"The Reformed Imperative" by John Leith

Friday, August 24th 2007
Mar/Apr 1993

Can we really say that preaching today has its roots in this ancient tradition and speaks persuasively out of a knowledge of the Christian faith? Persons in public life will not listen to church people on political, moral, social, and economic matters unless they are first convinced that ministers and church people are scholars in biblical studies and theologians of excellence. Credibility in theological work is a precondition not only for the spiritual life of the church but for respect for the church's witness in society. The renewal of the church will not come without the recovery of the authenticity and theological integrity of the church's message and a renewed emphasis on preaching. The form of preaching is important, but the first concern of a Reformed Christian must always be content. Without content, form has no substance. It may be good entertainment, but it is not preaching in the great tradition. Moreover, the message determines the form, and in large measure the message is the medium. Christians believe that the most important event in the history of the human race was the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and that the greatest service which can be rendered to the human race is the explication of what God did for our salvation in Jesus and the application of that message to human life in general.

Any wisdom the church may have in matters of political, economic, and social concern, or in therapy, is derivative. It grows out of biblical and theological wisdom as well as out of commitment to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ…Many sermons are moral exhortations, which can be heard delivered with greater skill at the Rotary or Kiwanis Club. Many sermons are political and economic judgments on society, which have been presented with greater wisdom and passion at political conventions. Many sermons offer personal therapies, which can be better provided by well-trained psychiatrists. The only skill the preacher has–or the church, for that matter–which is not found with greater excellence somewhere else, is theology, in particular the skill to interpret and apply the Word of God in sermon, teaching, and pastoral care. This is the great service which the minister and the church can render the world. Why should anyone come to church for what can be better found somewhere else?

1 [ Back ] John Leith, The Reformed Imperative: What the Church Has To Say That No One Else Can Say (Westminster Press, 1988), pp. 13, 22.
Friday, August 24th 2007

“Modern Reformation has championed confessional Reformation theology in an anti-confessional and anti-theological age.”

Picture of J. Ligon Duncan, IIIJ. Ligon Duncan, IIISenior Minister, First Presbyterian Church
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