Looking at – and learning from – Elizabethan minister, William Perkins.
WHAT DOES THIS LOOK LIKE? Perkins gives the example of preaching from Matthew 10:28 (ESV): “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell”. In response to this text, he lists six possible doctrines that could be derived (although he acknowledges there are many more). For our purposes, let’s just look at his first three: • it is necessary for us to confess publicly the doctrine we know whenever the need arises; • we must make this confession even if it means risking the loss of our possessions and our lives; • we should despise the value of our lives by comparison with the value we place on Christ and his truth. When Perkins speaks about deriving doctrines from a text, he’s not talking about detatched, third-hand descriptions of general truths. He means deep truths about God and his world that will shape what we believe and how we act. Notice he expresses each of his doctrines as truths that we have an obligation to believe and obey. Further, each of these truths is expressed in a way that connects them with the hearer. Yet even this is only part of the battle. Having derived these doctrines, Perkins then lists 13 possible implications for hearers under three headings: reproof, instruction and correction. To give just two examples of what this looks like, he says, “You must, to the full extent of your power, strive to have a true fear of God in view, because you have now learned that the one God is to be feared above all men”; and, “These words of Christ correct the negligence of those who do not pray for sincere love, so that inflamed with it they would not refuse to lay down their life for his name.” It’s important to notice a few key things here. First, to come up with these doctrines and possible applications takes time, thought and energy directed specifically towards the question: How do the truths of this passage challenge and encourage God’s people to live their whole lives before him in repentance and faith? As much as you might want to quibble with Perkins over the doctrines he derives or the applications he comes up with, the overall point is significant. Preaching is about bringing the truth of God’s text to bear on all parts of being human. This involves more than just understanding the passage – it involves thinking deeply about how the truths of the passage relate to the big picture of the whole Bible and, even more importantly, how they shape our beliefs, feelings and actions. I can’t help wondering whether our love for the truth cuts short this part of the preparation process for many of our preachers, and many of us as we listen to sermons. My own reading of our Christian culture (with many notable exceptions) is that our zeal to speak the truth leads us to use all our energy in preparation on what the passage says, rather than on bringing that truth to bear on our hearts and minds. Our preachers, in their busyness, prioritise getting the passage right, and so application often comes as an afterthought. At the same time, as listeners, it is easier to talk about what the preacher got right and wrong, rather than what God is challenging us to engage with as a result of hearing him speak. There is so much more that could be said, but here are two initial thoughts about how we might respond. First, do we encourage our preachers to spend the time that is necessary on their preaching? Reading, understanding and making sense of the text is in itself hard work. But if we want our preachers to go beyond SouthernCross
just understanding the text to what this means for us in our lives, we need to ensure they’re given the time they need to pray, read, reflect and wrestle deeply and personally with the truth. Are you encouraging the preacher/s in your life to take this time? Second, given the complexity of the task, do we encourage our preachers to keep growing as preachers? Preaching is such a spiritual, personal and emotional exercise that we shouldn’t think they leave theological college with all the training they need for a lifetime of preaching. How could you encourage the preacher/s in your ministry to invest in their ongoing training in preaching? Moore College, through the John Chapman preaching clinics, offers multi-day, residential training courses each year to encourage ministers to go away with others wrestling with these truths and grow together in the task. Maybe you should encourage your minister to think about doing something like this. Perkins reminds us to be thoughtful about how we listen to sermons. Do you come to the sermon in anticipation? Perkins believed God spoke through the sermon and that everyone needed to hear what was being said if they were going to grow in their love for and obedience to Christ. Do we come expectantly, prayerfully and hopefully, asking God to speak through the preacher and to touch our hearts and minds? Do we come ready to be rebuked, corrected and trained in righteousness? How will you come to the sermon this Sunday?SC
The Rev Paul Grimmond is Dean of Students at Moore Theological College.
John Chapman Preaching Retreat LOCATION COOLANGATTA ESTATE
21–23 JUNE 2021 POWER, POLITICS, AND THE HOPE OF THE WORLD
SPEAKER JOHN WOODHOUSE
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