Preaching from Paul’s Letters -- By: Gerald Cowen

Journal: Faith and Mission
Volume: FM 12:1 (Fall 1994)
Article: Preaching from Paul’s Letters
Author: Gerald Cowen

Preaching from Paul’s Letters

Gerald Cowen

Director of Placement
Professor of Pastoral Leadership
Dean of the College
Southeastern Baptist Theological College
Wake Forest, NC 27587

The church at the end of the twentieth century is in desperate need of Biblical preaching. Not everyone, of course, agrees with this conclusion. Some believe that preaching is outdated and discredited. Others believe that preaching should deal more with “felt needs” than with Biblical truths. Even those who agree that there is a great need are not always in agreement about what biblical preaching is. As David Buttrick says, “Students drift out of seminaries trained in historical-critical method, practiced in homiletic technique, yet at a loss to preach ‘biblically.’”1 The problem begins with the many demands on a pastor’s time. He is expected to be a counselor, manager, and theologian, as well as a preacher. However, even when this problem is under control, there is still the problem of starting with solid Biblical interpretation and transforming it into exegetical excellence.

Some interpreters suggest that preaching from Paul is more difficult than preaching from the Gospels. Reasons given are that Paul dealt with difficult concepts, argued from the perspective of a Rabbinic theologian, and that he represented a different social and cultural outlook, especially in regard to women.2 They cite Peter the apostle who says that in Paul’s letters there are “some things hard to understand, which the untaught and unstable distort” (2 Pet. 3:16 NAS). Though there are difficult passages to interpret and preach in the Pauline epistles, they are a rich and abundant source for contemporary preaching. In order to do justice to the Pauline letters, there are several items which should be considered.

The Character of Paul’s Letters

Paul’s letters are important sources for preaching because they center around the gospel. They are relevant to the needs of mankind. They address real-life situations. They were not written in a vacuum, but each one was written for a specific occasion to meet a particular need. They were not written just to express Paul’s views on theology for the general public, they apply Paul’s theology to particular problems in local congregations. For example, 1 Thessalonians was written as a result of the report that Paul received from Timothy (1 Thess. 3:6). The

Thessalonians were confused about what happened to those wh...

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