Monday, October 23, 2006

The Bible and preaching

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In my Homiletics class for the deacon candidates of our diocese, one of the handouts I gave was the article from The Interpreter's Bible titled, "The Bible: It's Significance and Authority" by Herbert H. Farmer. I wanted to share the last section of the article, because I think he says it so well.

J). The Bible as the Authoritative Basis of Preaching.
The proclamation of the gospel through preaching has from the beginning been recognized to be an indispensable factor in God's saving activity toward men in Christ. This necessity of preaching arises primarily out of the nature of the gospel itself as a message concerning God's coming into the world in a historic event, a historic Incarnation. An event can become known only by being borne witness to, by being proclaimed, by the story being told.

Nobody can come to the knowledge of an event by his own reflection, by excogitation. And if the significance of the event is that in it God comes to encounter men as persons in the chal­lenge and the succor of redeeming love, then another reason for preaching can be seen: namely, that preaching is in a superlative degree the deliberate challenge of one person to an­other, the encounter of one person with an­other. God takes the human personal encounter involved in bearing witness to the Event up into his own personal encounter with men through the Event. Here also he makes the human word vitally one, though not identical, with the divine Word. Once again the appropri­ateness of the symbol "Word" to indicate the total divine activity in Christ toward men be­comes apparent.

It follows from this that preaching in its essential idea is not necessarily required to be based upon scriptural texts or passages. All that is required is that it should be, in whatever form is appropriate to the occasion, a bearing witness to, a setting forth of, the Word of the gospel, the Word which is Christ. However, this requirement, when taken along with all that has been said concerning the part played by Scrip­ture in mediating the Word of God, does make the deliberate yoking of the preacher's message to the content of the Scripture indispensable to the effective prosecution of his task, whether or not in fact he starts from, or indeed makes any explicit reference to, a scripture text or passage.

The long tradition of the church that preaching shall as a rule be "from the Scriptures" is there­fore justified. But, of course, by the same argu­ment it must be genuinely "from the Scrip­tures." The danger earlier referred to is always present, that even when the preacher does "take a text," he fails really to submit his mind to it, but rather reads into it contemporary conceptions and beliefs, using the scripture words merely as a perch on which his own ideas, like a lot of twittering birds, may alight and preen themselves.

The basing of preaching on Scripture imparts to it a weight and authority which the preacher in himself could not hope to command. This authority, it must be insisted once more, is not of the external, overriding kind; always it makes itself felt through the testimonium spiritus sancti internum working through the quickened insight of the hearer. But it is nevertheless a real authority. It derives from the inherent and proved power of the Scriptures to disturb the heart of a man with a renewed sense of sinfulness and need, to challenge him with a sense of the seriousness of the issues which are at stake in human existence, to solemnize him with a sense of the living God coming to him in the majestic person of the Redeemer.

It derives too from the fact that Scripture comes to the hearer as an inseparable part of the total life and wit­ness of the Christian church, and so carries with it the authority of the church's agelong experi­ence and testimony. By taking his stand upon the Bible and preaching thence, the preacher utters the prayer, and expresses the faith, that the thin, shallow trickle of his own words will be taken up into the living Word of him, con­cerning whom it was said that his voice was "as the sound of many waters."

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