Full Text for Ignorance About Preaching (Text)

Ignorance About Preaching N A RECENT ARTICLE (Jg~zora~it Preachers) which appeared 1 in the January 2, 1970 issue of Christianity Today, the author attempted to demonstrate that the reason for non-Biblical preaching in American tdar is simply due to the demise of the Biblical lan- guages, substituted by an intense study of man in his world and secondarv translations and exegetical studies (commentaries) . The author's attempt to revitalize a concern for the knowledge of Biblical languages is noble, but it leaves much to be desired. - - oe of the The assumption that an understsndinp or knowled, Biblical langi~ages provides the preacher 1~1th the wherewithal to be a Biblical preacher is entirely ignominious. The world is full of preachers who have de~,oted the best of their ability and energy to the stiidv of Biblical languages, but many of them sin~ply could never bc inclidcd in the category of "Biblical Preachers." The fact that this is true does not find' its basis in thc superstition that their theological training n-as ineffective or simpl!. too traditional. If this criticism rrrere valid, theological educators, even though thev appear to be a clay late and a dollar sl~ort, woulcl have reluctantly modified their curriculum before the climate of student demands was the order of the tla!. The problem finds its center totall!, removed from the eclucational institutions that prepared them for the task of prcacl~ers. It is tleepll concealed in the individuals ~ve call "our preacher." If preachers were prophets and apostles, they wouldn't have to stud!. Biblical languages. Thev could use their language to write a Bible! AS prcilchers, \ire probably bemoan our inefficiency to use the Ri blical languages eft'ccti\~ely, espcciallv those moments \\hen we arc linirhlc to sufficientl\ interpret or anal\.zr a difficult tcst. But t11c luo~nent \\-c rc.l\. totilly on our languaie ability for an effective interpretation of the ~ible, \\;e find ourselves as uncomfortable as the se\.c.n fo1)tc.r in i1 \I\\'. lust because it is a theological tool it ~locsn't alr~a!s crack the nut: Luther's reformation pa\:ed the way for pcrs)~xl'l studv of the Bible hv the non-theological student, but he did not i11clu;lr ;I study of ~iblical languages as a prerequisite for such a st~~cl!.. Todri~. wc. still maintain that Biblical illiteracy is partiiilly thr cause of irreligiositu in America. Perhaps the under- l!ing cause is obvious, but one ~vhhkh me refuse to admit. It appears that prcachtn. ;IS \\.ell as the hearers, refuse to comnlit themselves to ~vhnt is gcnc.rall! kno\vn as an antiqnated holv tradition or holy hook. the Bible. In our c~~l~ure, tllc preacher who devotes the majority of his norliing \\cc.k to a stud! of thc Bible ~i~ould never be in demand. Not onli rn~ultl hr fcel horribly useless and depressed hut even the Ignorance About Preaching 141 people he spoke to \\~oultl consider him an insincere fool. The de- mands on involvement in Our age excuse no one, not simply because it is the tenor of our culture but because there is so much with which to be invol\~ed. But invol\.ement ivithout a commitment or an ideolog~ is the came as a struggle without a strategy. Everv lasting or signifi- cant "ism" to which man adheres demands his perional conlmitment. If preachers are the prophets and apostles of God today, then ob- viously their commitment must be the same as their predecessors, the acceptance of God's self-disclosure through His Word. Their al- legiance must be denlonstrated b!. their proclamation of God's salvatory comnlitnlent to man, that their activism is their responsi- bility as servants, and that the Biblical message is their only relevant point of departure. \\7ithout this commitment, the prcacher is the same as a Fuller Brush salesnlan with a bag full of cosmetics. To be a Biblical preacher demands much illore than a knonlledgc and application of the Biblical languages-they aren't even cor- relatives! The knowledge and faithful application of the Biblical languages to the preaching process can serve only as another tool for interpretation. Either it is emploved to unlock the insight which one's own language fails to convcv or as a restrictive nlcasure which forces the preacher to think in-terms of the originally convevcd message. B~it it can never be said that Biblical languages make a Biblical preacher. Anyone \\rho has \vritten more than one sermon immediatclv will be a~\-are of this obvious observation. The greatest Biblical pr;achcrs have never bccn ecclain~ed great because the!. faithfully applied their knowledge of the Biblical languap. Thcrc greatness was evidenced alwa~s b\ commitment and coi~viction that the Bible is relevant for mocie;n ~lroclamation of thc \\'ord opens an avenue for tlic Spirit, aho then is left with the inept responsihilits of clinching t11~ salc. \\'itllout onderrnining the power of the sphit, the Spirit gcncrall\ cnll complcte His part of the bargain inorc effectively if Hc ]ins bccn ahlc to dominate the inan designated to sell in the first l?lisc. \\‘here tllerc is no confidence, there can be no production. If humilit\ is a \,irtuc, most preachers should be able to join tllr rilnk~ of ~lijnll for a swift ride to heaven. It takes a great deal of ]wide to ilo thc. best one is capable of doing. But pride need not be tlic mortal scar that seals off the gates of heaven. Any man who hiis accomplishetl c\en a humble feat knows that he arrived at that point onl\. l>ecausc hc had enough pride to ferry forth in the first placr. ~hc pride of n preacher must bc clothed'in humilit\r, but if hc lacks in his task, he is less a man than the men hc confronts. Ignorance About Preaching 143 Of all men, the prcacher must be a man who kno~vs what he is about, where he is going, and why 71e chose that route. The preacher's in- ability to confront inan wiih a significant message hinges most often on his lack of personal pride, his self-dcceptance. Coupled with confidence and pride, the characteristic of fear- lessness must dominate the preacher's approach to his task. He must be a man convinced that what he has to share is worth the time of sharing it, without concern for his personal status. If fear of in- effectiveness, failure, ancl apology riddle his personality, the people hc serves will detect and despise his timidity. The message he shares is unique, and the preacher does well to consider his role as proclaimer just as significant as the role fulfilled by any other professional. When these characteristics dominate a preacher's personality, he will be a relevant Biblical preacher. His understanding and ap- lication of the Biblical languages is not a necessity, even though there is no attempt being made to minimize their usefulness in as- sisting the preacher fulfill his role as a Biblical preacher. The old argument against the necessitv of learning Biblical languages- translations, commentaries, monographs, etc. - is valid if the preacher keeps in mind that thev must be applied to his study of the Bible. No tool is worth its tiihe and energv unless it is carefully applied, and most often Biblical languages are applied carelessly! This must be said since man\, preachers rely totally on their theo- logical training as a sufficient background for thcir use of the Biblical languages. Even the best scholars, who constantly review and con- tinue their studif of the Biblical languages, constantl! admit that they are at a loss fo; an insight into a passage simply on the basis of the language. Language is a ineans of conveying concepts. The uncler- standing of thcse concepts onli, comes through constant research of the culture in which these languages lived and a vivid auareness of how thev relate to our culture. There is no need for theological institutions or preachers in the field to undermine the tools available as resources in order to further the cause of Biblical language study. Every preacher must evaluate himself ancl discover what tools pro- vide him with the insight that make his preaching truly relevant and Biblical. JJavbe the time has come for theological institutions to re-evaluate their traditional demands for Biblical language stud! and admit that the tools available today far exceed those available a fenr centuries ago ancl careful use and stud[ of thcse tools can ancl will provide the preacher with the abilit; and understanding essential for Biblical preaching. But at the raille time theological students ~ilust be confronted with the possibility of studying Biblical languages as one of the finest or most useful tools at their disposal for relevant Biblical preaching. Biblical preaching? Language ability will never assure this result. The preacher must recon~mit himself to the Bible and fear- lessly accept the Biblical message as a relevant message for his time. If hc is convinced that God can and does make Himself known to man through the Bible, more than likely he will feel the urgent need to revitalize his language ability to assist hi111 in better understanding his personal commitment. The preacher who advocates the Biblical languages as the prescription for his non-Biblicalness is an ignoram- OUS. Most often he is just the reacher who is most ignorant of what that languagc can or does mean!