Theology & Preaching

by Frank Jones


I just finished a worthy read of the life of Graham Miller. I have always enjoyed, what I call "spiritual biographies". In the appendix, there is a section on Theology & Preaching. Graham Miller was approximately 68 years of age when he gave this quoted section. The whole was given to theological students at the Presbyterian Theological Hall, Melbourne, 2 March 1981.

"Let us begin with the REALITIES OF OUR DAY. As a student you have some liberty to ‘shop around’ for your edification and enlightenment. You enter a nearby church for the first time, arriving early enough to see the doors opened, the building ventilated, and the arrival of the congregation. Five minutes after the appointed hour the minister enters, the chatting in the pews ceases, and you are greeted with a hearty ‘Good Morning!’ and some other pleasantries. There is a degree of mutual goodwill, if not of felt reverence. A hymn is announced and introduced by the preacher at some length. You are then urged to turn and greet the worshippers on either side. Prayer follows, prayer of a conversational kind. You miss the note of adoration. You miss the use of Scripture phrase and idiom. You miss the prayer of confession, and the words of absolution from the lips of our High Priest. A Scripture reading follows from the Good News Bible and a talk to the children on ‘Going back to school’. The preacher introduces his address by remarking that he has attended a seminar on Church Growth and plans to speak for several weeks on this theme. The first installment is simply an account of what transpired at the seminar on Church Growth. The Bible was not needed. Following the closing hymn you are urged to remain for the ‘family’ barbecue and get to know each other. You excuse yourself and make your way back to Rolland House irritated with your inexplicable feeling of frustration. By the time you shut the door of your room you have reached a tentative conclusion.

Every service of public worship reflects the theology of the preacher and consequently of the congregation. The sermon is the touchstone of that theology. It may therefore be laid down as an axiom that our theology will determine our preaching, our conduct of worship and all the varied elements of the entire service, both morning and evening. In the face of our man-centred society and in the face of the prevailing man-centred worship, we affirm on the basis of Scripture that we enter the sanctuary to ‘Give unto the LORD the glory due unto His name’ (1 Chron. 16:29). We heed the warning of another Preacher: ‘Keep thy foot when thou goest to the house of God, and be more ready to hear, than to give the sacrifice of fools … Be not rash with thy mouth, for God is in heaven, and thou upon earth: therefore let thy words be few’ (Eccles. 5:1-2).

The bond between theology and preaching is implicit in the whole of Scripture. Certain doctrines lie at the heart of this reality and the first is the doctrine of Scripture as the Word of God.

It is not usually necessary to ask a preacher his view of Scripture. To the attentive hearer this becomes quickly apparent. His view of Scripture influences the entire diet of worship, though the preacher himself may be the last to recognize this fact. The way in which he introduces the readings and brings them to a close; the unconscious way in which he draws upon apt Scriptures in his prayers; and supremely the way in which he uses or fails to use the Scriptures in his preaching — all declare the preacher’s attitude to the Word of God. The heart of the redeemed can quickly discriminate between a literary use of the Bible, an illustrative use of the Bible, a moral use of the Bible and a doctrinal and authoritative use of the Bible. The casual use, the academic allusion, the reckless generalization, the deprecatory judgment, or the sheer indifference to the Word of God, are not lost on the attentive hearer in the pew. Conversely that more attentive hearer will not fail to recognize in the preacher a reverent attitude to the Scripture from his disposition in the pulpit, his submission to it in his daily life, his conformity to it in his character and his dependence upon it in the whole of his preaching and ministry. … From the opening doxology or call to worship to the closing benediction everything in God’s house is saying, ‘Glory!’

Iain Murray, editor. A Day's March Nearer Home- Autobiography of J. Graham Miller, 291-294.