By: Thomas F. Booher
The following is a portion of a chapter from a short book on applying Calvinism to our everyday lives that I am working on.
Preaching needs to take theology and apply it to everyday struggles with sin in the context of our culture and present day situation. This has been, in my estimation, woefully neglected in Calvinistic circles. Theology is practical and has authority over us, therefore, theology should be preached practically and authoritatively. The pastor should exhort with the text. The gospel saves and sanctifies, and we are commanded not to merely trust in the promises of God and the gospel, but to also make war against the flesh by the power of the Spirit. When we cease to seek to apply theology practically and make war with the flesh by the power of the Spirit, we cease to live the TULIP driven life.
Another way in which we grow as Christians is by taking what we learn from Scripture and applying it to our own lives. We need to understand theology practically. How does “x” truth about God change the way I think about this, and the way I do that? Scripture tells me to love my wife as Christ loved the church, but how can I give her Christ-like love when she is so stubborn and doesn’t even recognize my efforts? I know to harbor hatred in my heart and covetousness is wrong, but how can I incline my heart to hate the things that God hates and love the things God loves? These are the types of questions that we must ask and answer when we study the Word of God, and when the Word of God is preached to us. This too requires prayer, but it is also our job to try and grasp the meaning of doctrine in an applicable manner- how the doctrine should affect us in the contexts in which we live.
Plagued with Lecture-Sermons
I imagine it is somewhat natural to deliver lectures instead of sermons from the pulpit when seminarians have been inundated with highbrow, technical classes for years to prepare to become pastors. Maybe more should be invested in homiletics or the theology of pastor itself. I would wager, however, that the problem is in the doctrine of preaching. The pastor is to teach his congregation from the passage that he is preaching on, going to other Scriptures to support the base text. Sermons should be expositional, though that is not to say that sermons can never be topical. Even when one is stressing a certain topic for their sermon, they should not merely teach the theology of their topic, but exhort with their topic, and draw application from it. 1 Timothy has much to say on this, and Paul’s words to Timothy have long been ignored.
2 Timothy 3:16-4:4
16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God[b] may be complete, equipped for every good work.
4 I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: 2 preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. 3 For the time is coming when people will not endure sound[a] teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, 4 and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.
There are several things that Paul charges young Timothy to do. In 4:2 we get the best description of what preaching is in all Scripture as far as I am concerned. Paul charges Timothy to preach the word, and then spells out the marks of biblical preaching. Components of preaching include:
4.)doing these things with patience and sound teaching.Reproving and rebuking are pretty similar, so for the sake of this short summary I will look at them together. Preaching must bring the congregation under the authority of the doctrine of Scripture being delivered. That is the key to preaching, and that is what separates it from mere Christian education, whether that be Sunday school or seminary. In class, while the teacher may slip into preaching due to his zealous passion (a good thing in my book) and thus charge his pupils to submit to the authority of the teaching and practice it in their lives, generally the doctrine is simply taught and explained so as to be logically grasped. This is very necessary, and preaching should do this as well. The problem is when this is all preaching does. It stops at teaching, and never comes with authority, exhortations, or illustrations. This is where reproving, rebuking, and exhorting come in for the preacher. Doing these things with the text is preaching. One must of course grasp the meaning of the passage before one can rightly be brought under the authority of the truth they are being taught, so care must be made to detailing the theology, but not enough care is given to the practical application of the theology. Without practical application, sheep may have their heads fed, but not their hearts. The distance from head to heart is something God calls pastors to bridge. This must be done by giving examples, scenarios, stories, and so on, with exhortation and authority. If all you have is eloquently expressed exposition of the text, it may very well tickle ears and not prickle hearts, regardless how biblical or unbiblical the teaching itself is. That is the very thing Paul charges (notice he charges Timothy here- he preaches at Timothy, demanding him to do what he tells him) Timothy to protect against! Even if the teaching is sound, if it is not delivered the way Paul tells Timothy to deliver it, it could become nothing more than intellectual dental floss.
This is one way you get the “frozen chosen” stamp. You have big-headed but cold-hearted Calvinists who love to talk the talk of theology but are lukewarm about walking the walk that the theology demands. This is because the pastors have not demanded with the doctrine. They haven’t preached with it, connecting the orthodoxy and the orthopraxy. They have just intellectually wowed with the Scripture, rather than charge the congregation to do what the Scripture says, and then illustrate how to do what it says based on the doctrine that was just taught. In short, it is my fear and contention that too often, even in reformed circles, pastors have aimed for the head but not so much the heart. Yet preaching separates itself from simple teaching only when it begins to aim for the heart through exhortation, rebuking, reproving, with all authority that the anointed pastor has been given by God.