Dennis Johnson on the (Corporate) Purpose of Christian Preaching

In his monumental book on homiletics (and hermeneutics), Dennis E. Johnson devotes an entire chapter to Col 1.24-2.7, a passage he describes as “encapsulat[ing] in brief compass much of the Bible’s teaching on the purpose of preaching” (pg. 63).  From this passage, he extracts/unpacks the following seven themes “that conveniently summarize the apostle’s theology of apostolic preaching” (pg. 64):

1. The purpose we pursue: “To present everyone mature in Christ”
2. The listeners we address: “To make known … among the gentiles”
3. The content we preach: “Him we proclaim”
4. The communication tasks we perform: “Warning and teaching … with all wisdom”
5. The price we pay: “Sufferings … Christ’s afflictions … toil, struggling”
6. The power on which we rely: “All his energy … within me”
7. The office we fulfill: “Minister according to the stewardship from God”

In his exposition of the first theme, “The purpose we pursue,” Johnson has the following gem about the corporate nature of term “everyone” (πάντα) of Col 1.27:

It would be easy to read Paul’s “everyone” in individualistic terms, as if his only aims were the conversion and sanctification of solitary believers.  This would be a serious misunderstanding.  Ephesians 4:13-16 shows that growth toward Christlike perfection is not an individualistic pursuit but a corporate, cooperative, community endeavor to reach a goal that none will reach until all have reached it: “until we all attain … to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ … the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.”  Paul’s “everyone” is intentionally inclusive of the Gentiles, who had previously been excluded from the Lord’s covenant community (Col. 1:27; Eph. 2:11-22).  The goal of God’s redemptive plan is not merely the rescue of individual sinners from their justly deserved eternal condemnation but also the gathering of a redeemed people, a community that together worships its Creator-Redeemer and that exhibits in the loving and trustworthy interrelationships of its members a reflection of the image of the Triune God himself…. Preaching is God’s instrument to elicit faith, thereby uniting us to Christ and to his community, the body that is growing together toward perfection and the bride who is being beautified for presentation to her groom.

Him We Proclaim, pg. 67.  (Bold emphasis mine.)

It is all too easy to reflect on our attendance at Lord’s Day worship and our membership in a particular Christian church in much the same way we do so about the rest of our lives: individualistically.  Yet the nature of the “communion of saints” is a radically corporate concept – more so than most other parts of our lives.

It is profound to consider that in worship, there is a real sense in which I need the brother or sister sitting next to me (whether he/she is a recovering addict, a repentant child abuser, a former prostitute, a redeemed thief or perjurer, etc.) so that together we can grow up into Christ out head.  To think that God saves for himself a people – albeit one that consists of individual persons – and feeds and nourishes them corporately in word and sacrament provides a wonderfully selfless perspective on what it means to gather together as part of Christ’s body, the church.


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