At Together for the Gospel this week, Kevin DeYoung preached a powerful message on the unity, authority, and power of the preached word. The title was “Never Spoke a Man Like This Before: Inerrancy, Evangelism and Christ’s Unbreakable Bible” (it will be up online soon).
In his closing remarks, Kevin quoted a section of Hughes Oliphant Old’s comprehensive The Reading and Preaching of the Scriptures in the Worship of the Church (the section can be found on the Pyromaniacs blog). Writing about the powerful ministry of John MacArthur, Old observed that MacArthur’s effectiveness in the pulpit has little to do with oratory skill (although, Old does admit that MacArthur has some effective means of keeping his audience attention). Instead, and to the credit of MacArthur’s view of Scripture, Old writes “Surely one of the greatest strengths of MacArthur’s preaching ministry is his complete confidence in the text.”
DeYoung pointed to difference between Old and MacArthur, the former denying certain miracles and the latter taking the Bible as one unified revelation of God. DeYoung observed how Old admitted that his own inability to preach some portions of Scripture (Matthew 8-9 specifically) stems from the influences of the Enlightenment and his liberal schooling. Of this truncated belief, Old writes,
The place where I have always had the greatest trouble is the whole matter of exorcism. I really do not believe in Satan, demonic spirits, and demon possession. Maybe I ought to, but I don’t. I am willing to agree that I may have been too strongly influenced by the intellectual world in which I was brought up to fully grasp the full teaching of Scripture, but that is the way it is.
Old’s candor is refreshing, even if his doctrine is in error. Nevertheless, in surveying the church’s use of Scripture in preaching and teaching, Old commends MacArthur for his ability to take the Bible as one unified whole, as a Word from God that need not be qualified or abbreviated. Old continues,
What is more than clear to me after listening to these sermons is that those who can take the text the way it is seem to make a lot more sense of it than those who are always trying to second-guess it. Surely one of the greatest strengths of MacArthur’s preaching ministry is his complete confidence in the text.
Indeed, this is the point that DeYoung sought to make, and it is one that every preacher ought to emulate. The Scripture cannot be broken (John 10:35). It is God’s authoritative Word (2 Tim 3:16). It did not come from the imaginations of men but from the Holy Spirit (2 Pet 1:19-21), such that every jot and tittle is authoritative, true, and powerful (Matt 5:17-19). Therefore, it must be the source and content of every sermon.
How vitally, we need to recover that truth that Old has lost–the power of the preacher is the Word preached, not the preacher of the Word. Or better, the powerful preacher is the one who, like John MacArthur, is unashamed to declare what the Bible says, as it says it, because it says it. For this reason, Old observes, God has blessed MacArthur’s ministry, and it is instructional to see Old’s sympathetic (even mildly envious?) conclusion about MacArthur’s ministry.
Why do so many people listen to MacArthur, this product of all the wrong schools? How can he pack out a church on Sunday morning in an age in which church attendance has seriously lagged? Here is a preacher who has nothing in the way of a winning personality, good looks, or charm. Here is a preacher who offers us nothing in the way of sophisticated homiletical packaging. No one would suggest that he is a master of the art of oratory. What he seems to have is a witness to true authority. He recognizes in Scripture the Word of God, and when he preaches, it is Scripture that one hears. It is not that the words of John MacArthur are so interesting as it is that the Word of God is of surpassing interest. That is why one listens.
Might the same thing be said of us who herald the Word! It is not our polish or our personality that impacts hearers; it is the Word of God alone. As Kevin DeYoung wonderfully reminded us on Wednesday, powerful preaching demands that we have an unshakeable confidence in the unity and authority of God’s Word. May we like John MacArthur and thousands of other faithful preachers who have attended the wrong schools and forsaken cleverness, preach the authoritative Word of God and watch what Christ does.
Soli Deo Gloria, dss