What Can Preaching Do? -- By: Clyde E. Fant

Journal: Faith and Mission
Volume: FM 03:1 (Fall 1985)
Article: What Can Preaching Do?
Author: Clyde E. Fant


What Can Preaching Do?

Clyde E. Fant

Professor of Christian Studies and Dean of the Chapel Stetson University

What can preaching do? It can be itself. Or it can be something else. That is, not all pulpit address is preaching. Before we can know what preaching can do, we must first understand what preaching is and is not. Otherwise, we will never be able to differentiate between what preaching can do and what non-preaching always does.

What Preaching Is and Is Not

The content of preaching is bound to the wisdom of God. It rests upon the institution of God. Preaching can only do what God has chosen for it and enabled it to do. God has chosen through “the foolishness of preaching” (1 Cor. 1:21) to establish the Gospel of reconciliation and grace.

The “foolishness” of preaching is the foolishness of the thing preached. Preaching is to tell us a strange sort of “good news.” It speaks of the humiliation, suffering, and death of Jesus, as well as of his resurrection. “The word of the cross is foolishness to those who are lost” (1 Cor. 1:18), to Jews and Gentiles alike (1:23), and to the natural reasoning or the conventional wisdom of the average person (the “natural man,” 2:14). The “word of the cross” was also foolishness both to Jews and Greeks because it meant that the one who was on the cross was obviously a human being, and if he was a human being, where was God in that? The writer of the prologue to the Gospel of John tackled that question head on: “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father” (Jn. 1:14). So the writer asserts that God has become vulnerable in Jesus Christ. No more could God be regarded as impassive, invulnerable, aloof. Now God would know what it meant to experience hunger, thirst, and pain, even death.

Obviously, such a message was ridiculous to Jews and Greeks alike. They were familiar with the concepts of both “Word” and “flesh.” But never, in the wildest imaginings of either, were “Word” and “flesh” united. “Word” for the Greeks, particularly in the philosophy of the Stoics, meant the highest individual good, the attainment of the ultimate self-actualization, the discovery of “truth-for-me.” For the Jews, particularly for the Pharisees of the first century, the “Word” meant the Law, the writings of Moses. By the time of Christ, the Pharisees regarded the Law as pre-existent, virtually co-existent with God. Therefore, al...

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