A Return to Forsyth

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Longstanding readers of this blog, if such exist at all, may remember that I have a number of 'guilty pleasures'.  Top among these would be the writings of John Henry Newman and Peter Taylor Forsyth, neither of whom would make the grade as Reformed Orthodox thinkers but both of whom are very stimulating, thought-provoking and insightful.  I have not mentioned Forsyth for a few years but have returned to him just this week as I start to prepare a seminar on his theology of preaching.  

I am convinced that one of the key things which can make the difference between a good preacher and a mediocre one is a proper understanding of what the task of preaching itself is.  Misunderstand this and no wonder the preacher might look to wrong models for inspiration, or even downplay the primary role of preaching altogether.  Preaching is more than its content; and nor is it simply communication, for that would make it a matter of mere technique.  It is the confrontational proclamation of God's Word.  That is something on which Forsyth is very clear; and this is based upon his understanding of the human dilemma, something which by its very nature cannot be solved by education or improvement but by grace and reconciliation, by the proclamation of a salvation that comes from outside, from God, and which meets us in contradiction of everything we might naturally aspire to for ourselves.  For example, here is what he says in the context of discussion whether the context of the age is determinative of the preacher's message (emphasis mine):

The disparity of God and man is not gradual, it is not a matter of degree. And what God has to deal with is not our relative imperfection. He does not simply stoop to us as we keep doing our poor best to reach Him. He does not simply wait for us, and cheer us on with a tender remembrance of the rime when He was at our stage and felt the need of a sympathetic father or even brother. The gulf between us is much more, even than the gulf between the creature and the Creator.  Great as that distance might be it does not exclude communion. What ails us is not limitation but transgression, not poverty but alienation. It is the breach of communion that is the trouble--the separation, the hostility. We are not His counterparts but His antagonists. There is not only the distance between Creator and creature, father and child in the natural sense; but there is a vast and serious disturbance of even that relation. There is a huge dislocation. There is that in us and in our sin which is in its very essence intractable to all the processes of a reconciling idea; something which, to the end, by its very nature, refuses to be taken up as a factor into the largest and most comprehensive procession of divine action; something which can never be utilized, but can only be destroyed in a mortal moral war; something which, if God cannot kill it, must be the death of God. And as a race we are not even stray sheep, or wandering prodigals merely; we are rebels taken with weapons in our hands.

Our supreme need from God, therefore, is not the education of our conscience, nor the absorption of our sin, nor even our reconcilement alone, but our redemption. It is not cheer that we need but salvation; not help but rescue; not a stimulus but a change; not tonics but life.

Positive Preaching and the Modern Mind (London, Independent Press, 1907), pp. 37-38.

Posted August 27, 2012 @ 7:15 AM by Carl Trueman

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