A Word for Pastors on Preaching: The Sufficiency of the Gospel Dictates

Pastors, especially in the North American evangelical context, in my experience, feel the need to make a sell, or make the Gospel relevant; but this is exactly the wrong way, the wrong order towards proclaiming the ‘good progressivepreachernews’ that Jesus Christ is. I would say that approaching preaching this way is at an epidemic level among North American evangelical pastors. They have been told that the culture at large (inclusive of Christians) have become bored with religion, and no longer see the significance of it for their lives. So in order to fill this gap, pastors, often sense the need to figure out how to make the Gospel proclaimed relevant for their parishoner’s lives. But in reality, the Gospel is indeed relevant; it might appear weak and foolish, but the wisdom of God is on display in the Gospel; and it comes in ‘his weakness’ ‘his foolishness’, and it produces hearts that come to see it as more relevant, more fresh, more pertinent, more other-worldly/yet-most-worldly than any other reality this soul has ever encountered in its entire life.

John Webster, British theologian par excellence, has written on the best way for preachers to preach the Gospel. As you will notice, he presumes upon the adequacy and sufficiency of the Gospel itself; and then allows that reality to ground and fund what the preacher is supposed to do, and how he (or she, depending on your views) is to go about it. Webster writes:

Second, entrusted with and responsible for the message of reconciliation, what does the preacher do? It is tempting to think of the task of preaching as one in which the preacher struggles to ‘make real’ the divine message by arts of application and cultural interpretation, seeking rhetorical ways of establishing continuity between the Word and the present situation. Built into that correlational model of preaching (which is by no means that preserve of the liberal Christian tradition) are two assumptions: an assumption that the Word is essentially inert or absent from the present until introduced by the act of human proclamation, and an assumption that the present is part of another economy from that of which Scripture speaks. But in acting as the ambassador of the Word, the preacher enters a situation which already lies within the economy of reconciliation, in which the Word is antecedently present and active. The church of the apostles and the church now form a single reality, held together not by precarious active presence. The preacher, therefore, faces a situation in which the Word has already addressed and continues to address the church, and does not need somehow by homiletic exertions to generate and present the Word’s meaningfulness. The preacher speaks on Christ’s behalf; the question of whether Christ is himself present and effectual is one which – in the realm of the resurrection and exaltation of the Son – has already been settled and which the preacher can safely leave behind.

Preaching is commissioned human speech in which God makes his appeal. It is public reiteration of the divine Word as it articulates itself in the words of the prophets and apostles, and by it the Holy Spirit forms the church. This public reiteration both arises within and returns to contemplative attention to the Word; the church preaches because it is a reading and a hearing community….[1]

This should help to provide relief for you, pastor. As you prepare your next sermon[s] I would think that it would be encouraging to know that you are not trying to sell anything; that you are not trying to make the Gospel relevant for a certain audience; but because the Gospel is relevant you have something to herald that does not ride on your wit or humor, but on the grace of God revealed in Jesus Christ, the same grace that gives each and every one of us the breath we breathe—what could be more relevant than that?


[1] John Webster, The Domain of the Word: Scripture and Theological Reason (London/New York: T&T Clark, 2012), 26.

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4 comments

  1. Your poster child wrote: “It was here in the midst of my own community of underside dwellers that I couldn’t help but begin to see the Gospel, the life-changing reality that God is not far off, but here among the brokenness of our lives. And having seen it, I couldn’t help but point it out. For reasons I’ll never quite understand, I realized that I had been called to proclaim the Gospel from the place where I am, and proclaim where I am from the Gospel” (Bolz-Weber, Nadia (2013-09-10). “Pastrix”: The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner & Saint (pp. 9-10). FaithWords. Kindle Edition). Even though Boltz-Weber’s appearance may be a turnoff to some Christians, I found what she writes in this book to be quiet thought provoking, humorous, especially from a pastor’s point of view, and, yes, even edifying in some respects. I’m still thinking about it. I have recommended her book to a select few of my brothers and sisters in Christ.

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  2. Yeah, I’ve read a bit from her. She is provocative either way, and her ‘look’ fits well with my point about being “relevant.” So call me superficial :-).

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  3. Webster a bishop?! He is ordained in the C of E, but he has always held academic posts (with associated position as “canon” in the of C of E when he was at Oxford years ago, if I remember correctly), but I do not believe that he is or ever has been a bishop.

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