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Packer & the Human Element in Preaching

At Desiring God recently Tony Reinke posted a video of J. I. Packer giving advice to aspiring writers. Also included was a transcribed portion quoted below. Though Packer is talking about writing, his comments apply very well to preaching and capture a concern of mine about preaching.

There are writers who think that simply by crisp, orthodox formulations of Bible truth and wisdom, without any searching application to the reader, they are fulfilling the full role of a Christian writer and that nothing more is required of them. That I do not believe to be so. There are enough people around already who can verbalize orthodoxy on paper. What we haven’t got is writers who can join truth and wisdom about God from the Scriptures with personal communication – communication that hits the heart, that makes you realize that this writer is a person talking to other persons, that this writer is trying to search me in order to help me, and I must let him do it. There is a certain art and craft in writing in such a way that it gets to the reader’s heart. I think sometimes God has enabled me to do that in things that I have written. It isn’t accident, it is something that I have been trying to do, and shall go on trying to do. So I would say to my budding writer, this is a craft you must learn.”

We must not be less than orthodox in our preaching but we must be more.  Good preaching requires such searching, “getting to the heart,” application and the sense that this “is a person talking to other persons.”  This takes work, just like exegesis does, and it requires awareness of the struggles, joys, fears and yearnings of the human soul. You cannot preach (or write) like this unless you pay attention to your own soul and get your hands messy helping others as they wrestle with their own souls. From this pastoral context, then, will arise such preaching. God grant us to preach so.

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