Many thanks to Jim Baird of Broadman & Holman Academic for this review copy of Tony Merida’s recent work: Faithful Preaching: Declaring Scripture with Responsibility, Passion, and Authenticity (Broadman & Holman, 2009).
In writing Faithful preaching, Merida’s main audience is those who have entered, or are preparing to enter, the ministry of the Word. He has “an eye toward the younger generation of preachers who face the pressures of performance-driven, man-centered, and shallow Christianity” (xv). But really, it’s a good book for any pastor, chaplain or Bible teacher interested in improving his or her preaching and teaching. For Merida, the end goal is not to be flashy but faithful in one’s preaching of the Word of God.
What is faithful preaching?
Faithful preaching is the responsible, passionate, and authentic declaration of the Christ-exalting Scriptures, by the power of the Spirit, for the glory of the Triune God.
One thing that impressed me was that Merida included the person of the Holy Spirit in his definition of and explanation of preaching. He devoted an entire chapter to the person of the Holy Spirit who calls, confirms, and empowers the person who publically proclaims the Word of God. This is not something you see that often in preaching books and when you do, the role of the Spirit in preaching tends to be treated in a limited way.
What is the role of the Spirit in preaching? First, there is the call to preach. “There must be an actual call to preach” (45). That call must be both internal and external. Aspects of the internal calling involve “a sense of leading, purpose, and growing commitment” (49). There is also the external calling which has to do with the “affirmation of spiritually mature Christians” (49). Merida asserts that “spiritual leaders are identified by other spiritual leaders” (49). And certainly this process should confirm the inward sense of calling. One way to know you are called to public proclamation of the Word of God is through acknowledgement of such by those mature Christians in your life and or faith community, e.g., elders.
While describing the nature of the Spirit in preaching can be difficult, Merida recognizes that it is not that preachers don’t believe in the Spirit’s operation, but rather they “often fail to experientially depend upon him” (51). At issue here is the fact that so many insist that we need to stick to the objective source of truth, the Scriptures and that is enough. But what preachers need to realize is that parsing verbs and giving running commentaries on a passage isn’t enough to change and transform lives – rather another element is needed, namely the subjective work of the Holy Spirit (51). This is what will ultimately transform lives, and this is the primary work of the Spirit in the preaching task.
But this isn’t all – the more we emphasize the glory of God in the pulpit – the more we will sense the work of the Spirit in and through our preaching. “Spirit Empowered preaching is God-centered and Christ-exalting because the Spirit glorifies Christ and makes the glory of God known” (56).
Part two emphasizes faithfulness to the Word of God. Here Merida focuses on the nuts and bolts of putting together an expository sermon, for that is what he sees as the best means of faithful preaching. Here you can see him utilizing elements of the inductive method of Bible study as he encourages observation of the text asking “what does it say?” with a heavy emphasis on the text and its context. He also encourages diagraming the text, which will greatly aid in observation and interpretation (i.e., understanding the passage).
In addition to the typical approach of observation, interpretation, application, Merida adds redemptive integration – making note of the redemptive focus of the text: is the gospel related to in the passage of focus? If so, how? and if so, find a way to integrate it into the sermon or teaching. The purpose of redemptive integration Merida asserts:
It is both theological and exegetical….The purpose of integrating biblical theology to exegesis is to look for redemptive themes and Christological connections that display the unity of the Bible. Jesus said that the Scriptures testify about Him in some way (Luke 24:27). To miss the redemptive connection is to miss an important piece in interpretation. So, we must changes lenses from a microscope… to a wide angle lens. The grace of God should be integrated naturally, not artificially in exegesis, and woven throughout in the application of your sermon (71).
Indeed. While not every passage is Christological and not every passage redemptive, I agree that if there is opportunity to reflect on a redemptive theme, then the preacher should not hesitate to make note of it. There is nothing more important than the gospel and we should be quick to highlight it.
Part three emphasizes faithfulness to the call of God. The discussion relates to the person of the preacher in the importance of watching one’s life and doctrine closely. While no one is perfect, those who teach and preach the Word of God, are held to a higher standard. What good is the preaching and teaching if the preacher himself is not up to par in his own relationship with the Lord and (so far as it is possible with him or her) with other people? While we are all human and “make mistakes” (i.e., sin) no pastor should have too many obviously glaring and problematic sins in one’s personal life. For example, no p*rn, no adultery. While we all may get angry from time to time, no Pastor should allow anger to take control of him or her, to the point that affects his or her ability to fulfill his or her vocation. Don’t lie, don’t cheat on taxes, that sort of thing. As do all Christians, those in vocational ministry or those aspiring to such need to train themselves in godliness. You have to work it and keep it at the forefront of all you say and do. Read the Word, pray a lot, practice spiritual disciplines. He also strongly encourages the memorization of Scripture and not just a verse here and there, but whole books of the Bible.
Part four emphasizes faithfulness to the mission of God as it relates to preaching. Given the levels of biblical illiteracy in our culture today (and given that knowing the Bible well is not high on the list of many peoples life goals) the Preacher needs to think much like a missionary in a cross cultural situation. The goal of the preacher is the preach the word authentically and passionately in a way that connects with people. In our post-modern, post Christian culture, people get upset at others trying to persuade them of the truth – Merida encourages the reader that it is okay to persuade people about truth. Certainly, it is the power of the Spirit that changes hearts but this should not stop us from giving sound reasoning for belief in the gospel.
Merida encourages the reader to contend for the gospel. There are many who seek to pervert the truth of the Word of God and it is the job of the preacher to contend against these things through clear, specific, well informed, and apologetic preaching of the Word.
So much more could be said, and while no book is perfect, I think Tony Merida did well to write this book in the way he wants us to preach: clearly, boldly, faithfully! I heartily recommend those interested in fine tuning their preaching to not hesitate in picking up a copy of Faithful Preaching.