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Review Essay, Keeping the Balance

Having explained the aim of preaching, Downes goes on to consider how the way we preach should be shaped by the knowledge of God’s holiness and His majesty, and how that same truth should also shape both public worship and the private life of the preacher.

The doctrine of God and preaching Our preaching can never be bigger than our vision of God. If our image of God is too small, if it is not “filled out by Scripture”, if we have taken God’s attributes “out of their scriptural harmony”, then our preaching will never give us a true sense of God and his presence. There will be no awe, reverence, fear or repentance, and thus no true knowledge of God. “Preaching is made or marred by the view of God that sustains it”, Downes explains.

The message and the method must correlate The actual manner of our preaching ought to be clearly controlled by the subject too. A cold, detached professionalism “shows signs of being unconvinced that the Bible really is the Word of God or that the dire predicament of humanity in sin is really that bad, or the solution offered so great”. On the other hand, “pulpit fire-works” may simply be “no more than the amplification of natural personality”. Humour and illustrations are not wholly out of place, but unless they “checked by the message, they are liable to cheapen and lighten subjects that are weighty, serious and precious”. It is tempting to pander to the audience’s tastes in “an age where entertainment reigns and consumerism is the order of the day”, but the preacher’s task is to draw attention to a transcendent God and His Word. The root problem with preaching today, Downes believes, “is not antiquated modes of communication …but a lack of preachers who know God”.

God and the preacher This leads the author to consider the subject of salvation and the new birth. “If there is an absence of a work of grace in your life, if you have not repented of your sins and are not trusting in the death of God’s Son for your acceptance with God, then your speaking is worthless”. Downes believes that “the greatest blight that the church has faced is Christian leaders who do not believe the gospel or have not experienced its power in their lives”. Evangelical orthodoxy and creedal affirmation must not be “taken as a substitute for a genuine work of conversion”. The “tragedy of those who  …ultimately worship an unknown God, preach an unknown Christ, pray through an unknown Spirit, and thus recommend a state of holiness and communion with God and a glory and happiness that is unknown to them …is magnified in those who teach and have pastoral responsibility over others”.

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Category: In Depth, Spring 2006

About the Author: W. Simpson, PhD (University of St. Andrews, Scotland), is a physicist and writer with an interest in theology, currently engaged in scientific research in the middle-east.

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