Wednesday, 12 December 2007

A bit less on preaching, please.

I've never really agreed with the evangelical emphasis on preaching, and never quite understood how evangelicals make so much more of this than of other forms of teaching. It seems to me that the emphasis on public preaching, or should I say perhaps 'pulpiteering'—as against private and personal ministry through, for example, conversation or Bible study groups—is quite unbiblical.


So I was heartened today to pick up Richard Baxter’s old but still revolutionary work The Reformed Pastor to discover that he agrees with me. He makes this sharp and relevant observation about ministry through conversation (or as he calls it, 'interlocution'):

I hope there are none so silly as to think this conference is not preaching. What? doth the number we speak to make it preaching? Or doth interlocution make it none? Surely a man may as truly preach to one, as to a thousand. And… if you examine, you will find that most of the preaching recorded in the New Testament, was by conference, and frequently interlocutory, and that with one or two, fewer or more, as opportunity served. Thus Christ himself did most commonly preach.


Baxter gets around the difficulty I'm thinking about by redefining preaching, which is fair enough, I suppose. The quote is from p. 228 of my Banner of Truth edition, which I got for just under five bucks, a little while ago.

12 comments:

Dave said...

I agree with your thoughts and with the broader definition of preaching. It does not concern me, but does this not have implications for anyone driving a hard line on women not being permitted to preach? Perhaps we then need to look at our definition of 'teach'? If we broaden the definition of preaching, are women allowed to evangelise to men?!?

One Salient Oversight said...

Jesus didn't like preaching much either. Look at the discussion group on the Mount for example...

Gordon Cheng said...

Hey Dave, yes, it does have implications for ministry of women. I personally don't think that women should be sole or senior leaders of mixed Bible study groups, nor should they have sole responsibility for discipling of men.

OSO, I draw a distinction between 'not liking preaching' and 'not liking an overemphasis on pulpiteering'. The SoM is no more paradigmatic for Christian ministers than is Jesus' encounter with the woman of Samaria in john 4.

Mikey Lynch said...

OSO: Discussion Group on the Mount? I'd be interested to know your reasons for understand it that way. It seems to me that Jesus is pretty declaratory in his ministry, as well as discursive.

I don't like the strategy of redefining preaching, so that it just means 'teaching' or even discussing. I don't think it does justice to the 'speaking forth' dimension that words like preach and evangelise carry. The gospel is news to announce, not just discuss.

I wonder if Baxter is not being technical, but polemical? Is he just pointing out that the communicating the word is valid in a range of contexts?

Gordon Cheng said...

I believe OSO was being ironic, mikey.

Phil Nicholson said...

I am surprised, but encouraged to read your comments. I agree we exalt 'pulpiteering' and 'pulpiteers' above other legitimate forms of communicating the gospel. I thought I was the only one who felt this.
One of the criticisms some visitors from home have made of missionaries is how little pulpit preaching we do. But in a pioneering mission situation we don't even have pulpits yet! Somehow walking the streets and speaking the gospel with people one on one is not seen in the same light.
Glad to read someone who is thinking about this. There is potential for an interesting and, I suspect, a very controversial Briefing article here.

One Salient Oversight said...

Given the role that Priscilla had in Apollos' theological training, and given the prohibition that Paul makes of women preaching, could we assume that "teaching" can be made up of both declaration and group discussion, with the former having a gender prohibition while the latter does not?

Gordon Cheng said...

OSO, I'd want to be careful about that line, because it seems to me that all the 'teaching/preaching' vocab that the New Testament uses (in the original Greek, I mean) has, in practice, some degree of overlap of meaning. There is a limitation placed on the contexts in which women may preach, but not (I think) on the activity itself. Whether or not discussion or conversation occurs during the process of communication is probably secondary from theological point of view.

R. Scott Clark said...

Hi Gordon,

here's a reply:
http://heidelblog.wordpress.com/2007/12/14/whats-the-big-deal-about-preaching/

mark said...

I like your thoughts on a broader understanding of preaching... But it raises a serious question once we including writing. Namely, why is it OK to read female writers, but not listen to them preach in public?

Gordon Cheng said...

http://heidelblog.wordpress.com/2007/12/14/whats-the-big-deal-about-preaching/

Hi scott,

I couldn't find a place to comment on your comment over on your blog, so I'm posting here!

A hearty amen to all you say over there, of course, except for the bit where you disagree with me. ;-)

I am not so much against the idea of 'preaching' as a means of grace, as for the idea that other ministries of the word can be and are used of God in exactly the same way as preaching, and sometimes even more so—writing an epistle to those pesky Corinthians, for example.

Thanks for your thoughtful comment though—and everyone else too.

Dyspraxic Fundamentalist said...

Very interesting thought.