Below is an excerpt from a conversation with David Jackman of Proclamation Trust and the Cornhill Training Course on expository preaching, gospel ministry, the author’s intent in the Bible, and preaching the genres of the Bible.
Todd Kelly: In some conversations about preaching, the phrase or idea of authorial intent is used to describe the task. But, sometimes it just leaves us with a cold theme. Can you explain that concept of authorial intent, and help us to understand how it should shape the sermon, and where it should lead us?
David Jackman: Yes, if God has inspired the Word (as we believe He has), then the human writer, under God, has an intention in writing the Word. Paul didn’t just wake up one morning and say, “Oh, I haven’t got in touch with the Colossians lately, I’ll just drop them a line.” He has a purpose, an authorial intention in writing the Epistle. So our job is to discover what that intention is.
Now that comes from careful study of the text, by comparing Scripture with Scripture, and by immersing ourselves in the actual content of the Word.
But you could teach that in a fairly theoretical, academic sort of way which can leave people cold. They feel there’s nothing there for me and my heart and my life this week. And I think it’s possible to have a sort of preaching that is more like lecturing. It may be accurate, may be faithful, but it doesn’t communicate, doesn’t get it across, doesn’t communicate to the heart.
So if we go from the author’s intention and ask ourselves, “What is God’s pastoral intention in inspiring the author to write this book?” Then we’re making a journey from the mind to the heart—from understanding the text to realizing why the text is there and what the text has to say to us and what its implications are for our lives.
So through the mind to the heart is the journey from authorial intent to pastoral intent. And then if we respond with a heart that is receptive to God’s Word, it will work out in our lives. Preaching is always with a view to change of life. It’s never simply writing information down in your notebook about God. It’s always God is intervening in our lives changing our lives as we understand this truth and apply this truth and relate it to our circumstances. And the other thing the preacher has to do is help the congregation to do that, by giving examples and illustrations and so on. So could you just take us one step further on this journey, in terms of application, because many many preachers this side of the Atlantic feel a pressure to apply the Word of God.
Todd Kelly: Can you tell us the relationship of application to the shepherding intent of the scriptures?
David Jackman: Yes. I rejoice that they find some pressure on that. I think it’s better to have a pressure to apply than to think I don’t need to.
Sometimes people just lay out the fruits of their exegetical study and that’s it. And I don’t think that nurtures the flock as much as they might. So we want to take it a stage further, don’t we. But the application must come from the text. So we’ve got to be on the main line of the text. It’s not a matter of how can I apply this, “Let me bring in an application from outside and bolt it onto the Bible text.”
I sometimes say to my students in London that I know you’ve all got bolt-on applications that you will make if you can’t think of anything else to say, like we ought to read the Bible more, or we ought to pray more, we ought to evangelize more. And all those things are true, but is that why this text is here? What is this text saying in terms of its application to our lives?
That transformational power in preaching—which is the Holy Spirit’s work—comes through the hard work of the study of the preacher and his dependence upon the Spirit’s power in the preaching.
I do think we have to work at that and I think it works through in practical terms so that we begin to carry through what we’ve learned prayerfully and in dependence on God’s grace into our lives, and working for that sort of change that is shaping us into the likeness of Christ. That transformational power in preaching—which is the Holy Spirit’s work—comes through the hard work of the study of the preacher and his dependence upon the Spirit’s power in the preaching.
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