Who is the God of the Sermon?

01 Aug

I finished reading Christian Preaching: A Trinitarian Theology of Proclamation by Michael Pasquarello and he has got me thinking about the nature of preaching.

Pasquarello is a professor at Asbury and I took a doctor of ministry class with him called “The Trinity and Preaching.” This book grew out of some of the material he presented in the class. The class was one of the best that I took at Asbury. One of our assignments in class was to look through our last six months of sermons and list the title, the text and the “god of the sermon.” In doing that I realized that the “god” I was preaching was not always the God of the Scriptures. I even preaching one entire message and never talked about God. I was convicted.

That class was a few years ago, so I was happy to revisit Pasquarello again. I find his book stirring and at times he left me uncomfortable. I questioned some of his conclusions, but felt over all, that his message is clear and timely. Preachers of the Church are called to speak within the context of the Trinity. That is to say, our purpose is not so much to be relevant and practical, but faithful and worshipful.

If you could create a “theology of preaching” spectrum and mark “relevance” on one side and “faithfulness” on the other, you would find Pasquarello on the far side of “faithfulness.” By contrast, I would say you would put Ed Young Jr on the side of relevance.

[relevance] ———————————————————[faithfulness]
By “faithfulness,” Pasquarello would say not just faithful to biblical truth, but to doxological ends and Trinitarian grammar. Don’t get lost in all this theological jargon…there is good stuff here!

According to Pasquarello, the end purpose of preaching is doxological, which means it should lead people to worship the Triune God. The Scripture is our text, but the words of Scripture have to be used in the context or grammar of the Trinity. The life of the Triune God forms the rules that keeps us from using the Scripture to serve humanistic and consumer-driven goals. The point is that we can use the Scripture to meet the needs of consumers and cut God out all together. This is the danger that Pasquarello sees in getting carried away with trying to be relevant and practical in our preaching.

I agree with him, but I think he takes his point too far.

I am thankful for Pasquarello for helping me to see the importance of preaching as worship and the Trinity as the rule of faith guiding my preaching of the text. These concepts have really changed who I am as a communicator of the Scriptures. Nevertheless, I see two distinct areas that are missing in his book.

1) A desire for “relevance” is necessary in the transmission of the message we preach.
2) The goal of preaching is both worship and helping people.

Let me explain:

1) Relevance does play a role in preaching. It just has to be factored in at the right place. It seems to me that Pasquarello is only interested in faithfulness to the text and the God of the text. This is the “why” of preaching. He does little to talk about the “how.” The why has been neglected in popular discussions of Chrisitan preaching, but you cannot seperate the two in my mind. Preaching is something that you do; it has an inbreed methodology to it.

I agree that relevance in the wrong place can lead us away from the Triune God. We begin with the truth of Scripture within the rule of faith (the Trinity), but we have to transmit that message using some kind of language. We want to use language that is culturally-conditioned so that the receiver can understand. The expected interpretation of that message by the receiver is (hopefully) orthodoxy: right thinking and right living and right praise.

If we begin with relevance. If we approach the text with “Where can I find something in the Bible that will be relevant?” – I think we give into to consumer mindset and leave the receiver with “personal satisfaction” that has little to do with the triune God.

2) Worship is not the only goal of preaching. We also do want to help people. This is where I struggled with Pasquarello a lot. I felt that he was right in where he was going in the book. I kept thinking….yeah all of our preaching should lead to worship….we don’t need to give people any practical advice for living….just lead them to God… I have heard (and read) similar ideas from a lot of the Reformed guys like Ware and Piper. The is true, but it is a classic case of reductionism. Yes we should lead people to worship in our preaching, but that is not all…we also need to help people where they are.

We are called to love God with heart/soul/mind and strength and so yes we preach in order to lead people into worship, into communion with God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, but we are also called to love our neighbors – and therefore we are to preach in a way that is human, that does help people with the issues of life.

God is holy. Therefore we preach in a way that leads people to marvel and stand in awe as they worship the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

But God is also love. Therefore we preach in a way that leads people to receive the numerous blessing that God desires to bestow.

Bottom line…
Pasquarello’s work is needed and helpful. It helps communicators in the church to counter-balance the opposite extreme as evidenced in the consumer-driven, technique-guided, “worship of relevance” in popular evangelicalism. I am a different communicator because of Pasquarello and for that I am thankful. His work is a bit on the academic side. He does include sermon manuscripts as examples, but there is little in terms of personal anecdotes. If you have the time to plow through this book, I would say go for it!

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Posted by on August 1, 2007 in Ministry, Theology


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