Christian Ministry in the 21st Century Part 3: Christian Preaching in the Contemporary World -- By: John R. W. Stott

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 145:580 (Oct 1988)
Article: Christian Ministry in the 21st Century Part 3: Christian Preaching in the Contemporary World
Author: John R. W. Stott


Christian Ministry in the 21st Century
Part 3:
Christian Preaching in the Contemporary World

John R. W. Stott

President
London Institute for Contemporary Christianity, London, England

[Editor’s Note: This is the third in a series of four articles delivered by the author as the W. H. Griffith Thomas Lectures at Dallas Theological Seminary, November 3–6, 1987.]

Based on a look at the world’s challenge to the church and the church’s mission in the world, this article considers the kind of contemporary preaching that is both a response to the world’s challenge and a contribution to the church’s mission.

Yet how can one preach today? Is not preaching a dead art form, an outmoded medium of communication, “an echo from an abandoned past”?1 Who wants to listen to sermons nowadays? People are drugged by television, hostile to authority, weary and wary of words. They are reluctant, even unable, to listen to the development of an argument. They quickly grow impatient, fidgety, and bored. Indeed “no one but a preaching clergyman,” wrote Trollope through his rather repulsive character the Reverend Obadiah Slope, “has the power of compelling an audience to sit silent and be tormented.”2 If that was true in the middle of the 19th century, how much more is it at the end of the 20th?

People also resent having to make up their minds about anything. They have imbibed the easygoing tolerance of the age and

are devotees of the open mind. They forget the bon mot attributed to G. K. Chesterton that “the purpose of opening the mind, as of opening the mouth, is to shut it again on something solid.”

Yet pastors must persevere in preaching, even in the contemporary world that is so unfriendly to it. This is partly because God has spoken in Christ and in the biblical witness to Christ, and that Word must be spoken until everyone has heard it. It is also because the church lives, grows, and flourishes by the Word of God and languishes without it. The pew can seldom rise higher than the pulpit. The low level of Christian living is due more than anything else to the low level of Christian preaching.

A suggested definition of preaching, understood in terms of biblical exposition, along with contemporary application, is “to open the inspired text with such faithfulness and sensitivity that God’s voice is heard and His people obey Him.”

This definition of preaching contains six implications, including two convictions about the biblical text, two obligat...

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