Country music artist Kenny Chesney sums up the current cultural milieu facing the Christian preacher in his new song “Noise,” as he laments the chaotic world of countless competing “voices” vying for our allegiance:
Twenty-four hour television, gets so loud that no one listens
Sex and money and politicians talk, talk, talk
But there really ain’t no conversation
Ain’t nothing left to the imagination
Trapped in our phones and we can’t make it stop, stop
So, in our noisy world, how is a preacher to be heard? What hope do we have that our words won’t fall on deaf ears? How can we be confident that our sermons will cut through the noise?
What the Bible Is
If the preacher is going to be heard in our day, then his words must be of a qualitatively different nature than all of the other words offered today. The preacher’s words must be more powerful, more beautiful, more winsome, and more compelling than the world’s words. And these we have in the Bible.
When the preacher declares what the Bible says, he is proclaiming the very words of God. And God’s words have power. … God’s Word has a creative power to make something from nothing.
Indeed, because of what the Bible is, the preacher must make it central to his sermon if he would be heard in all this noise.
I love to remind my students that in addition to the doctrine of God, the doctrine of Scripture is the most important doctrine for the preacher. What we believe about the Bible authorizes our sermons and assures us that things of eternal significance are happening when we expound a given text of Scripture. Take, for example, one aspect of our doctrine of Scripture: its inspiration. When we say the Scripture is “inspired,” we mean it is “God-breathed” — that is, a product of God’s Spirit. This is what the Apostle Paul teaches when he says, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Tim 3:16).
The word translated “breathed out by God” is theopneustos. This word is formed from two words theos (God) and pneo (to blow, breathe on). Therefore, what we have in the Scriptures is “God’s breath” in written form.
The Apostle Peter likewise identifies the words of Scripture with God’s words when he explains the supernatural origin of the Bible: “For no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Pet 1:20-21). In these verses Peter captures the breathtaking reality of God’s activity of breathing the Scriptures and the human activity of writing. Indeed, “men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.”
The author of Hebrews, in discussing the divine nature of Scripture, makes this astonishing claim: “For the Word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Heb 4:12).
The Bible, as God’s Word, is qualitatively different than any other word in the world.
What the Bible Does
If the preacher is going to be heard in our day, then his words must have the power to hold and move people Godward.
When the preacher declares what the Bible says, he is proclaiming the very words of God. And God’s words have power. In the opening pages of the Bible we read, “And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light” (Gen 1:3). When God speaks, things like light come into being — and oceans and mountains and skies and plants and animals. God’s Word has a creative power to make something from nothing.
Even more astounding is what God’s Word does in salvation. Consider how the Apostle Paul compares God’s power in creation to his creative power in awakening sinners: “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Cor 4:6). Indeed, a Christian is one who has been “born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God” (1 Pet 1:23). We must keep the Bible central in preaching because we know that the Bible alone has the power to create faith: “Faith comes through hearing and hearing by the word of Christ” (Rom 10:14).
But we would be woefully shortsighted if we stopped here. For God not only uses his Word to convert sinners, but to sanctify saints as well. Jesus made it clear when he gave his Great Commission that God’s people will grow in discipleship as they are taught the Scriptures: “And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age’”
We will labor to keep the Bible central in preaching because God’s people are built up in the faith by teaching them the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:27).
God’s Word Alone
We must keep the Bible central in our preaching. Every preacher worthy of the name loves the response of Peter to the question Jesus asked him as the crowds were leaving in droves: “Do you want to go as well?” Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:67-68).
Our world is a chaotic concert of noise. The countless siren songs of the world are powerful and dangerously alluring. The noise of our day has made millions of people deaf to the truth of God. Knowing this, preachers are desperate to cut through the noise. The temptation to part from the Bible and adopt other means of reaching people is real. But to do so would be a tragic mistake, for God’s Word alone has the power to overwhelm the world’s noise.
Michael Pohlman is assistant professor and department chair of Christian preaching at Southern Seminary.