God the Preacher: The “Living and Active” Word

Michael S. Horton
Wednesday, September 1st 2021
Sep/Oct 2021

When one moves beyond the few stereotypical doctrines and the solas of Reformation theology into its riches and depth, there can be many surprises and discoveries, even on points we as evangelical Protestants thought we knew and understood. A good example is the word of God as it is proclaimed, which Lutheran and Reformed traditions call the “sacramental word”—the word as a means of grace.

We tend to view the word of God first and foremost as the Bible, and only secondarily as preaching. But for the Reformers, it was the opposite. Scripture alone is inspired and inerrant and thus the norm for what is preached. When faithful to Scripture, preaching is illumined and fallible and yet the primary means of grace. Luther and other Reformers translated the Bible into the vernacular, and they were heartily committed to the regular reading of the Scriptures at home. Large Bibles were even ordered to be chained to the bar in every tavern so that people could read them in public.

Nevertheless, Luther said that “the church is not a pen-house but a mouth-house.”[1] He also famously declared,

For if you ask a Christian what the work is by which he becomes worthy of the name “Christian,” he will be able to give absolutely no other answer than that it is the hearing of the Word of God, that is, faith. Therefore, the ears alone are the organs of a Christian man, for he is justified and declared to be a Christian, not because of the works of any member but because of faith.[2]

Not only does justification come through faith alone; faith itself comes through hearing.[3] As Otto Weber puts it, echoing Luther, “Man cannot say God’s Word to himself; in relationship to the Word, man is always the hearer.”[4]

We discover the same emphasis on the preached word in the Reformed confessions; as John H. Leith observes, “The justification for preaching is not in its effectiveness for education or reform. . . . The preacher, Calvin dared to say, was the mouth of God.”[5] It was God’s intention and action that made it effective. The minister’s words, like the physical elements of the sacraments, were united to the substance: Christ and all of his benefits. Therefore, the word not only describes salvation but also conveys it. “Calvin’s sacramental doctrine,” Leith writes, “of preaching enabled him both to understand preaching as a very human work and to understand it as the work of God.”[6] The Westminster Larger Catechism adds,

The Spirit of God maketh the reading, but especially the preaching of the Word, an effectual means of enlightening, convincing, and humbling sinners, of driving them out of themselves, and drawing them unto Christ, of conforming them to his image, and subduing them to his will; of strengthening them against temptations and corruptions; of building them up in grace, and establishing their hearts in holiness and comfort through faith unto salvation.[7]

Why is that point even necessary? It’s the word of God regardless, whether someone reads John’s Gospel in prison or hears it read and preached in church. This is true. Christ, who is the Word of God incarnate and of the same essence as God, is qualitatively different from that of Scripture or preaching. He is the treasure in the Scriptures and in the preaching of them. And so, whatever the medium through which we receive Christ, we are saved precisely because we have received Christ, not because of the medium.

Scripture is life-giving only because it is Christ-giving. The same is true of preaching. In both, God accomplishes all sorts of good things. He instructs us in his moral will and in doctrine, admonishes and encourages, warns and comforts, and so on. But the saving speech of God in his word is the gospel concerning Christ, and it is meant to be announced by someone commissioned to bring it in Christ’s name. In this case, the medium is inseparable from the message.

This is not a minor point. There is an ontology at work here that goes all the way back to Creation. By ontology, I mean what stuff is made of. Everything in reality exists in a particular manner not because of invisible and inaudible “forms,” whether transcendent (Plato) or immanent (Aristotle), but because of the specific “wording” it has been given by the Father, in the Son, through the Spirit.

“Hear, O Israel … ”

In Scripture, even visual metaphors are ways of hearing. We are worded creatures. We came into existence, along with the rest of creation, as products of God’s speech. It is by the same word that all things are upheld. It is also by this speech that we are judged and justified and finally glorified together with Christ. It is the preached word that makes baptism and the Supper effectual means of grace. And the creation answers back in response:

The heavens declare the glory of God,
and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.
Day to day pours out speech,
and night to night reveals knowledge.

The psalmist doesn’t think that trees and skies actually talk, of course.

There is no speech, nor are there words,
whose voice is not heard.
[Yet] their voice goes out through all the earth,
and their words to the end of the world. (Ps. 19:1–4; italics mine)

This is not a contradiction but the characteristically biblical subordination of vision-metaphors to hearing-metaphors. Even when it testifies visibly to God’s handiwork, creation is speaking, as it were. This relationship of effective speech and the created responding, “Here I am, just as you ‘worded’ me,” is intrinsic to the covenantal relationship of creatures to God.

The gods of the heathen nations manifested themselves visibly, especially in statues made by human imagination and craftsmanship. Yet in Israel, God’s face is never seen; his word is heard. “Here I am” is a regular idiom in the Old Testament (see, e.g., Exod. 3:4 and Isa. 6:8). It comes from the language of the royal court, where the summoned subjects place themselves at the king’s disposal.

By contrast, when we claim that we “see,” we’re assuming we’re the ones in the driver’s seat. Ever since the fall, humanity has refused to walk by hearing-with-faith, demanding only what is a delight to the eyes and desirable to make one wise. Much like Eastern thought, our Western grammar for “knowing” is bound up with seeing, an intellectual vision more than the observation of realities available to physical sight. “Theory” is derived from thea (“a view”) + oraō (to “see”/”look”). Speculation comes from the Latin specere (“to look” or “watch over”), intuition comes from the Latin intueri (“to gaze upon”), and contemplation comes from the Latin contemplari (“to gaze attentively”). The list of visual metaphors for “knowing” seems practically endless. When we understand something, we exclaim, “I see!” We speak of views, worldviews, outlooks, and inspection. In this way, knowledge is an act of a subject seizing, grasping, comprehending, mastering, and possessing its object.

In the biblical narratives, hearing has the priority. As noted Jewish scholar Jon Levenson states concerning the contrast between idols that are seen and Yahweh’s voice that is heard,

It is sometimes asserted that whereas the Greeks thought with the eye, the Hebrews thought with the ear. To be sure, there is considerable truth in the generalization. The Homeric epics are filled with acute visual description. In the Hebrew Bible, visual description is usually of little account: we do not know, for example, even the color of Abraham’s hair or Moses’ height. This is because in Israel, the focus is upon the word of God, not the appearance of man and his world (1 Sam 16:7).[8]

To be sure, the other senses are involved: “Still,” Levenson writes, “the dominance of ear over eye does seem to be characteristic of ancient Israelite sensibility.”[9]

As in the Old Testament, so also in the New, there is a contrast and temporal priority: we hear promises; we see their fulfillment. The disciples could only recount their eyewitness testimony to the arrival of God in the flesh in the most vivid terms, as the reality that they saw, heard, and touched with their hands (1 John 1:1–4). Nevertheless, we have not seen, but we believe through the testimony of those who did. God still ratifies his covenant through his visible word: baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Yet until Christ returns, “we wait eagerly.” “Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience” (Rom. 8:23–25).

So, there is no abstract contradiction in the Bible between hearing and seeing; there is always a time and place for both. Seeing is not believing; it is possessing. The day will come when there will be no faith or hope and therefore no preaching or sacraments—because we will see what we possess (1 Cor. 13:8–13). For us now, though, hearing is believing. God’s reign will be everywhere visible and only love will remain. For now, however, “we walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Cor. 5:7). And it by hearing the promise that a garden blooms in the desert of this fading age.

In the biblical outlook, therefore, knowing is not a matter of introspection. We do not begin with a truth buried somewhere deep within us, but with an external word. And it is a word that comes to many, not just to an individual. Levenson explains further,

In the words of the rabbinic Passover liturgy (Haggadah), “Each man is obligated to see himself as if he came out of Egypt.” …It is significant for our understanding of the nature of the religion of Israel among the religions of the world that meaning for her is derived not from introspection, but from a consideration of the public testimony to God. The present generation makes history their story, but it is first history. They do not determine who they are by looking within, by plumbing the depths of the individual soul, by seeking a mystical light in the innermost reaches of the self. Rather, the direction is the opposite. What is public is made private. History is not only rendered contemporary; it is internalized. One’s people’s history becomes one’s personal history. One looks out from the self to find out who one is meant to be. One does not discover one’s identity, and one certainly does not forge it oneself. He appropriates an identity that is a matter of public knowledge. Israel affirms the given. The given that is affirmed in the covenant ceremony is not a principle; it is not an idea or an aphorism or an ideal. Instead, it is the consequence of what are presented as the acts of God. . . . Israel began to infer and to affirm her identity by telling a story. [10]

The covenant is a story that has to be told, a series of events over which the covenant community did not have control and did not create but must receive and embrace as its identification in the present. The public is made private, not vice versa. Even if prophets first hear this word, it is not for their own benefit; it is given so that they would communicate it in God’s name to his people.

This is why the war on the idols had to be merciless, notes Paul Ricoeur, contrasting the pagan “hermeneutics of manifestation” and the biblical “hermeneutics of proclamation.”[11] It is not that the sacred is driven out of the world (as Roman Catholic polemics accuse the Reformation of doing). On the contrary, the “sacred” focuses specifically on where God promises to speak and confirm his promises: the word and the sacraments. And the icons of God are our fellow-hearers of the word of creation (including unbelievers) and the word of saving grace (communicant members).

However, Ricoeur (unlike some, including Barth) does not stop at a simple contrast between the sacred and the word. Rather, he goes on to say that the word has priority over the sacred. The word now becomes the locus for the sacred:

There would be no hermeneutic if there were not proclamation. But there would be no proclamation if the word were not powerful; that is, if it did not have the power to set forth the new being it proclaims. A word that is addressed to us rather than our speaking it, a word that constitutes us rather than our articulating it—a word that speaks—does not such a word reaffirm the sacred just as much as abolish it?[12]

In this light, even the sacraments themselves derive their efficacy from the word they ratify. Abolishing the idolatrous “sacred” in the name of the word, the word reintroduces a genuine sacredness or holiness that permeates the new creation.

The human being’s true essence is the soul, Plato believed. Aristotle called humanity a “political animal” and Descartes “a thing that thinks.” Of them all, Aristotle came closest, but Luther nailed it: humanity is “the speaking animal.” Language is the skeleton and speech the sinews, whether in creation or in redemption. We are not autonomous selves who then might choose to enter into relationships with God and other people. On the contrary, we are in our very essence “worded” to be who and what we are, and we share this in common with all other human beings. “Let there be human!” says God, and the human replies, “Here I am, Lord, human.” Address-and-response is not a relationship we enter into at some point; it is the constitution of our being.

So it is with the preached word. Christ himself is present in his word, the Holy Spirit creating faith in our hearts through this very speech. This is why the Reformed as well as the Lutherans call preaching the “sacramental word,” the word specifically as means of grace along with baptism and the Supper. Through preaching, Christ comes to us and “rewords” us by his gospel, from the domain of sin and death to the domain of justification and new life.

A Socializing Word

The preached word is an inherently socializing medium.[13] If I am watching a movie on the life of Jesus, aside from whether the content is accurate, the medium itself is individualizing. It is easy, especially in our social media culture, to come to church to have an individual experience together.[14] The Reformers took with utmost seriousness Paul’s teaching that “faith comes by hearing the word of Christ” (Rom. 10:17). They asserted that faithful, meditative, and prayerful reading of Scripture in private or family devotions was subordinate to the public ministry of the word in the common life of the church. If I read the Bible only by myself, then I become my own church of one, but the preaching of Christ gathers a communion. Just as the word creates the community, it must be heard, received, and followed in the concrete covenantal exchanges within that community.

The church is not the coming together of various individuals who choose to form a religious association and then do certain things like preaching, baptizing, administering Communion and enjoying fellowship with one another. It is not like the chess club or a political party, with its activities and agendas. Rather, the fellowship is created by the event of hearing good news. Throughout the book of Acts, the writer describes the growth of the church by announcing, “And the word of God spread.” Of course, this did not mean that there were more Bibles published, since the New Testament was just being formed. It referred to the spread of the audible word of Christ.

Greek culture was formed by families and townspeople reading and singing Homer’s epic around the campfire. Analogously, Paul calls for not only the public reading and expounding of Scripture but also for singing and praying the Scriptures. The word that comes to us all from outside of ourselves nevertheless comes to indwell us, both individually and corporately: “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God” (Col. 3:16). Even singing in church is therefore a corporate ministry of the word rather than mere individual self-expression.

As creation itself came into being through God’s free speech, so also its renewal—preached into life by the sovereign God. A particular church, then, does not come into being because some individuals decide to form it; rather, it is formed into a community by the socializing word in the power of the Holy Spirit. The church does not first exist and then do certain things like preaching and sacraments; it is the community that always exists, if at all, by faithful preaching and administration of the sacraments. The word of God creates the church. This is one of the most important doctrines of the Reformation and, more importantly,of Scripture.

Just as we cannot set the Spirit against the word, we cannot set the word against the church. Because the Spirit works through creaturely means, rather than directly and immediately, a creaturely community arises. Faith does not arise spontaneously in one’s soul, but in the covenantal gathering of fellow-hearers. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes,

If there were an unmediated work of the Spirit, then the idea of the church would be individualistically dissolved from the outset. But in the word the most profound social nexus is established from the beginning. The word is social in character, not only in its origin but also in its aim. Tying the Spirit to the word means that the Spirit aims at a plurality of hearers and establishes a visible sign by which the actualization is to take place. The word, however, is qualified by being the very word of Christ; it is effectively brought to the heart of the hearers by the Spirit.[15]

In public proclamation, distinct even from reading Scripture ourselves, Bonhoeffer writes, “it is another who speaks, and this becomes an incomparable assurance for me.”[16]

Total strangers proclaim God’s grace and forgiveness to me, not as their own experience, but as God’s will. It is in the others that I can grasp in concrete form the church-community and its Lord as the guarantors of my confidence in God’s grace. The fact that others assure me of God’s grace makes the church-community real for me; it rules out any danger or hope that I might have fallen prey to an illusion. The confidence of faith arises not only out of solitude, but also out of the assembly.[17]

Therefore, the church is the community created by the gospel, not just entrusted with it.

Baptism and the Supper are inextricably linked to preaching and catechesis: the church always remains a “creation of the word.”[18]

“That Word above All Earthly Pow’rs”

John Calvin complained of being assailed by “two sects”—“the Pope and the Anabaptists”—which, though quite different from each other, “boast extravagantly of the Spirit” in order to distort or distract from the word of God.[19] Both render the transcendent word of God as the immanent word of man. The error of Rome and of high church theologies is to assimilate the external word to the subjective decisions of the church; the error of the “Anabaptists” is to assimilate the external word to the subjective decisions of the individual. In William Placher’s fine expression, it is the “domestication of transcendence.”[20]

Seeking to preserve ourselves from the destabilizing impact of any external authority, we confuse God with either the church or the individual. But this means there is no word that can come to us, outside of ourselves, to judge and to save. It is the latter, “enthusiast” direction that most characterizes modernity. Whereas God’s word calls us out of ourselves to hear the divine summons, the search for enlightenment calls us deeper into ourselves, to see the vision of light and glory we can autonomously determine and possess. Rationalism is just the other side of mysticism, protecting the supposedly divine inner self from the assault of an external word that might disorient and dethrone her.

This is precisely what the Reformers had in mind when they targeted radical Protestant sectarianism as “enthusiastic” (en-theos, God-within). The root of all “enthusiasm” is hostility to a God outside of us, in whose hands the judgment and redemption of our lives are placed. To barricade ourselves from this assault, we try to make the “divine” an echo of ourselves and our communities: the very sort of motive that the prophets ridiculed in their polemics against the idols—and Feuerbach, Marx, Nietzsche, and Freud in their description of religion generally. Central to modernity is autonomy: the idea that as individuals we establish ourselves, craft ourselves, and determine our own identity; that what we experience directly within ourselves is more reliable to us than what we are told by someone else.

As sociologists of religion have documented thoroughly, today’s generations are more subjective, individualistic, and mystical than ever before. They are all the founders of their religion, a vague spirituality summarized as “moralistic, therapeutic deism.”[21] If we ask them why they believe such barely articulated and unexamined opinions, their response is usually something like, “I just feel it. You may not have the same experience, and that’s fine for you, but I find it useful and empowering.” We are all “enthusiasts” now, unless we have been liberated from our captivity to our inner-whatever to that “Word above all earthly pow’rs.”

Reflecting on the counterintuitive logic of the gospel, William Willimon (former homiletics professor at Duke Divinity School and now a bishop in the United Methodist Church) points out that it is not the homiletical gap between speaker and listener, but “the space between us and the gospel” that is most decisive.[22] He perceives that much of contemporary preaching, whether mainline or evangelical, assumes that conversion is something we generate through our own words and sacraments. Willimon continues, “In this respect we are heirs of Charles G. Finney,” who thought that conversion was not a miracle but a “‘purely philosophical [i.e., scientific] result of the right use of the constituted means.’”[23]

We have forgotten that there was once a time when evangelists were forced to defend their “new measures” for revivals, that there was once a time when preachers had to defend their preoccupation with listener response to their Calvinist detractors who thought that the gospel was more important than its listeners. I am here arguing that revivals are miraculous, that the gospel is so odd, so against the grain of our natural inclinations and the infatuations of our culture, that nothing less than a miracle is required in order for there to be true hearing. My position is therefore closer to that of the Calvinist Jonathan Edwards than to the position of Finney.[24]

Nevertheless, Willimon continues, “The homiletical future, alas, lay with Finney rather than Edwards,” leading to the evangelical church marketing guru, George Barna, who writes, “Jesus Christ was a communications specialist. He communicated His message in diverse ways, and with results that would be a credit to modern advertising and marketing agencies.”[25] The question that naturally arises in the face of such remarks is whether it is possible to say that Jesus made anything new.

Offering a fresh definition of what it means for the church to be a creature of the word, Willimon proposes,

Church is the human experience evoked by the gospel. . . . Preaching means to engender experience we would never have had without the gospel. . . . The gospel is an intrusion among us, not something arising out of us. Easter is the ultimate intrusion of God. The gap between our alliance with death and the God of life as revealed on Easter is the ultimate gap with which gospel preaching must contend. Easter is an embarrassment the church can’t get around. Yet this embarrassment is the engine that drives our preaching. . . . If God did not triumph over Caesar and all the legions of death on Easter, then God will never triumph on Sunday in my church over The Wall Street Journal and Leo Buscaglia.[26]

We do not bring Christ down by our clever efforts at translation and relevance; Christ comes down to us and creates his own atmosphere: confronting as well as comforting us.

“Alas,” adds Willimon, “most ‘evangelistic’ preaching I know about is an effort to drag people even deeper into their subjectivity rather than an attempt to rescue them from it.” This is why we need “an external word.”[27] “So in a sense, we don’t discover the gospel, it discovers us. ‘You did not choose me but I chose you’ (John 15:16).”[28] We need a word outside of ourselves, because we need a salvation from outside of ourselves. Willimon surmises, “Self-salvation is the goal of much of our preaching.”[29] By contrast, Scripture repeatedly underscores the point that the gospel is new news, not merely a new awareness.

To be a Christian is to be part of the community, the countercultural community, formed by thinking with a peculiar story. The story is euangelion, good news, because it is about grace. Yet it is also news because it is not common knowledge, not what nine out of ten average Americans already know. Gospel doesn’t come naturally. It comes as Jesus.[30]

This external word works against all of our attempts to ascend ladders of mysticism, moralism, and speculation to receive God’s gift wrapped in the ignominy of swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.

Without discounting the significance of the ways in which we marginalize human others, the greatest tragedy in our day is that even in our churches it is God whose voice we are marginalizing. As Gerhard Sauter contends,

The final court of appeal for Christians on earth is not what Christians think or feel about God, nor their inner voice, which may have direct access to God. It is also not the church as God’s earthly representative, as a spokesperson for Jesus Christ and the embodiment of God’s Spirit. Thus sola scriptura proves to be an alternative to a final appeal to the church (sola ecclesia), or to one’s own conscience (sola conscientia), or to reason (sola ratio), and especially to one’s own good feeling (solus affectus).[31]

Sauter summarizes,

Searching in Scripture is not just looking up quotes to reinforce opinions and prior knowledge, or using it as a book of oracles. Whoever really searches in Scripture hopes that, in the process of searching, God will become audible.[32]

Our own inner voice, or that of our various communities, may be revealing, but it is not the revelation of God’s good news for the whole world. Not only in preaching but also in the wider service of the word in catechesis and liturgy, we have so filled ecclesial space with our own voices that we cannot hear God speak. Paul saw singing in church even as a form of proclamation (Col. 3:16; cf. Eph. 5:19), while we seem to think of it largely as self-expression. The accent here is on immanence rather than God’s transcendent presence, as Stephen Webb observes:

The soothing rhythms of praise music now set the tone for worship services more than the sermon does. As a result, the spoken word seems to accompany the music, rather than the other way around. How can the Word be preached with authority today if we have lost the ability to listen to it? . . . Ministers frequently respond to this dire situation by supplementing their sermons with visual aids, which only reinforces the idea that the spoken word does not matter.[33]

Many of our services seem to give credence to Marx’s charge that religion is “the opiate of the masses.” Can anything—or anyone—get to us from outside of this self-enclosed world we create in order to immunize ourselves against the reality of death?

Bonhoeffer argued that the attempt to make the church’s preaching and practice more relevant to its cultured despisers “assumes that we have in ourselves (whether in reason, or culture, or Volk) ‘the Archimedean point by which Scripture and proclamation are to be judged.’”[34] However, “that word is not as it were waiting on the fringes of the human present, hoping somehow to be made real; it announces itself in its own proper communicative vigour.”[35] According to Bonhoeffer,

We are uprooted from our own existence and are taken back to the holy history of God on earth. There God has dealt with us, with our needs and our sins, by means of the divine wrath and grace. What is important is not that God is a spectator and participant in our life today, but that we are attentive listeners and participants in God’s action in the sacred story, the story of Christ on earth. God is with us today only as long as we are there. Our salvation is “from outside ourselves” (extra nos). I find salvation, not in my life story, but only in the story of Jesus Christ. . . . What we call our life, our troubles, and our guilt is by no means the whole of reality; our life, our need, our guilt, and our deliverance are there in the Scriptures.[36]

Not only to preach faithfully but also to hear in faith, we need to repent of other words we find more interesting and other communities or news sources we find more relevant than the “little flock” to whom Jesus said, “Do not fear, for it is the Father’s good pleasure to give you a kingdom” (Luke 12:32). To preach any other word—whether it is right-wing or left-wing politics, pop psychology, business principles, or other hobbyhorses—is to be the medium for generating a completely different community than a properly Christian church. When the church dares to speak to the world as God’s ambassador, it also humbly reminds its hearers that it too stands under that word’s judgment and grace. If Jesus himself appealed to the Father’s authority for his speech (John 12:49–50) and the Spirit only “speaks what he has heard” from the Son (John 16:13–15), then it would be presumptuous, to say the least, for the church to do otherwise.

Michael Horton is editor-in-chief of Modern Reformation and the J. Gresham Machen Professor of Systematic Theology and Apologetics at Westminster Seminary California in Escondido.

1. Martin Luther, Church Postil of 1522, quoted in Stephen H. Webb, The Divine Voice: Christian Proclamation and the Theology of Sound (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2012), 143.
2. Martin Luther, Lectures on Titus, Philemon, and Hebrews, vol. 29, Luther’s Works, ed. Jaroslav Pelikan (St. Louis: Concordia, 1968), 224, quoted in Webb, 144.
3. This comparison between hearing and seeing is not meant to suggest that there is some magical quality to hearing or that God is bound by this medium. Rather, it is to say that God has bound himself to the spoken word as the ordinary method of self-communication. Like Augustine, many Christians refer to their reading of Scripture as a moment of conversion. Furthermore, physical disabilities such as deafness are no obstacle to God’s grace. Stephen H. Webb offers a well-informed treatment of this issue in Webb, 51–55.
4. Otto Weber, Foundations of Dogmatics, trans. Darrell L. Guder (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1981), 180.
5. John H. Leith, “Doctrine of the Proclamation of the Word,” John Calvin and the Church: A Prism of Reform, ed. Timothy George (Louisville: WJK, 1990), 212.
6. Leith, 210–11.
7. The Westminster Larger Catechism, Q. 155, Book of Confessions (PCUSA) (italics mine).
8. John Levenson, Sinai and Zion: An Entry into the Jewish Bible (San Francisco: HarperOne, 1987), 147.
9. Levenson, 147–48.
10. Levenson, 39.
11. Paul Ricoeur, Figuring the Sacred, ed. Mark I. Wallace, trans. David Pellauer (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1995), 49–50.
12. Ricouer, 66.
13. This is a point Walter Ong has made perhaps more clearly than any author I have read on the subject. See especially Walter Ong, S.J., The Presence of the Word (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1970). Although I do not quote Ong often in this article, his influence is everywhere evident.
14. On the secular side of this phenomenon, see Sherry Turkle, Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other (New York: Basic Books, 2012).
15. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Sanctorum Communio: A Theological Study of the Sociology of the Church, vol. 1, Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works, ed. Joachim von Soosten; English ed., ed. Clifford J. Green, trans. Reinhard Krauss and Nancy Lukens (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1998), 158 (italics mine).
16. Bonhoeffer, 229–30.
17. Bonhoeffer, 230.
18. Bonhoeffer, 247.
19. John Calvin, “Reply by Calvin to Cardinal Sadolet’s Letter,” Tracts and Treatises on the Reformation of the Church, ed. Thomas F. Torrance, trans. Henry Beveridge (Calvin Translation Society ed.; repr., Grand Rapids: Baker, 1958), I, 36.
20. William Placher, The Domestication of Transcendence: How Modern Thinking about God Went Wrong (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996).
21. Christian Smith with Melinda Lundquist Denton, Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005).
22. William H. Willimon, The Intrusive Word: Preaching to the Unbaptized (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1994), 15 (italics mine).
23. Willimon, 18–19.
24. Willimon, 20.
25. Willimon, 21, citing George Barna, Marketing the Church: What They Never Taught You about Church Growth (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 1988), 50.
26. Willimon, 23, 25.
27. Willimon, 38.
28. Willimon, 43.
29. Willimon, 53.
30. Willimon, 52 (italics mine).
31. Gerhard Sauter, Gateway to Dogmatics: Reasoning Theologically for the Life of the Church (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003), 217.
32. Sauter, 220 (italics mine).
33. Webb, 26.
34. John Webster, Word and Church: Essays in Christian Dogmatics (London: Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2016), 81.
35. Webster, 82.
36. Dietrich Bonhoeffer quoted from Life Together (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1996), 62, in Webster, 83.
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Michael S. Horton
Michael Horton is editor-in-chief of Modern Reformation and the J. Gresham Machen Professor of Systematic Theology and Apologetics at Westminster Seminary California in Escondido.
Wednesday, September 1st 2021

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