For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. --Hebrews 4:12
I just started my sixth semester in seminary. Many of my classes at Beeson induce anxiety within me because of the sheer amount of time and/or intellectual rigor that they demand. A Greek or Hebrew class insists that I master paradigms, learn how to parse verbs, and have an ever growing knowledge of vocabulary always at the ready. My history and doctrine courses require a large amount of reading and the ability to summarize, articulate, and compare complex and abstract ideas. So feeling nervous about everything that I have to do this fall just comes with the territory.
But yesterday was different. Yesterday morning I had my first preaching class with Dr. Robert Smith, Jr., and I think I’m more terrified of this class than any other class to date. Although not ideal, in most of my other classes I can engage in my work while still remaining personally unaffected by the material I have studied. It is possible to parse verbs and discuss Christ’s atonement in a way that is simultaneously precise and sufficient for the academy but is also sterile and absent of vitality.
Unlike these other classes, preaching will not afford me the opportunity to remain callously distant from my subject matter. The point of this class is not to receive a letter grade. Honestly, everyone in my class will probably receive an A. Instead, the goal of this class is to grapple with heavy responsibility of proclaiming the word of God. If I want to excel in that task, I cannot keep the Holy Spirit at arm’s length.
Over the course of yesterday’s class period, Dr. Smith shared a couple of definitions of expository preaching with us. One of these definitions, originally articulated by Adam Robinson, states that the Holy Spirit must first apply the message being preached to the life of the preacher before it can impact the lives of the audience. In other words, preaching is not a safe occupation. The sharp blade of the sword of the Spirit has no hilt or handle. Therefore, the one who intends to properly wield it must be ready to receive the same cuts and convictions that they wish to levy upon their audience. If a preacher desires to be effective, they must first be willing to be affected. No one is going to believe that a preacher’s message is of any value unless they first see that it actually means something to the preacher.
And that terrifies me. Even in seminary, I want to resist the painful process of sanctification. I don’t want to change. I only want to talk about change and the abstract, metaphysical consequences of the gospel. But salvation is surgery, and surgery is never without pain.
Pray for me, a sinful preacher.