How should 1 Cor. 2:4 shape our understanding of the art and craft of preaching? Is there any correlation between skill and Gospel effectiveness? We asked Art Azurdia…
Listen to the sermon (1 Corinthians 2:4):
How do you understand the craft of preaching in light of 1 Cor. 2:4? Is Paul telling us that preachers don’t need to work at the art and craft of preaching?
I think what Paul is talking about in 1 Corinthians 2 is preaching that tends to be manipulative. So he’s not saying, “I’m not persuasive,” or “I don’t work hard at being accurate,” or “I don’t work hard at being fresh.” That’s not what Paul is getting at in 1 Cor. 2:4. And when we look at Paul’s approach in the synagogues or to the Gentiles on Mars Hill, we see there is real craft to what he does. In these cases fruit is born, and Gospel progress is made. I think the thing he is trying to get away from in the Corinthians text is preaching that is manipulative, coercive, and something designed to draw attention to the preacher over against something designed exclusively to promote Christ and make the Gospel clear. There is a sense in which preaching is both a science and an art. You can give me John 3:16 and you can tell me to preach it to the seminary faculty, to Trinity Church, to university students, and to junior high school students, and those sermons are going to look radically different, even if I am preaching from the same text. I think Paul was just a master of being able to say things in a way that was well-suited to his context. With preachers who are really effective- whether it be Spurgeon in London, Keller in New York, or MacArthur in Los Angeles- there seems to be a divinely appointed synthesis between the man and his culture and his people, and I think this is reflected in the craft of the sermon.
Is there any correlation between skill and Gospel effectiveness?
Well we know that God can use Balaam’s donkey, so he can use people who have, to quote Spurgeon, a slender apparatus. God can wonderfully use a faithful, spiritual, godly, mature man who is a 2-talent guy and not a 10-talent guy. There are 2-talent guys who are tremendously effective. But I also think there are certain people to whom God gives profoundly unusual gifts; people like Tim Keller or Don Carson or Sinclair Ferguson. And while they are normal, fallen human beings, it is almost as if their gifts are otherworldly. That said, I don’t think they are good models for the rest of us. The vast majority of Gospel work and effectiveness is occurring through and with guys who are pastoring churches of 200-300 people and are faithfully bringing the Word of God to bear on those peoples’ lives, week after week after week. I think on the great and final day, we will see the extent of their effectiveness, which maybe we don’t see now. What we do see now more prominently is the unusual response to people with unusual gifts. I think eternity might tell a different kind of tale.
With that, I once witnessed a Q and A session with Haddon Robinson, and someone asked him, “Given your approach to preaching, who do you think are the really outstanding models? Who is doing it really well?” And he said, “I’d tell you who they are, but you would not know any of them.” There are people out there who are very effective with the Scriptures, but are in much smaller contexts and are not as vastly known.