Well not quite. 😉
Stott wrote this in 1982:
It is difficult to imagine the world in the year A.D. 2000, by which time versatile micro-processors are likely to be as common as simple calculators are today. We should certaily welcome the fact that the silicon chip will transcend human brain-power, as the machine has transcended human muscle-power. Much less welcome will be the probable reduction of human contact as the new electronic network renders personal relationships ever less necessary. In such a dehumanized society the fellowship of the local church will become increasingly important, whose members meet one another, and talk and listen to one another in person rather than on screen. In this human context of mutual love the speaking and hearing of the Word of God is also likely to become more necessary for the preservation of our humanness, not less.
– I Believe in Preaching p 69.
Here’s a dark side of why it’s important to make the truth real.
So what happens when you’re just heard to preach simple moralism: ‘Be a good husband, love your children, pay your taxes, be generous, help the poor’? First (most obvious), the non-believer doesn’t hear the gospel of grace; second, those who respond and heed the preacher’s words may appear more honest, generous and kind; but they’re doing it for the wrong reasons. What do I mean?
There is a distinction Keller makes (citing Jonathan Edwards) between Common Virtue and True Virtue. Common Virtue, Edwards believes is one way God restrains evil in the world. God uses our sinful motivations to live moral lives as a way of restraining evil itself.
But what is the main reason we are dishonest? Why do we lie? Almost always-it is out of fear or pride. So in Common Virtue, you have not done anything to root out the fundamental causes of evil. In ‘common honesty’ you have restrained the heart, but not changed the heart. You are doing an ingenious form of judo on yourself (Judo depends on using the enemy’s forward motion against him). You have ‘jury-rigged’ your heart so that the basic causes of dishonesty are being used to make yourself honest.
But this is quite a fragile condition. At some point you will find that honesty is not practical nor humiliating and so you will not do it. Then you will be shocked. You will say, ‘I was not raised to do such a thing!’ But the reason you did, was that all your life, through the sermons and moral training you had, you were nurturing the roots of sin within your moral life. This is true whether you grow up in a liberal-moral environment or a conservative-moral environment. The roots of evil are alive and well and protected underneath your moral-behavior progress. And some day they erupt and show themselves and we are shocked.
You see this all the time, when otherwise decent people are suddenly exposed in a scandal, shocking even by their own standards.
Keller believes that the task of the preacher is driven by the goal of preaching. Keller is *really* into Jonathan Edwards, who says the task of preaching is not simply to make the truth known, but to make the truth real. Just as you can describe to someone how honey is sweet, but unless they taste the honey, the truth will never be real to them. Now for preaching, this is an interesting distinction. I typically approach the task of preaching trying to make the truth known as clearly as possible, but I leave it to the God the Spirit as to whether or not it will become real for a person. Now of course this is completely out of our control. But there’s a difference between what is essentially out of the preacher’s control and what the scope of the preacher’s task is as a co-worker with God.
If I genuinely believe that God the Spirit superintends the whole process (the preacher’s preparation, the sermon and the hearer’s reception etc..), why then do I privilege my task of delivering a clear exposition of the word, yet renounce my task of making that truth real (ie providing a sense of that truth on the heart)? Maybe its just me.
What my typical approach suggests is the Holy Spirit works mysteriously, unpredictably and ‘magically’ in applying truth to the heart, but works unmysteriously, normally and scientifically through my preparation and proclamation of a text of scripture. Why is there this kind of distinction?
see part I here.
While I tend to think the self-help style preachers need to learn the necessity of gospel foundations when attempting to address particular changes of behavior or sin, perhaps we in Sydney need to become more sensitive to the particulars. It’s certainly an understatement to say that there’s a diversity of changed behavior the gospel inspires and there are a heap of particular sins the gospel defeats. So then when someone says ‘I know Jesus died for me, but you’re not telling me how to live a Godly life at work, family marriage.’ I’m not sure that the preacher’s response should be simply to plough on preaching the way they have, nor re-focus the sermon to be self-help. A more careful approach would be to work at regularly providing different samples, hinting at the extent of gospel transformation – revealing the particulars, triggering the imagination, showing that a resurrection hope has traction in a every setting.
So it’s not: now how to be more Godly…
Nor is it: here’s the cross, here’s the resurrection, don’t you get it!? Now live it.
A more loving approach is: here’s the cross, here’s the resurrection, it’s defeated this, which changes everything – including this, this and this…
This again from my work on Keller: Dutch Reformed theologian G.C Berkouwer says:”it’s a mistake to ask ‘we know we have imputed righteousness, but now how do we move on to actual righteousness?'”
we do not ‘move on’. Any particular flaw in our actual righteousness stems from a corresponding failure to orient ourselves toward our imputed righteousness. Sanctification happens to the degree that we ‘feed on’ or ‘orient ourselves’ or ‘have commerce with’ the pardon, righteousness, and new status we now have in Christ imputed through faith.
As far as I can tell, in the churches I’ve attended this question is rarely asked in Berkouwer’s words. Yet you do hear something slightly similar. ‘I know Jesus died for me, but you’re not telling me how to live a Godly life at [work, family, marriage …]’.
Now of course it is always important to appreciate the context where a particular expression of a doctrine/teaching originates. Keller is instructing US evangelical preachers, many of whom may have a reputation for ‘self-help’ style sermons, and plenty of application not flowing from the gospel of Jesus Christ. They’re rarely accused of not doing application, but of not doing Christ-centered application.
In Sydney circles, our sermons are not typically self-help in style and when the application elements of our sermons are noticeable, they’re usually criticized for being superficial, repetitive or minimal. We’re often accused of being Christ-centered with no application. (I say ‘noticeable’ because what is appreciated as application by a congregation, may be different to what is application.)
Yet if Berkouwer and Keller are right and there’s a problem with asking the ‘moving on’ question, does that mean we’re generally doing the right thing having minimal noticeable or useful application in our sermons? And should we even eliminate this noticeable application altogether?
Should we (continue to?) avoid ‘how to’s in our sermons? [ tomorrow … part 2]