The Word As A Means Of Grace -- By: Carl R. Trueman

Journal: Southern Baptist Journal of Theology
Volume: SBJT 19:4 (Winter 2015)
Article: The Word As A Means Of Grace
Author: Carl R. Trueman

The Word As A Means Of Grace

Carl R. Trueman

Carl R. Trueman is Paul Woolley Professor of Church History at Westminster Theological Seminary, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He earned his Ph.D. degree from the University of Aberdeen, Scotland. Dr. Trueman has written more than a dozen books, including his most recent works: The Creedal Imperative (Crossway, 2012), and Luther on the Christian Life: Cross and Freedom (Crossway, 2015). He also writes and blogs regularly for First Things.


The differences over grace between the medieval Catholic Church and the churches of the Reformation are nowhere more obviously apparent than in the architecture of their respective places of worship. To enter one of the great cathedrals of the high Middle Ages, such as that of Cologne, is to enter a space that is focused on and saturated in the sacraments, specifically the Mass. As one enters the building, one’s eyes are drawn to the high altar because the architect knew his theology. He knew that the most important thing that happened in the liturgy was the celebration of the Mass, where Christ literally came down to meet his people in grace. As the bread and wine became the body and blood of the Lord Jesus, Christ was present with his people. Heaven met earth and all eyes should thus be focused on the place where this mystery took place.

Enter a Protestant cathedral, say, St. Giles’ in Edinburgh, and one enters a very different world. Not only are the usual elaborate aesthetics of medieval piety missing, one’s eyes are drawn not to any altar but rather to the elevated pulpit. Again, the architect knew his theology well, for the most important thing that happens in a Protestant service is the reading and especially (to

use the adverb employed in the Shorter Catechism) the preaching of God’s word. God’s presence is mediated not under the accidents of bread and wine at the altar. It is not the eyes and the tongue that apprehend God. It is the ears. God comes to his people but through the declaration of his word by the mouths of his preachers. Indeed, as the Second Helvetic Confession so dramatically expressed it in the very first chapter:

We believe that today, when this word of God is proclaimed in the Church by preachers who have been legitimately called, then the very word of God itself is proclaimed and received by the faithful.

The language is emphatic: the very word of God itself. When the preacher preaches faithfully, the congregation actually hears God’s word. We might put this another way: when the preacher preaches faithfu...

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