Thursday, September 3, 2015

3 September 2015 A.D. Theology Thursday: Packer on Preaching

3 September 2015 A.D. Theology Thursday: Packer on Preaching
Percival, John. “Theology Thursday: Packer on Preaching Posted.” Church Society. 3 Sep 2015. Accessed 3 Sep 2015.
Theology Thursday: Packer on Preaching Posted
by John Percival, 3 Sep 2015

When did you last hear a sermon that spent 50% of the time on application? J. I. Packer has insightfully analysed contemporary and historic approaches to preaching over his years as a pastor and scholar. In this featured article, drawn from the summer edition of Churchman, Benjamin Dean outlines Packer’s approach to preaching.
Dean writes, “For Puritan homiletics Packer regards the following principles as axiomatic:
1) The ‘primacy of the intellect’ (hence the priority of teaching the word of God).
2) The ‘supreme importance of preaching’ (thus the imperative of substantial sermon preparation).
3) The ‘life-giving power of Holy Scripture’ (thus the centrality in pastoral work of feeding people with text-based address): ‘The only pastor worthy of the name…is the man whose chief concern is always to feed his people by means of his preaching with the enlivening truths of the word of God.’
4) The ‘sovereignty of the Holy Spirit’ (once suitable instruction and exhortation is supplied, it is God’s special arena to make the message effective in lives).”
Packer makes a careful distinction between preaching and teaching: “If preaching is one of the main public means by which God impacts lives, good preaching will necessarily make Christian teaching directly relevant for Christian living. It will deliver ‘God-taught information set forth with God-given freedom and forthrightness in a God-prompted application.’ It will be directed at the entire person and his or her whole being, ‘for whereas one lectures to clear heads and ripen minds, one preaches to change lives and save souls.’”
So what is application?
“Packer delineates four kinds of application: to the mind (education, correction, expansion), to the will (addressing behavioural implications, positive and negative), to motivation (offering sufficient reasons for patterning life one way or another), and to a person’s present condition in connection with the various truths under discussion.”
Dean then explores the place of systematic theology in Packer’s view of preaching. Some may worry that having a well-defined system acts as a straight-jacket to faithful biblical preaching. The very opposite should be the case: “On the basis of exegesis, discerning wider patterns within and across the whole of the Bible helps us to interpret the details and parts more accurately and responsibly. At the same time, close attention to detailed reading of individual texts will challenge us to rethink the great truths so often taken for granted. To work systematically is less about building a system to contain the parts, and more about moving back and forth between the parts and the whole, so that the presentation of things like atonement and salvation becomes clearer, finer, more authentic and satisfactory.”
Dean closes by acknowledging what hard work goes into preaching: “Systematic theology is taxing intellectually and spiritually, but preaching consistently well is in many respects more so, because it combines deep biblical-theological knowledge with sharp historical awareness, cultural sensitivity and unvarnished spiritual stature. Only thus will preaching impact the hearts, habits, opinions, affections, and lifestyles of individuals and communities with moral force and intellectual persuasion.”
The article contains much food for thought, so do get hold of this edition of Churchman to read the full text.
Dean, Benjamin. ‘Packer on Preaching: A Recommendation’, Churchman 129/2 (2015):131–147.
John Percival is Curate of All Souls Eastbourne. - See more at:

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