The antidote to boring sermons

I am reading William Willimon’s Conversations with Barth on Preaching (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2006), and found this quotation of Barth very provocative:

“Against boredom the only defense is again being biblical. If a sermon is biblical, it will not be boring.”

Barth speaks of our need to be repeatedly corrected by Scripture in our sermon preparation, to listen carefully to the rhythms and contours of the text and then consign ourselves to say nothing but what the text says. Our best thoughts, our best insights are unworthy of the pulpit – we must lean wholly upon what God has revealed. Our message and our agenda must die so that the word of God may come forth, which is above and beyond the best thoughts or imaginations of men.

Some good quotes:

“The gospel is not in our thoughts or hearts; it is in scripture. The dearest habits and best insights that I have – I must be willing to give them all up before listening. I must not use them to protect myself against the breakthrough of a knowledge that derives from scripture. Again and again I must let myself be contradicted. I must let myself be loosened up. I must be able to surrender everything.”

“All honor to relevance, but pastors should be good marksmen who aim their guns beyond the hill of relevance.”

“Theology must be more than simply talking about humanity in a loud voice.”

“The Bible has few answers to our questions, but rather negates our questions by raising before us the question that we have been avoiding: the question of God.”

As I am also reading through John right now, I thought of Jesus’ repeated statement that he never speaks or acts from his own authority, but does and says only what the Father gives him to do and say (John 5:19, 8:28, 12:49, John 14:10). Amazing – even the Son of God did not speak freely, but willingly bound Himself to say only what the Father instructed him (cf. Isaiah 50:4).

Personal applications:
1) To be a good theologian must require intellectual mortification and vivification, just as to be a good Christian requires spiritual mortification and vivification.
2) Powerful, dynamic preaching is counter-intuitive: it only comes when we relinquish ourselves and say what God has said.
3) To the extent that I think that I have something worthwhile to say to my people on my own, I rob them. Only what I receive from God do I have to offer them: “apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).
4) I have a lot to learn about … everything (I Corinthians 8:2).

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  1. cool. can’t wait to hear you preach one day :-) after we all graduate and get jobs we’ll have to visit each other’s churches!