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The Pulpit: A Moment for Self-Reflection - by Dr. C. Matthew McMahon

Pastoral Theology and Expository Preaching Articles

Today, many Christians are turning back to the puritans to, “walk in the old paths,” of God’s word, and to continue to proclaim old truth that glorifies Jesus Christ. There is no new theology. In our electronic age, more and more people are looking to add electronic books (ePubs, mobi and PDF formats) to their library – books from the Reformers and Puritans – in order to become a “digital puritan” themselves. Take a moment to visit Puritan Publications (click the banner below) to find the biggest selection of rare puritan works updated in modern English in both print form and in multiple electronic forms. There are new books published every month. All proceeds go to support A Puritan’s Mind.

A thought about preaching.

A story is told concerning R.L. Dabney and a student he once had who desired to go into the ministry. (Whether this story is fictional or not makes little difference to the point at hand.) The student, in approaching Dabney, aspired to demonstrate, what he thought to be, his preaching “skills.” Dabney agreed to listen and to offer a critique of the sermon given, hoping to alleviate the despair this young man had about the way he preached. He was struggling in his skills, but could not identify what the problem could be. They entered a private classroom and the young man took his place behind the podium; Dabney sat in a seat towards the back of the room. The young man began his sermon, but after fifteen minutes Dabney waved the young man down, and bid him to stop. The young man was surprised that Dabney had stopped him so soon, since he was simply finishing up some introductory remarks, but noticed Dabney’s confidence in spotting the exact problem. He stood up and made his way to the front of the room. “Young man,” said Dabney, “I believe the problem you are having is this: You are attempting to remove ideas cogently out of your own head, where you should be attempting to screw them into mine.”

I have personally listened to thousands of hours of sermons, and I have heard these sermons from all types of preachers and theologians; from all types of ethnic backgrounds, varied ages, theological persuasions, and the like. This does not make me an expert on listening to sermons, but I am, at the very least, somewhat aware of the point in the short parable above. It seems that many preachers utilize the pulpit to expostulate ideas they are still working on or have not thought out well. They use, then, the pulpit and the people of God as Guinea pigs, rather than the mode from dispensing the means of grace. Richard Baxter, in his book The Reformed Pastor, says that the preacher’s responsibility is to “screw truth in men’s minds.” He should preach as “a dying man to dying men.” This would necessarily remove the predicament stated in the parable. Preachers would then be an instrument in the means of grace to the hungry soul, rather than abusing the ears of the elect-redeemed. As a pithy statement was once made, many preachers are like the Trinity – “they are invisible all week long and incomprehensible on Sundays.” Though humorous, this can be tragic.

I have found both the story above and the previous statement very convicting. A moment’s reflection on these thoughts cannot but help the preacher in his task of carrying the Word of God to the hearts, and heads, of men. The pulpit is not to be used to experiment in doctrine. Doctrine should already be settled before it ever reaches the pulpit. The sanctuary should not be a personal theological laboratory, and the people of God used as white mice. This can have profoundly damaging affects as already seen through the history of the church. Men have often used the pulpits to preaching and through doctrines which they have yet to understand, or fully grasp.

Might we pause and reflect on this in order to keep the divine appointment of the pulpit true and pure, and to escape using it for our own agendas.

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