Preaching engages the whole person

21 Oct

In a chapter entitled, “The Sermon and the Preaching” in his book, Preaching & Preachers, Dr. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones makes the case that the best preaching engages the total person.

A young philosopher went one day to Epictetus to ask him for advice. The reply Epictetus gave him is very good advice also for preachers. He said, “The philosopher’s lecture room is a surgery. When you go away you ought to have felt not pleasure but pain, for when you come in something is wrong with you. One man has put his shoulder out, another has an abscess, another a headache. Am I the surgeon then to sit down and give you a string of fine sentences that you may praise me and then go away—the man with the dislocated arm, the man with the abscess, the man with the headache—just as you came? Is it for this that young men come away from home and leave their parents and their kinsmen and their property to say, ‘Bravo to you for your fine moral conclusions’? Is this what Socrates did or Zeno or Cleanthes?”

That is most important for the preacher. Epictetus says that this is true even of the philosopher for he is not discussing abstract problems and questions. Even philosophy should be concerned with me, with living themes and with problems and with conditions. That is the situation, he says; these people come because there is something wrong with them. One man, metaphorically, has put his should out, another has an abscess, another a headache. That is true; and it is always true of every congregation. These people do not come just as minds or as intellects, they come as total persons in the midst of life, with all its attendant circumstances and its problems, and its difficulties and its trials; and the business of the preacher is not only to remember that but to preach accordingly. He is dealing with living persons, people who are in need and in trouble, sometimes not consciously; and he is to make them aware of that, and to deal with it. It is this living transaction.

Or take an excellent statement by the same Epictetus: “Tell me,” he says in a challenge to the philosophy—and an equally good challenge to the preacher—“Tell me, who after hearing your lecture or discourse became anxious about or reflected upon himself?” That is the test. If people can listen to us without becoming anxious about themselves or reflecting on themselves we have not been preaching. “Or who,” asks Epictetus, “as he went out of the room said, ‘The philosopher put his finger upon my faults. I must not behave in that way again”?

That is an excellent statement of my view of preaching; that is what preaching is meant to do. It addresses us in such a manner as to bring us under judgment; and it deals with us in such a way that we feel our whole life is involved, and we go out saying, “I can never go back and live just as I did before. This has done something to me, it has made a difference to me. I am a different person as the result of listening to his.” Epictetus adds that if you do not do this, the utmost praise you get is when one man says to another, “That was a beautiful passage about Xerxes.” And the others, “No, I like that best about the Battle of Thermopylae.” In that case, you see, nothing has been done to them at all, but they were just sitting in a detached manner and estimating and judging the speaker. One liked this quotation, the other liked that historical allusion. It had been an entertainment—very interesting, very attractive, very stimulating perhaps for the intellect. But it had done nothing to them, and they went out just praising this or that aspect of the preacher’s performance.

To me that is not what preaching is meant to be. Preaching is that which deals with the total person, the hearer becomes involved and knows that he has been dealt with and addressed by God through this preacher. Something has taken place in him and in his experience, and it is going to affect the whole of his life.

While I agree with Lloyd-Jones, I also recognize this is a high standard to live up to. But that is what preachers are called to do—deal with the total person.

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Posted by on October 21, 2015 in Books, Preaching, Quotes


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