Tim Keller – Preaching to the heart

Here’s my notes from today’s talks by Tim Keller on preaching at Oak Hill. (These talks are now available as MP3s at the Oak Hill webiste.) It was great to catch up with old friends, both faculty and students, as well as to hear Tim Keller talk about the art of making that essential connection between text of the bible and the present reality in the lives of people.

J.R.R. Tolkien wrote to his son, “many sermons are bad because they lack art, virtue and knowledge”.

John Frame wrote much the same when he talked about the multi-perspectival nature of preaching, normative, existential and situational (note to self: read the doctrine of the knowledge of God)

Calvin wrote – we can’t know God unless we know ourselves and we can’t know ourself unless we know God.

When Paul wrote: Colossians 1:28-29 Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. 29 For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.

Normative – proclaiming Christ
Situational – preaching to people, bringing the truth to bear on people
Existential – passion, power, in Paul

The skill of preaching is normative (exegetical) but that is only the first stage. We must know people, in their situation and have personal integrity and passion, truth and sincerity, no hypocrisy or vices, defects of character.

Preachers, if we don’t already realise this, we might not like it…people ask “do I like this person” when listening to a preacher (James 3:1??)

Expository preachers have a tendency to focus on knowledge (normative) and not on art (situational) or virtue (existential).

This results in bony sermons, where the word is “without flesh”. Dry, doctrinal, factual, sound but not rooted in reality.

Jonathan Edwards said “a sermon is not just making a fact clear, but real.”

Preachers are not just to tell people about the holiness of God but to help them sense it, as if tasting honey.

The bible is a covenantal document and a covenantal relationship is both more personal than a contract and more obligatory than emotional.

The bible is an invitation from God for us (as a covenant community) to live in intimate, committed, faithful, relationship with him.

Meredith Kline said of Deut 29:29 that everything in the bible is not just to be known but obeyed.

No knowledge is neutral. It will either lead you to God or to following a different god (Romans 1). Knowledge must be done.

Therefore, the application of the passage must be on your mind before completing exegesis. To do this, do a text-flow, exegetical analysis, ask “what does this text want me/us to do?” Then go back and look at the text again with the big question in mind and select the content of the passage which supports that point.

We never come to a text without questions, because we read the bible in real situations with real people, culture, emotions, and issues all of which produce questions.

For example, when preaching Esther, as God is never mentioned but all things work out well for God’s people, the big application is this: The silence of God is not the absence of God. Application directly to those who are not sure if God is still with them.

So, to be able to make things real to your congregation:

Ask, who do you converse (talk) with? Your approach to the text and preaching will be shaped by the people you speak to and who, therefore, shape the questions you are asking.
Positive, upward spiral: if the non-Christians in your neighbourhood shape the questions in your mind, this will shape your preaching and this will influence who comes to church (i.e the non-Christians whose questions you are asking). So read lots of varied things people are reading (the Sun, Guardian, Telegraph), get the narratives of the time, and converse with a wide range of people, at the school gate or down the pub.
Negative, downward spiral: if you are only concerned with issues in the church, either local congregational issues and disputes or wider church theological discussion or debate, then the questions you bring to the text will be shaped by internal matters and so the people who come to church will be influenced to think that church is all about itself or about contention with other churches/theologians/social issues. This is clearly destructive. So, break out of Christian sub-culture and ask “what are the struggles and anxieties of the community around this church?” and let these questions shape what questions you answer as you do your exegesis.

Ask, who do you picture in the sermon? Imagine that you are counselling them. Anticipate the questions & objections. Converse in your mind with them and answer the questions as you speak.

Doctrinalists – pull doctrine out of passage.
Pietists – points out how Jesus can bring about personal, inner healing & transformation.
Cultural Transformationalists – shows how community and world can change.

We have temperamental & cultural tendency toward one way.

About neilrobbie

I am a 6'6" formerly ginger Scot, in a cross cultural marriage to my lovely Londoner wife. We've lived in SE Asia and since 2005, I have served as an Anglican minister in Wolverhampton and West Bromwich.
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4 Responses to Tim Keller – Preaching to the heart

  1. étrangère says:

    Ah, I’m reading Frame’s DOTKOG at the moment – good stuff! You can borrow it when I’m done, but I’m afraid that’s not likely to be soon… Sounds like an excellent conference.

  2. neilrobbie says:

    Thank you v. much for the offer and welcome to transforminggrace. I actually have the book on my shelf. It’s just moved well up the heap of things I need to read.

    Conference was v. good, as was the Urban Plant Life conference the day before. Double Keller, what a treat!

  3. étrangère says:

    Oh I’ve been lurking round here for a good while, and you’re on my blogroll, but thanks for the welcome 🙂

  4. Pingback: The Way to Frame the World – Perichoretically « Christ the Truth

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