Bad preaching either simply tells the story of Jesus, focuses on laws for people to fulfill, or plays on their emotions. Good preaching proclaims that this Christ is ‘for you’ and brings about comfort and joy.
~ Timothy Wengert
Bad Preaching simply tells the story of Jesus. There’s a lot to say about who Jesus was, what Jesus did, how he went about on earth. We can teach a lot about him. The majestic articles of faith will teach us that he was both God and a human being in one inseparable person. We learn that he was not created, he’s begotten of the Father. And then we get the illustrious articles of faith such has his birth, life, death, resurrection, and ascension.
Indeed, in the person of Jesus “The Word became flesh and dwelled among us” (John 1:14). One could also point to some of his great and dynamic teachings that turn the world on its head— “love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you” (Matt. 5:44). All these are wonderful blessings and unshakeable truths about Christian faith. But if this is all you ever hear in preaching, it is simply bad preaching.
Bad Preaching simply focuses on laws for people to fulfill. The early church had a division between the Jewish Christians and the Gentiles who were coming to believe in Christ. The primary issue was whether circumcision was required of all the Gentiles whom had no prior experience with such laws. St. Paul has significant insights for us on the matter of circumcision and the Law in general: “For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery” (Gal. 5:1). In other words, if one is to keep the tenets of the Law, they are obliged to keep all the tenets, and perfectly—which is a bondage. One must not gauge how holy they are or how good of a person they are by what they do. Jesus did not come in order to replace a Law with a new Law.
In the new covenant, God does not establish new yokes for us—whether that be in what we eat, drink, wear, celebrate or don’t eat, drink, wear, or celebrate. And when such things are preached, especially as a measure for how good of a Christian you are, it is simply bad preaching.
Bad Preaching simply plays on the emotions of people. This is perhaps especially dangerous. When a preacher plays on your emotions, he or she makes unfair use of your feelings to their own advantage. In the extreme, I suspect this is how we get the mega churches that buy their pastors expensive private jets. People are attracted to, and come in droves to listen to emotionally-manipulative preaching which is why such churches have so many people. They get away with it because emotions get connected with the moving of the Holy Spirit whether or not they are actually the moving of the Holy Spirit.
The cross, however, is unattractive. The preacher of “Christ crucified” (1 Cor. 1:23) will never have as much success as the handsome guy standing on the stage with the flashy lights, upbeat music, and exhilarated audience. When preaching is couched in the unfair use of peoples’ emotions, it is simply bad preaching.
Good preaching proclaims that this Christ is “for you” and brings about comfort and joy. Here is what good preaching is. It is not just to preach about God. Good preaching must make the shift from speaking about Jesus to speaking about this Jesus who is for you. Not just that he died and was risen, but that he died and was risen for you—for the forgiveness of your sins. This is a move from the general to the particular. One can speak of God is love, love, love, all day long. But if it is not God’s love for you in the person of Jesus Christ it is not good preaching. Good preaching drives to this: I declare to you the entire forgiveness of all your sins for the sake of Jesus Christ. And when this is done, God’s Word has been done to you. Before we take Christ as our example, we must take Christ as our gift. And this gift God gives you in Christ is not one you open yourself.
If it depended on your decision, it would be a “works-righteousness.” You would never know if you were sincere enough. Instead, God comes from heaven to earth and meets you in the Word and Sacraments. There, in the gospel, Christ is truly present, the Holy Spirit creates your faith, and you are given comfort and joy. All other forms of preaching will bind you. This for you preaching, is how Christ sets you free.
Peace and joy,
Pastor Levi Powers
Mount of Olives Lutheran Church
Rock Springs, WY