I just finished reading through Dr. Steve Lawson’s The Expository Genius of John Calvin, and enjoyed much of it. I do really enjoy reading Lawson, but he made a comment in this book that was simply wrong. In it he says,
“Because a sermon is simply an overflow of a preacher’s life, the man of God must prepare his heart well. A sermon rises no higher than a preacher’s soul before God (page 40).”
“The success of the preacher depends on the depth of his holiness. (page 43).”
Now before I tell you why this is unhelpful let me tell you why this is helpful. A sermon really is the overflow of the pastor’s life and study. If the pastor is not prepared, there is a good chance that the sermon will be bad. If the pastor has not spent much time with God, it will be plain to the people, and the opposite is just as true; if the pastor is prepared and has spent much time with God, there is a good chance the sermon will be good.
Okay, now why this is just bad. Lawson should have felt this wrong-ness about the statements, ” A sermon rises no higher than a preacher’s soul before God.” “The success of the preacher depends on the depth of his holiness.” This is simple. According to these statements, the hope of preaching comes from the preacher’s own holiness and passion for God. This is wrong, because it means that God cannot work robustly through the sermon if the preacher is not a robust lover of God. It means that a sermon can never rise above the level of a sinner. This cannot be true. The hope for preaching is found in no man, especially the preacher, because the preacher is sinful. The hope of preaching therefore is God, who is working in, for, and through the preacher.
How do I know this to be true? Because of three things: 1) I am a preacher. 2) I know who I am. 3) I know who I am not.
If Lawson’s statements are true, I have no hope in my preaching, because I know who I am, and know that no hope lies within me or my holiness. I also know who I am not – I am not God, I am not perfect, and my being can benefit no person on this planet at all. The same is true of every preacher of the gospel – the hope of our message is not based on the power of our own holiness. Our hope in preaching does not in any way come from us! If our sermons will rise no higher than our own holiness and passion for God, I need to find another job, because I am merely a man in the middle of my own sanctification. I’m a mess.
Thus, I do not preach because I am an angel of a man. I preach the gospel because the gospel is not only my hope for the whole world, it is the hope for my own soul – that is why I preach, and that is my hope in preaching – that God would use what is foolish (me) to shame the wise (not me), and use the weak (me) to shame the strong (not me).
Dr. Lawson, in an absolutely phenomenal book which this book on Calvin is, you really should know not to write such things.