For Preachers: “Preaching” (Tim Keller)

I found this here.   Tim Keller (Pastor of Redeemer in N.Y.C.) reflects upon the book Preaching and Preachers by D. Martin Lloyd Jones.  Emphasis in what follows is mine.

When  Lloyd-Jones says that people still will come to hear preaching in our  contemporary culture, he adds two qualifications—or you might say he has  two underlying assumptions. He says: “The answer is that they will come, and that they do come . . . when it is true preaching. This may be slow work . . . it is a long-term policy.”

First,  he says, it must be “real preaching,” and he later explains that this  means preaching done by someone who is gifted to speak to larger groups.  And that is a rub. As someone who taught preaching in seminary, I know  that only a fraction of the students coming through seminary show  promise of having such gifts.

There are indeed many “incarnational” approaches to ministry that  do not require a gifted speaker, and we should use them all. In fact, I  would argue that in a post-Christian culture, preaching will not be  effective in the gathered assembly if Christians are not also highly  effective in their scattered state. In our times, people will be  indifferent or hostile to the idea of attending church services without  positive contact with Christians living out their lives in love and  service. Therefore the incarnational “dispersed” ministry of the church  is extremely vital and necessary.

Nevertheless, it is a mistake  to argue that people in our society will not come to hear “real  preaching.” The fact is that, even in a very post-Christian city, if the  preaching is of high quality, people will be brought and will come  back. They will be shocked at how convicting and attractive the gospel  message is, and they will feel like they’ve never really heard it before  (even if they have been raised in a church).

Is that all that the  Doctor meant by “real preaching”—done by someone who is gifted? No,  there’s more. During a convalescence after surgery in 1968, he visited  the churches of many of his ministerial followers to hear them preach,  but was distressed by much of what he heard. In response he said, “Once  evangelical preaching was too subjective—now it is too objective.” (From  Iain Murray,”Raising the Standard of Preaching” in Lloyd-Jones: Messenger of Grace, 99ff.) In their concern to avoid entertainment and story-telling,  their preaching had become too intellectual; it now addressed only the  mind “and not the whole man” (105). He went on: “We have got the  curious notion, ‘It’s the doctrine that matters,’ and ignore this. With  the message we have got, it is tragic if we can be cold, lifeless, and  dull” (106).

In other words, though Lloyd-Jones often warns  against being too adapted to the culture, in the end the Doctor argues  strongly that preaching must not be dry and intellectual but profoundly life-related, that the preacher’s tone must not be affected and  “parsonic” but genuine, passionate, and transparent. If you listen to  the Doctor’s evening sermons in particular, you learn that he was always  referring to current events and intellectual trends, often expounding  Scripture in order to answer the questions posed by the culture. So the  preaching must not be just a “running commentary” or an overly cognitive  explanation of the text, but must have shape and passion and connect  forcefully with the heart and life of the congregant.

But the  Doctor’s assurance that “people will come” rested on two assumptions.  First, that it was “real preaching”; second, that “it is a  long-term policy.” He means an effective preaching ministry takes many  years of hard work. Americans, of course, are impatient and don’t like to  hear this. But he is right, and I’d add that it takes years of work in  two regards. First, it requires the creation of a community, a body of  believers who understands not only how to profit from real preaching  themselves, but who know how to leverage it in their own ministry to  their friends and neighborhoods. The Doctor begins to address this, but  not enough for my satisfaction. Second, it requires many years and  hundreds of sermons before preachers become as good as they have the  capacity to be. Some of that means the preacher staying put and becoming  involved enough in the lives of the people and city so as to be able to  address their questions and issues well from the Scripture. Some of  that means coming to understand the Bible well enough to always make it  clear. Some of it means years of repentance and prayer that creates an  increasingly holy, transparent character.

In conclusion, I  believe that Lloyd-Jones has made his case. I too am willing to affirm  the “primacy of preaching” though I think there are many conservative  evangelicals who take that to mean that preaching is essentially the  only thing a minister has to do and everything else takes care of  itself. That is a disastrous mistake. A man who is not deeply involved  in personal shepherding, evangelism, and pastoral care will be a bad  preacher. A man who can’t lead his church well, forming it into a  cohesive community, will find (as we noted above) that his church can’t  really benefit from his preaching. To say that preaching is primary in the church is correct. To make it virtually solitary in practice is not. Some will say that the Doctor made this mistake in  his own ministry, and they may be right. Thirty years from now, if  anyone cares, they’ll be able to point out my glaring errors, too. And  yours. For now, I hope more people will accept and embrace what the  Doctor has to say about the importance of preaching in our time.

Editor’s Note: This is a cross-post from Tim Keller’s blog at Redeemer City to City.

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