Timothy Ward concludes his wonderful book on Scripture with some wise words on preaching that I would like to share with folks.
Firstly, he notices that some pastors are so afraid of seeming too arrogant, authoritarian, or tyrannical in the pulpit that they seek to avoid any and all trappings of power in their sermons: “In sermons like these the preacher comes not proclaiming, declaring, exhorting and rebuking, but sharing, musing, reflecting and imagining” (157). He puts his finger directly on the problem with this: “The main problem with preaching in this ‘weak’ style is that it is not weak for any of the same reasons that the apostle Paul judged his own preaching to be weak” (157). His trenchant conclusion on this issue is very quotable indeed: “Preaching goes as tragically astray when it muses and reflects on those matters it should be proclaiming, as it does when it confidently proclaims what the preacher cannot know, because Scripture is silent” (158).
Secondly, Ward establishes a very clear, strong and beautiful connection of the Holy Spirit to the Word in preaching: “[W]hat the faithful preacher does, and what the Holy Spirit does with Scripture through him, is best described as a contemporary re-enactment of the speech act that the Spirit performed in the original authoring of the text” (emphasis original, 162). This should have a profound effect on the preacher himself: “The preacher should have grappled with the meaning of the text in his preparation, desiring the Spirit-given purpose of the biblical text to become real in in his own life. He should enter the pulpit as someone who has been chastened by the Spirit, or given new hope, or set out on a new course of action, or renounced a kind of behaviour, or had love rekindled in his heart, that is, responding faithfully to the speech act conveyed by the Scripture on which he is preaching” (164).
Thirdly, Ward connects the private reading of Scripture to the public preaching in an interesting and helpful way: “the healthiest way to relate the two is to think of the individual reading of Scripture as derivative of, and dependent on, the corporate reading and proclamation of Scripture in the Christian assembly” (171). What he means by that is that “good preaching exercises something of a ‘credal’ function in the local church” (172). It helps the people read their Bibles better.
Fourthly and lastly, Ward gives us a good argument for turning to commentaries a bit sooner in our preparation of sermons. This statement is worth quoting in full. Notice how balanced it is, with appropriate qualifications and limitations set on it:
There is certainly merit in not simply turning to learned books to find ‘the answer’, as a lazy short-cut to avoid wrestling with Scripture for myself. Yet increasingly, when reading Scripture, I find myself wanting to turn to a good Bible commentary sooner rather than later. My reason is this: a good commentary will give me an insight into the consensus view on the meaning of each passage held by the generations of believers who have come before me. Working within that framework seems to be a sensible, humble and faithful place to start. For most Christians, who lack the time, resources and perhaps also the inclination to do the research themselves, good preaching will be a crucial means by which that historic consensus on Scripture’s meaning is conveyed to individual believers. For that, of course, the preacher needs to be, as he should be, well educated in biblical, historical and systematic theology. (paragraph break, LK) Nothing that I have just said denies outright that God can cause new light to break out from Scripture, enabling us to see truths in it that our forebears did not” (173-174).