Tuesday, 31 January 2012

The Theology of Preaching

To consider the theology of preaching requires that you ask what the Bible says on the subject of preaching. Preaching is mentioned in many biblical passages and there is evidence of preaching in both the Old and New Testaments, some with reference to sermons.

Preaching starts with Scripture; develops through prayer and is delivered with the Holy Spirit. It is not about the number of people who hear the sermon but the subject of the sermon, the truth to Scripture and the transmission of the Word of God that matters. The Bible provides God’s truth; it is the Word of God.

Examples of preaching in the Bible include:
Mark 3:13-15 “And he went up on the mountain and called to him those whom he desired, and they came to him. And he appointed twelve (whom he also named apostles) so that they might be with him and he might send them out to preach and have authority to cast out demons.”
Matthew 11:1 “When Jesus had finished instructing his twelve disciples, he went on from there to teach and preach in their cities.”
Acts 10:44 “While Peter was still saying these things the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word”
Acts 5:20 “Go and stand in the temple and speak to the people all the words of this life”

However this is only half the story, it is also important to discuss the preacher’s own theology since “our sermons communicate our theology” (Day, 1998) as well as our spirituality and life experience. It is therefore necessary to understand our own theology and how this influences our sermons, what David Day describes as a “map of our theology” (Day, 1998).

In order to ensure that our theology is understood and clearly mapped out, we need to understand how we see God and Christ, how we view sin and salvation, and whether we see our faith as being a matter of the head or the heart. The picture that the answers to these and further questions provide will be unlikely to be the same for two people within a church. However that matters less than the fact that a preacher understands the basis of their faith and theology and is able to think outside that map when preparing a sermon for others. Others with different theological maps.

In his paper “Enriching our theology” Laurie Green outlines the cycle of theology which we should all undertake if we wish to get closer to God’s word and the truth of how this can be made real in our lives. This is in fact a simple process of “Experience - Exploration - Reflection – Response” (Green, 2005).

This process starts with experience; that is experience of the biblical text in question in terms of its context, setting and meaning. You then move into exploration of the passage; analysing the scripture and reading any commentaries and writings that help its understanding, this then leads on to an analysis of how the passage speaks to today’s world. The third stage is theological reflection; using prayer and the inspiration of the Holy Spirit to inform you about the passage and the meaning to be given in the sermon to bring it alive and give it applicability for the congregation. And then the fourth stage, response; preaching the sermon and God’s grace with the help of the Holy Spirit.

It is the relation of scripture into our actual daily lives which is key, to provide a link for the congregation between their lives and the sermon. As the world changes this challenge may appear insurmountable, but with the help of the Holy Spirit, theological study and a knowledge of the world we live in it is possible to preach relevant and thought provoking sermons.

Theology should be where people “wrestle with the problems which radically affect their lives and the lives of those around them” (Green, 2005). Sermons should therefore help people to relate the Bible to their world and live out their faith.  Taking it back to Jesus’ own life it is important to remember that he used stories about the lives of the people he met, he taught how to preach.

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