J. I. Packer on Authority in Preaching

J. I. Packer: An
Evangelical Life
In topical preaching, as opposed to expository preaching from the Bible, ministers “take a topic, they appeal to one or two Scriptures to illustrate the topic, they tell stories from their experience and other people’s experience to illustrate the topic,” and all the while the focus of the sermon shifts from the Bible to the preacher. The authority by which a listener is expected to believe what the preacher says “is the human authority of a knowledgeable person,” and nothing more.

Needless to say, Packer is opposed to this procedure of using “the texts … as a convenience for illuminating the topic” instead of the Bible “being expounded as the Word of God.” In topical preaching, according to Packer, preachers do not regard themselves as being “mouthpieces for messages from biblical texts.” When the Bible is not at the center of preaching, “biblical content is made to appear as part of the speaker’s own wisdom,” instead of emerging as the authority for what is said.

What is at stake here is the question of what constitutes the authority for what a preacher says, and that in turn relates to why the person in the pew should regard what the preacher says as being true. When a preacher speaks in his own voice only, the listener has only one option in regard to authority, namely, that the preacher is the authority for what is said. By contrast, when a preacher allows the Bible to provide the primary frame of reference for a sermon, the Bible emerges as the authority and reason for belief. But, of course, the Bible speaks through the mediation of the preacher. Particularly helpful here is Packer’s metaphor that “the activity of preaching the Bible … unlocks the Bible to both mind and heart.”


Ryken, Leland (2015-10-14). J. I. Packer: An Evangelical Life (pp. 362-363). Crossway. Kindle Edition. (Emphasis Mine)

A vision worth pursuing

What are some factors that characterize a healthy church?
  • Increasing attendance?
  • Measurable results from church programs?
  • A compelling vision from senior leadership?
While all of these may be good, none are necessary indicators of church health. I maintain that the first indicator of church health is a tenacious commitment to an entirely unoriginal mission statement. Let me explain.

An idea for healthy churches

Create a full-time paid role on your staff team for an Assistant Pastor with the following description:
  • The term of his employment would be limited to 2 or 3 years.
  • Employment requirements would be
    • that he has completed an M.Div. or M.A. in Theology with courses in Greek and Hebrew, and
    • that he is ordained or eligible for ordination within his stated term.

A Martin Luther Haiku

The Roman light dimmed
While I drank beer with Philip
Preaching catholic truth.

Inspired by Martin Luther's own perception of the events of the reformation. "I simply taught, preached, wrote God's Word; otherwise I did nothing. And then, while I slept, or drank Wittenberg beer with my Philip and my Amsdorf, the Word so greatly weakened the papacy that never a prince or emperor did such damage to it. I did nothing. The Word did it all." Quoted in Timothy George, Theology of the Reformers, (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1988), p. 53.

J.I. Packer's rules for writing

J.I. Packer's rules for writing1:
Have something to say … keep it simple … make it flow … be willing to redraft as often as necessary to meet these requirements.


NOTES
  1. Marvin Olasky, “Two Lives: You'll Know Them by Their Fruit,” World Magazine, May 28, 2016, 30.
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