this contrast.  Allow me to paraphrase:

Some churches aim to give hope and inspire faith, but do so by proclaiming a Christ different from the Christ presented in the New Testament.  This is achieved by honouring the purpose of a text without being shaped fully by the content.  (Incidentally, this also happens in more conservative churches where a particularly elevated value is given to passion and emotion.)

On the other hand, some churches are driven by content, but seemingly unaware of the purpose for which that content was communicated.  In the more conservative churches there is a tendency to see the preacher as primarily a “Bible teacher.”  True biblical preaching should neither by-pass, nor settle for, faithful exegetical and doctrinal instruction.

Let me quote Ward’s conclusion to the section: “Properly faithful biblical preaching involves the preacher deliberately seeking to fashion every verbal (and indeed physical) aspect of his preaching in such a way that the Spirit may act through his words in the lives of his hearers, ministering the content of Scripture in accordance with the purpose of Scripture.” (p165)

Without wanting to critique Stott’s great book in any way, I have to admit I am really excited by what Ward has done here.  Scripture is not just a repository of truth which the preacher must purposefully land in the lives of the listeners.  The preacher’s task includes sensitivity to the original author’s purpose (or intent) as well as content, which must be effectively and sensitively communicated to the contemporary listeners.  What Stott would probably affirm (and I’m not checking the book, so he may overtly state this), Ward does overtly state.  Preacher, in your passage study, be sure to recognize the author’s intent as well as content.  Then preach so as to appropriately do what the passage did, as well as saying what the passage said.

“The Spirit is again graciously present in the preached message, if what is preached now is faithful in purpose and content to what he once inspired.” (p.165, italics original)