More on The Imperative of Preaching

Some days ago I posted an entry on John Carrick’s book The Imperative of Preaching. In my note I wrote that, “…the method seeks to draw people into the text where they see themselves.” Carrick questions what this kind of ‘quasi-applicatory’ statement means. I confess this kind of statement baffles me too.

This stimulated a rather long comment (see the exchange here) from Al Roberts which, at the time, I was unable to respond to. In it, Al emphasised the role of the narrative of redemption for the believer. Doctrine must be seen in the context of this narrative in order that the believer may make sense of it.

I infer from the remainder of his comment that Al sees that the believer is drawn into the narrative by corporate participation in the liturgy of worship. Thus, he gave a lengthy description of the narrative nature of the complete liturgy of worship. Each element of the liturgy re-enacts the ‘drama of redemption’, of which preaching forms a part.

Though I may question some of the ways that Al describes the elements of liturgy (to do so in detail would be beyond the scope of this post!) I believe there is much value in what he says. If I remember correctly (I have lent the book to a friend!), Michael Horton makes a similar argument in his book A Better Way. Horton’s targets are those who seek to subvert worship unwittingly by forgetting this drama and instead introducing other elements to a service in order to make the service ‘relevant’, ‘seeker-friendly’ etc. In forgetting God’s drama one instantly loses the majesty and wonder of the mighty acts of God in redemption.

I heard Joey Pipa once say that the modern battle over forms of worship is not one between those who want liturgy and those who don’t. In worship everyone has a liturgy. There is just good liturgy and bad liturgy. He was right. An integrated view of worship as a drama which reflects the mighty acts of God in redemption has has much to commend it, in my view.

Having said all this, these comments have a wider scope than the work of John Carrick in The Imperative of Preaching. Carrick’s work is limited strictly to preaching, one element of liturgy. (Al admits to not having read the book and so took his lead from my earlier comments about it.) What drives Carrick is the growing influence of the redemptive-historical homiletic method of the likes of James T. Dennison. This method emphasises the indicatives of the faith to the exclusion of the imperatives, the typological over the exemplary, the descriptive over the prescriptive etc. Carrick notes that the absence an “ethical preaching thrust” in such preaching goes against the method of Scripture itself.

Richard Gaffin has said, “The exhortations of the New Testament are the clear indication that new obedience does not result automatically in the life of the justified.” (See The Imperative, p. 144) In other words, the method of explicating Scripture without exhortation while believing that in doing so the Holy Spirit independently makes application in each believer, goes against the NT method.

Gaffin’s comments are interesting, since he is a key proponent of the hermeneutical method of Biblical Theology, which the Redemptive-Historical preachers also espouse. However, Gaffin is able to make the distinction between particular hermeneutic of Biblical Theology and the particular homiletic of Redemptive-Historical preaching. In doing so he is faithful to the indicative/imperative dualism of Scripture.

Carrick in no way excludes the role of Biblical Theology in informing preaching. Indeed the developments over the last century in understanding, for example, the place of eschatology in relation to soteriology are welcomed. However, the Redemptive-Historical homiletic method has reshaped preaching in an unhealthy and unbiblical way. It is this that Carrick seeks to correct in The Imperative of Preaching.

More on The Imperative of Preaching