Recently I read James White’s excellent book Pulpit Crimes: The Criminal Mishandling of God’s Word. In the first chapter entitled “What is at Stake?” he insightfully observes:
A tempest in a teapot. No big deal. Just a matter of opinion. Something about which “good men” have disagreed (and hence, no one actually has a clue about it. All ways of saying. “It’s no big deal, and, if anyone makes it a big deal, they are being difficult and disagreeable over nothing.” That is how the vast majority of humanity would view passionate discussion of the manner, purpose, content, and goal of the Christian ministry of preaching, something for obscure theologians to argue about, but surely nothing of major import.
I have become convinced that nothing less than the very gospel of Jesus Christ is at stake when we speak of the proclamation of the gospel in preaching. I am painfully aware of how often strident, strong statements such as that are misused in a sensationalistic attempt to inflame the passions of one’s audience, and I surely have no intention of engaging in my own form of pulpit crime, albeit in written form. Yet I believe I have a very firm basis for my statement. In fact, I may be selling the reality a bit short, since I am not using language as strong as that found in Scripture. I refer to a passage in Paul’s epistle to the Corinthians. It is a passage that I confess I heard very little about in my seminary education. Despite taking a class or two in homiletics (the science or art of preaching), I have no recollection of ever having heard a discussion of this text. I confess I do not know why this passage is not emblazoned by command of authority of the eldership upon the memory of every elder candidate. I do not know why it is not engraved upon the doorway leading to every pulpit in the church. It should be, but it is not. Maybe it is because it is said almost in passing. All I know is this: if it were to be taken seriously by every man walking into the pulpit this coming Lord’s day, the church would be turned on its head. The vast majority of what masquerades as preaching would have to come to an end. Listen carefully to the words of scripture: “For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel, not in cleverness of speech, so that the cross of Christ would not be made void” (1 Cor. 1:17).
White then goes on to discuss the key concepts found in 1 Corinthians 1-2, a passage that I agree has crucial implications for the proper preaching of the Gospel. And I am saddened with him that this passage is not taken more seriously by every Bible college and seminary in the training of pastors. But I would like to let everyone know that there has been a school where this passage has been taken very seriously indeed. That school was Columbia Bible College (now Columbia International University), where Dr. Richard Belcher drilled this text into the minds of generations of prospective pastors in his homiletics courses.
In fact, even though Dr. Belcher is now retired from teaching at Columbia, his textbook – Preaching the Gospel: A Theological Perspective and a Personal Method – may still be purchased, and I highly recommend it as essential reading to all prospective pastors and preachers. It outlines a theology of preaching that is derived directly from the Scriptures and it encapsulates the training that made Dr. Belcher an unsung hero of the recently touted “Calvinist comeback” among Baptists in particular. Here is a description of the book from the website of it’s publisher, Richbarry Press:
One of the greatest tragedies of the twentieth century is that the art of biblical preaching has fallen on hard times.
So wrote Dr. Belcher to introduce the reader to one of the burdens of his heart some years ago. Using I Corinthians 1-4 and II Timothy 3:1-4:4 as the basis of study, Dr. Belcher sets forth the nature of the gospel we must preach and the nature of the methods we must employ in the task. He argues that we are not free to determine the nature of the gospel nor the method of its presentation. The presentation of the gospel must be consistent with the grace and mystery nature of the gospel itself. Failure to understand that is what has led to the modern-day demise of biblical preaching.