Should apologetics play a significant role in preaching? Can we make a tight connection from our sin to the Lord’s discipline? How can a pastor prepare his soul before preaching Jonah? We asked Art Azurdia…
Listen to sermon (Jonah 1:17-2:10):
In light of Jonah’s altercation with the fish… Should apologetics play a significant role in preaching?
I do think there is a place for apologetics, but I don’t think it’s an invaluable discipline. I would have to begin by saying that I’ve never personally found it to be particularly satisfying. And it may be false piety on my part, but God has given me a great gift in that I have never doubted the integrity of the Bible. I’ve never had to wrestle with it. So I never struggled with the concept of a fish swallowing a person or the sun standing still. All of those things are so insignificant in the face of someone rising from the dead, which in my mind makes everything else plausible, in keeping with God’s purpose. Again, I do think there is a place for apologetics. I just don’t think that place is in the pulpit, much in the same way that I don’t think flaunting one’s use of original language- and you know I’m committed to the study of the original language- is appropriate in the pulpit. Sunday school classes, theology classes, or a home Bible studies are great places for apologetics, but not in the context of preaching in the worship service on the Lord’s Day.
How do you develop a homiletical outline for a text like this that is largely poetic?
What is most helpful, at least for me, is reading the text over, and over, and over, and over. In terms of outlining, I find that to be far more helpful than the commentaries. By virtue of reading the text over and over, something clicks in my thinking and I start to see the various movements in the passage that I did not see in the beginning. I find that to be much more effective than an outline founded upon tight exegesis, which would be far more helpful in the epistolary literature.
Jonah here faces unmistakable discipline from the Lord. How should Christians think about disciplining trials in their own lives, and whether the trial is a result of their own sin or simply the effect of living in a fallen world?
I don’t know that I’m able to distinguish between the two, and I don’t spend a lot of time worrying about it. Discipline is not always in response to some sin. There are times when discipline is preemptive, wherein God brings some expression of discipline that is like training. One thinks of a coach commanding exercises that will bring pain to the body but will prepare the athlete for the challenge ahead. Discipline is not always remedial for a previous sin. Beyond that, all difficult circumstances that God brings about have disciplinary benefit, whether that discipline is retroactive or proactive. Part of the joy and benefit in holding to a meticulous providence is knowing that everything that befalls my life is from the hand of God, and therefore always loaded with purpose. Whether there be a tight connection to a previous sin or not, all discipline is from His fatherly hand.
How should a pastor prepare his soul to preach a text like this, which focuses on God’s loving yet firm discipline?
Again without being too unduly pious, I think we need to be mindful of how much we’re like Jonah, being mindful of how foul, hypocritical, and inconsistent we are. God similarly disciplines us every day. Recognizing this will keep us from being too unkind about Jonah, and keep us from going on about what a scumbag he is, because we are much like him. Then, as a result of knowing and existentially experiencing our own sin that is similar to Jonah’s, we can enter into the great joy of deliverance when it finally does come. I remember feeling that very thing at the end of the sermon, when we got to that great declaration, “Salvation belongs to the Lord.” I was able to identify with that because of my own experience of sin and deliverance, where I cried out to God for rescue and He was faithful to provide it. You can know when you are preaching Jonah chapter 2 that every Christian in the room has been there and they will be there again, so there is a sense of urgency and enthusiasm in declaring deliverance that I find to be exhilarating.