December 11, 2009
John Calvin the Preacher
I just listened to a great lecture on Calvin by my fellow Regent Classmate JB Krohn, who now lives and works in South Africa.
Click here to listen: John Calvin the Preacher
Really appreciating the emphasis on Calvin as preacher and pastor. Though we often think of him as a theologian, everything he wrote and studied supported his preaching. For Calvin preaching was the unveiling of the glory of God. Preaching was the place where God met his people and spoke to them. He believed you had to preach through the Bible and that you had to preach everything that was in the text, and nothing that is not in the text.
I loved JB’s comments about how pastors are tempted to be experts on everything, the idea being that since everyone listens to you, you might as well keep talking. This is perhaps the greatest source of nonsense in the pulpit today. Karl Barth also had some good things to say about this, as he continually insisted that he was a theologian and he could tell you what theology and Bible tell you about a topic (and of course, he believed it to be of the utmost importance), but that he was not about to present you with an evaluation of an issue o question from a different perspective.
I sometimes wonder if this would not be a good approach in our public discourse, to emphasize more not so much that I believe something, but what the Bible says about it.
Several other points I picked up from JB’s lecture:
- If you think about Calvin’s personality and the sheer amount of time he spent preaching, you might be tempted to wonder if his congregants would have been bored to death. Imagine 6 AM Sunday morning winter services with Calvin and no central heating and “to death” could take on a more litteral meaning! Not very seeker friendly. But JB says that his conviction that preaching is where God meets his people led to an intensity of presentation that was anything but boring. I’ve had thoughts along these lines before. Like, if people are bored with your preaching, could it be that you are not really saying anything important? Or that you lack a certain personal zeal for the material?
- Great image of the work of the pastor/theologian: He chews the word of God in order to make it digestible for his congregation. You know, like some animals do for their offspring. Don’t push the image too far or it gets kind of gross, but I think it is an accurate picture. I think the preacher needs to understand that his job is not to pass on everything he has learned or knows to the congregation (a mistake many folks straight out of seminary make), but to use what he has learned to explain and apply the word of God to those who are under his care.
- Preaching is worship. It’s about the majesty of Jesus. Calvin was an “exaltational expositor.” Usually we make a distinction between “worship” (when we sing) and preaching. But preaching is also worship. One implication is that we ough not be obsessed with providing an application for every sermon (do we feel the need to “apply” every worship song?). Sometimes we just sit back and take in the glory of God. I have no doubt that this changes us, but we don’t have to obsess about how exactly.
- Calvin warned that the reformation in England could come to nought if the preaching of the word was not developed better. Could that apply to Evangelicalism in North America?
- Calvin’s personal seal (pictured) was a hand holding up a heart to God with the inscription, “My heart, I give you, O Lord, promptly and sincerely.”