“The Preacher Who Takes Up Vos’ Biblical Theology…” (Clowney)

Preaching and Biblical Theology Over the past 15+ years I’ve come to a pretty strong conviction that an understanding of redemptive history is of utmost importance in the pulpit ministry.  Preaching that has no understanding of redemptive history is preaching that lacks.  There are nuances to this discussion of course.  I’m not an advocate of hyper redemptive-historical preaching.  And I believe there is a time and place in the pulpit for topical and doctrinal sermons as well as solid application.  Basically, my view is that the pulpit ministry should have a firm and balanced grasp of systematic theology and biblical theology, both of which should be generally evident in the preaching.  I like how Edmund Clowney spoke about this in his very good book, Preaching and Biblical Theology.

“There is…no opposition between biblical theology and systematic or dogmatic theology, though the two are distinct.  Systematic theology must draw from the results of biblical theology, and biblical theology must be aware of the broad perspectives of systematics. …The development of systematics is strictly thematic or topical.  …The development of biblical theology is redemptive-historical.”

Later Clowney mentioned Geerhardus Vos; I’ve always liked these paragraphs:

“The preacher who takes up Vos’ ‘Biblical Theology’ for the first time enters a rich new world, a world which lifts up his heart because he is a preacher.  Biblical theology, truly conceived, is a labor of worship.  Beside Vos’ ‘Biblical Theology’ should be set his little book of sermons, ‘Grace and Glory.’  There we hear a scholar preaching to theological students (the sermons were delivered in Princeton Seminary), but with a burning tenderness and awesome realism that springs from the grace and glory of God’s revelation, the historical actualization of his eternal counsel of redemption.”

Clowney then talked about the text and the pulpit.

“An old Dutch preacher has sagely observed that the pulpit must not drive us to the text, but rather the text must drive us to the pulpit.  In biblical theology that scriptural dynamic impels the preacher’s heart with unimagined strength.”

Edmund Clowney, Preaching and Biblical Theology, p. 18-19.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015


Dabney on Preaching: Voice and Manuscripts

Evangelical Eloquence: A Course of Lectures of Preaching Should a pastor preach from a manuscript?  Should he use a special pulpit voice and tone that is different from his regular voice and tone?  R. L. Dabney said (emphatically), No and No!  I realize these two topics are debatable, somewhat subjective, and possibly even contextual, but I do have to say I agree with Dabney (even though I might not be quite as emphatic as he was!).

“Reading a manuscript to the people can never, with any justice, be termed preaching.  …How can he whose eyes are fixed upon the paper before him, who performs the mechanical task of reciting the very words inscribed on it, have the inflections, the emphasis, the look, the gesture, the flexibility, the fire, of oratorical action.  Mere reading, then, should be sternly banished from the pulpit, except in those rare cases in which the didactic (teaching) purpose supersedes the rhetorical, and exact verbal accuracy is more essential than eloquence” (p. 328).

What about the preaching voice and tone?  Should a preacher speak like a different person when he’s behind the pulpit?

“Nothing has caused more embarrassment to young speakers than the unfortunate notion that public speaking must be generically different from talking.  …Now one experiences no difficulty in stating or narrating, after his own customary way, what he thoroughly comprehends.  Why should rhetorical discourses be less easy, except as the embarrassment of publicity agitates the powers at the outset?  It is because of the perverse idea which is adopted, that when one speaks he must needs employ a contracted phraseology, a different structure for his sentences, an opposite turn of expression, to all which he is unaccustomed. …The facile (easy), direct, unpretending structure of sentences which we employ in our conversation is the proper one for the oration (sermon)” (p. 283-4).

For Dabney’s entire discussion, find the above mentioned page numbers in Evangelical Eloquence: A Course of Lectures on Preaching by R. L. Dabney.

rev shane lems
covenant presbyterian church (OPC)
hammond, WI