The Theory Of Preaching -- By: Austin Phelps

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 014:54 (Apr 1857)
Article: The Theory Of Preaching
Author: Austin Phelps


The Theory Of Preaching1

Professor Austin Phelps

It is a truth which has become a truism, that the character of a people may be inferred from that of their religious teachers. Among a Christian people, the exponent of this relation between the teacher and the taught, is the pulpit. The style of preaching which is current in any age of the church, is like a pulse, by which the disease or the health of the church, in that age, may be discerned. Even minute fluctuations of vitality may be commonly detected, by corresponding fluctuations of the regimen prescribed from the pulpit. This fact gives permanent importance to inquiries respecting the true theory of preaching. Such inquiries are like certain standard problems in philosophy. Every generation must propose and answer them for itself. They have become ancient, but not antiquated themes of discussion.

In our own day, it is not difficult to detect the existence of five distinct theories, by which the Christian ministry are consciously or unconsciously guided in their public labors. Each of these theories has a certain central principle, forming the nucleus of subordinate but kindred principles, which give distinctiveness to the theory, and to the usages which grow up under its operation. These theories are, some of them, so diverse from each other, that it is not easy to see how they can be the product of a common faith. Yet each does affect, by secret affinities and repulsions, a class of Christian minds. Even sectarian divisions are sometimes more distinctly marked to the public eye, by these diversities of theory with regard to the pulpit, than by the ostensible reasons in which those divisions had their origin.

One of the current theories of preaching, is constructed

upon the doctrine of the priestly character of the Christian ministry. This is its central principle; and around this are clustered, almost with the certainty of corollaries to a theorem in mathematics, certain other principles vitally affecting the province of the pulpit. Among these are the subordination of preaching to worship, in the services of the sanctuary; the cultivation of stateliness of religious forms; veneration for sacred places and for sacerdotal costume; attachment to ancient liturgies; and an inordinate dependence upon music and architecture, as means of awakening the religious sensibilities.

Nearly allied with this, and yet distinct from it, is a second theory of preaching, which is founded upon an extravagant estimate of the value of poetic sentiment to the cause of religion. This theory has comparatively few adherents; yet it often exists in fact rather than in form, whe...

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