Monday, March 23, 2015

Preaching: A Kingdom Perspective

John Calvin preaching
An Unexpected Relationship 
Is every sermon preached from the Bible God's Word? What is good preaching?  We find an answer  to our questions in an unexpected place: the Kingdom of God.  Kingdom and preaching are related. The Kingdom of God is robust and its influence ripples across doctrine and practice. Its influence spreads even to preaching. This influence is so significant that in order to understand proper preaching, an understanding of the Kingdom is necessary. To see this relationship, a brief discussion of the Kingdom is in order.

Kingdom
The Kingdom of God pervaded Jesus’ teaching, it was the primary theme of his preaching. In Mark’s Gospel the first words Jesus speaks concerns the Kingdom. “Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God,” Mark writes (Mk 1:14). He then tells us what this Gospel proclamation was: “The time is fulfilled, and the Kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” Jesus was proclaiming the Gospel of God and this Gospel of God is the good news of the Kingdom. Jesus Himself states that preaching the Kingdom was His purpose: “I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns as well; for I was sent for this purpose” (Luke 4:43). Matthew summarizes  Jesus  ministry this way: “And he went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction among the people” (Matt. 4:23). Entrance into this Kingdom is through new birth. Jesus told Nicodemus: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother's womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God” (Jn. 3:3-5). Clearly, the Kingdom was paramount in Jesus' ministry purpose and preaching.


Not only is the Kingdom of God the dominant theme of Jesus preaching, it is the overarching story of the entire Bible1. If the Kingdom of God is the dominant theme of Jesus message as well as the story of the Bible, it is vital that we understand what it is. At its most basic level, the Kingdom is the reign of God. When someone repents of their sin and puts their trust in God they enter the Kingdom's realm by their submission to the lordship of Christ. Jesus told the Pharisees that "The Kingdom of God is in the midst of you" (Lk. 17:21).  The Kingdom, then, has a present manifestation. But Scripture also teaches that there is a future manifestation of the Kingdom (Rev. 12:10; 20).  There will be a time when the King will return and Heaven will come down to this earth (Rev. 21). In this blissful spring, God and man will be fully restored. Because of the present and future manifestations of the Kingdom, theologians refer to the Kingdom as “already/not yet.”


Unfortunately, the Kingdom of God is a forgotten doctrine among many Christians. In the tradition I was brought up in, the Kingdom is seen almost exclusively as the future, earthly reign of Jesus. The present manifestation of Kingdom as Jesus' reign in the lives of believers is neglected. Because this earth will be destroyed any way, this tradition minimizes God's restoration of His good creation. It views this world as a place where "I'm just a passing thu" and  ignores Heaven's future descent to earth, from which the King of the Universe will reign. In this eschatology churches develop a fortress mentality, hunkering down until Jesus returns. This Christianity tends to be pessimistic about the present and the future, bemoaning the passing of the glory days of Christianity and lamenting society's present and future vice. Missing is the doctrine of the triumphing Kingdom.

The Kingdom is huge and its pristine place needs to be recovered. The Kingdom is our metanarrative--the grand story that gives our own stories meaning. We find our place under Christ’s lordship. When we see ourselves as the subjects of King Jesus, we see that there is no secular/sacred divide. Everything is holy order and everything takes has Kingdom perspective. And that includes preaching.

Preaching as Stewardship and Heralding2
In 1 Corinthians 4:1-2 Paul gives a description of ministers: “This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover, it is required of stewards that they may be found faithful.” Paul describes those in ministry as servants and stewards. A steward is one who oversees one who takes care of something. And good steward is a faithful steward. A minister is a servant of the King. He has been entrusted to deliver the King’s message. Paul tells Titus that his preaching has "been entrusted by the command of God our Savior” (Tit. 1:3).


John Wesley Preaching
A minister is a faithful steward to the King, but he is also the King’s herald. A royal herald's job was to  deliver the King’s message to the subjects in the realm. Here, the Old Testament prophet provides a precedent for the New Testament teacher. These prophets would stand before the people of God and begin their delivery with “Thus says the Lord.” They were spokesmen for God. The prophet did not deliver his own opinions or message, he simply communicated His king’s address.  In this way, the New Testament teaching elder or pastor is the spokesman of God. Peter writes: "As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God's varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen" (1 Pet. 4:10-11).
If the one publicly teaching Scripture stands as the spokesman for God, what he says is dangerously significant. James warns, "Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness" (James 3:1). Most crucial for the the spokesman of God is accurate, faithful heralding of God's message. Faithful handling of God’s message is done most effectively in expository preaching. In expository preaching a text is expounded—each word, phrase, sentence or paragraph is analyzed and the message of the whole unit is communicated. The pastor does not have his own message to give or his own axe to grind. In expository preaching, the steward submits to the authority of God’s Word. He labors to find the Scripture's meaning, accurately interprets it, and then faithfully communicates it. After studying and rightly handling the word of truth (2 Tim. 2:15), the spokesman can get in the pulpit and faithfully deliver God’s message. If His message is God's message he can say authoritatively, “thus says the Lord.” This why extra-biblical application is so dangerous. If a pastor stands before a congregation and makes application not present in the text under the guise of the "thus says the Lord" he leads people astray. He limits the Holy Spirit's application and shackles the congregation's consciences with his opinions and convictions. Preaching is a dangerous thing.  Right preaching, then, is both stewardship and heralding. 

Preaching in Kingdom Perspective
Because the Kingdom is the metanarrative—the story our story fits into—everything we do fits underneath its vast arch. We live our lives entirely under the lordship of Jesus. His lordship encompasses everything, even preaching.  As such, good and right preaching is guided by the King and His reign. Good preaching is not revivalistic excitement. It is not theatrical gesturing or pulpit pounding or shouting. It is not comedy hour or story time. It is not allegorizing biblical narrative, it is communicating why God included the narrative. Good preaching is the faithful, accurate, proclamation of the King’s message. The pastor doesn’t preach his own message to the congregation; instead, he submits to the message of the text and heralds it. Preaching in Kingdom perspective is steward's faithful heralding of the King’s message.

“Preaching is only authoritative as it accurately communicates God’s Word”~Mark Minnick



1 For excellent treatments of the Kingdom as the storyline of the entire Bible see Craig G. Bartholomew and Michael Goheen, The Drama of Scripture: Finding Our Place in the Biblical Story and Thomas R. Schreiner, The King in His Beauty: A Biblical Theology of the Old and New Testaments.


For a powerful argumentation of preaching as stewardship and heralding see Jason C. Meyer, Preaching: A Biblical Theology