May 2, 2013

Preaching to Impress: Conveying a Superlative Sense of God’s Glory

How would you personally answer the following questions?

  1. What is the “consistent tendency” of my preaching? In other words, what do I tend to magnify and highlight in my preaching? 
  2. What is my “favorite theme” in preaching? What do I delight to preach about? What is my default topic?
  3. What is one of my “great achievements as a preacher”? What do I want to be known for? What do people think about when they think about my preaching?

While you’re thinking about the answers to those questions, consider how they are answered in the life and ministry of Jonathan Edwards, the great New England preacher, pastor, and theologian.

In his book The Preaching of Jonathan EdwardsJohn Carrick writes the following of Edwards:

The consistent tendency  of Edwards’ preaching is, therefore, that of exalting, extolling, and magnifying the God of heaven. This tendency lies in solution throughout his sermons. Kimnach correctly identifies “the grandeur of God” as “a favorite theme” of the Northampton preacher; but what contributes to this sense of the greatness, the grandeur, and the sheer magnificence of God is Edwards’ striking use of adjectives — indeed, his unashamed use of superlatives — as he seeks to portray, via the limitations of language, the glory of that great Being who is ultimately incomprehensible and indescribable. . . . Helen P. Westra pinpoints “the rhetoric of superlatives” as an essential aspect of his homiletical style; . . . One of Edwards’ great achievements as a preacher is his ability to convey to his hearers a sense of God. (26-27)

So, going back to the opening series of questions, how would they be answered in light of Edwards’ preaching?

  • What did Edwards’ magnify in his preaching? “the God of heaven”
  • His favorite theme? “The grandeur of God”
  • His great achievement? “To convey…a sense of God”

Edwards left a legacy of God-centered, God-glorifying preaching.

But that was Edwards. What about us? What do we tend to magnify in our preaching? What big thing do people typically take away from our sermons?

Are they ultimately and primarily impressed with . . .

  • Our cleverly crafted proposition?
  • Our highly structured (preferably alliterated) outline?
  • Our skill as a communicator?
  • Our high-res, high-def media presentation?
  • Our technical expertise (let’s say of ANE history)?
  • Our knowledge of Greek and Hebrew?
  • Our practical life applications?
  • Our down-to-earth transparency and general likeability?
  • Our riveting stories and humorous anecdotes?
  • Our cute and adorable children used as winsome sermon illustrations?
  • Our opinions and pontifications on this and that.
  • Our commands to be this or do that.

Or, are they, in the end, impressed with a sense of the glory and greatness and grandeur of God in Christ?