Posted by: Billy Marsh | July 25, 2007

There Are No Substitutes For Jesus Found In The Written Word

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This is not a book review of Preaching Christ in all of Scripture though the late Edmund Clowney’s contribution to preaching and biblical theology most certainly deserves an ample assessment and eager endorsement. The first two chapters are absolutely priceless. The rest of the book consists of sample sermons from both Old and New Testaments exemplifying his homiletical/hermeneutical method. In chapter one, Clowney sets forth his premise that all of Scripture points towards Christ insofar as he is the great climax of God’s redemptive history or story. In chapter two, in the wake of his brief theological sketch of Christ as the main object of both the OT and NT, he teaches the reader how to prepare a Christocentric sermon for every occasion and from all of Scripture. Interestingly enough, the second chapter actually impacted me more than the first. Clowney doesn’t present his view on sermon preparation in terms of ‘how to’ steps or ‘fill in the blank’ sheets. His method is primarily a quick but deep lesson on how to commune with God in preparing to preach Christ. By the end of the chapter, Clowney has you on your knees whether literally or in your heart, bowing before the high and lifted up Savior of the World begging for his presence to be made real in your own life so that you may impart him rightly and in reality to your hearers as you hand him to them through the exposition of the Scriptures.

What I want to share is a particular insight from his book that has really stirred my soul and is completely in line with what I feel about preaching and the role of interpretation in the proclamation of the Word. There are no substitutes for Jesus as revealed in the Bible. I know this seems obvious; but it seems to me a point worth shedding a little more light on.

No preacher, missionary, actor, impersonator, Bible picture book, artwork, or even the godliest of people ought to replace a person’s pursuit of Christ and who he is in the Scriptures where he will find him perfectly portrayed and presented in God’s self-revelation through ink and paper. Clowney strikingly writes:

The Jesus film distributed internationally by Campus Crusade has presented the gospel to vast crowds, including thousands in preliterate societies. Yet it is deeply flawed in its conclusions at this very point: the presence of Jesus. An actor pleads with the viewer to come to him and to trust in him. The effort to give reality beyond the preached word fails as fiction. The actor is not Jesus. This warns us preachers. We cannot enact the role of Jesus, nor his facial expression as he spoke. The reality of Jesus cannot use a stand-in.

The Passion of the Christ The Jesus Film

We are not actors. We are interpreters! Christ will hold the hearts of people within the clutches of his nail-scarred hand without our dynamic oratorial techniques and psychological stage acts in sermon delivery. However, I must mention that I am not against passionate and heart-felt sermon presentations nor am I against the need for careful structuring and ordering of a sermon’s format. Although, what I am against is not communicating and presenting the Jesus of the Scriptures. So often, sermons rest upon an illustration, a cultural tid-bit, goofy theatricalities, or personal experiences to paint pictures of Jesus rather than doing the necessary labor of pouring over the Scriptures exhibiting proper hermeneutics so that the interpretation of Christ comes directly from the authorship of the Holy Spirit and no one else. This is why we must not only be sound interpreters, but clear and effective communicators. However, the Jesus we are presenting must be from the Word of God or else our congregations will be cheated and our sermons will be cheapened. So, the next time someone asks for the real Jesus to please stand up, tell them to sit down, open his or her Bible, and discover him crystal clear from the reality of his presence in the written Word of God.

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Responses

  1. So, the next time someone asks for the real Jesus to please stand up, tell them to sit down, open his or her Bible, and discover him crystal clear from the reality of his presence in the written Word of God.

    Spot on Billy.

    For an embodiment of the following quote see here and check out the Drill Pastor.

    So often, sermons rest upon an illustration, a cultural tid-bit, goofy theatricalities, or personal experiences to paint pictures of Jesus rather than doing the necessary labor of pouring over the Scriptures exhibiting proper hermeneutics so that the interpretation of Christ comes directly from the authorship of the Holy Spirit and no one else.

  2. Billy,

    This sounds like a great book, one that challenges pastors to preach Christ from the word, where he does stand forth most perfectly. Great and true are your words just following the book plug. May all nations come to know the Son from the very words his Father graciously gave to explain him. Scripture prevails.

    Bret

  3. Dusty I will check out your drill pastor. I was looking at it earlier, but I will check it our more in depth this time. Thanks for the words of encouragement “spot on”. There’s nothing like a British colloquialism.

  4. Bret, Scripture does prevail. I think we often forget to spend some theological quality time brooding over just exactly what it means hermeneutically that Jesus himself was the Word made flesh. That would be an interesting study.

  5. Good word, brother! You know I stand right there with ya when it comes to preaching Christ. That’s what I hope to proclaim tonight, Christ and him crucified. I think part of Paul’s call to preach the Word is to preach the WORD made flesh. It’s all about the cross. The only thing in which we can ever boast.

  6. Thanks Jason. I know you are committed to preaching the Word. I will be praying for you tonight and look forward to hearing how your sermon goes.

  7. I’m sensing a “bit” of sarcasm Billy. If so, I must say, “It’s rubbish!”


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