Thursday, December 22, 2011

Pulpit Review: Preaching in Protest to Designations of Law and Gospel




Hinlicky, Paul R. Preaching God's Word According to Luther's Doctrine in America Today. Dehli: American Lutheran Publicity Bureau, 2010. 200 Pages. Paper. $19.00. (P)



Evaluating preaching is tough business.   


It is with "fear and trepidation" that I doso with regard to this book.   


The bookoffers examples of sermons to teach the truths about Christian doctrine topeople in the parish as they sit in the pew. I agree with Hinlicky's observation that many Christians in our churchestoday have not been properly catechized, taught the faith clearly.  In addition, "the world, the devil, and ourown sinful flesh" preach against sound doctrine at every turn.  In response to this, preaching must bedoctrinal and take opportunity to teach the faith.


A pastor would like to think that instruction would beon-going with the Christian throughout their life and they would come to studythe Word in a setting like Bible class. The reality is, however, for themajority of parishioners, the worship service is the only contact with thechurch.  Typically, about a third ofChristians attend church each week and even fewer come for Bible study.   So it is through preaching that we have a valuableopportunity to teach.


Hinlicky does have a broad selection of topics in this bookto cover the basics of the Christian faith.  Yet, preaching is the proclamation of the Word; and for what purpose? 2Timothy 3:15-17 says that the Word is for "making us wise unto salvation",teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness."  To make sinners wise unto salvation, theymust be shown their sin.  They must knowthat sin leads to death, temporal and eternal, and eternal condemnation.  Preaching must proclaim to the sinner that heis lost in his sin.   When that isaccomplished, preaching must declare the Good News to the convicted sinner thatin Christ is the answer to that person's sin and the sentence of death that sinbrings.   This, through the working ofthe Holy Spirit in the Word makes the sinner "wise unto salvation."  The sinner hears of his/her sin, and hears ofGod's grace through Jesus Christ for that sinner.


What does that have to do with this book?  As I read the sermons presented by Hinlicky,I found that he preached about God, Christ, the Trinity, and so on, but he didnot preach those things to me.   Ilearned about those things, but not how those things apply specifically tome.  I was not convicted of MY sin. Iheard about Christ, but I did not hear Christ for me. 


The difference may seem subtle, but it is profound.  I failed to hear Pastor Hinlicky say to me asNathan said to David, "you are the man!" There were exception to this in a few of the sermons, but generally, Iwas not made wise about MY sin.  Then, byprogression, why is Christ Good News for me? To preach Christ as the savior from MY sin, I need to see my sin.  In general, Hinlicky's sermons spoke of sinin general, or in someone else, or in Man, but did not convict Kirk of his sin.  Sometimes my sin was identified as"dissatisfaction", or some other indirect reference.   I wasnot called to repentance.  Christianpreaching, let alone Lutheran preaching must call the sinner torepentance.   It must be heard, not by"sinners" in general, but THE sinner singular. John came preaching repentance and forgiveness-Law and Gospel.


As I read the book it seemed like I was taught and led inthe general direction of the Law and repentance, but seldom did the sermon callme to repent.  Likewise, I was oftenpointed to the Gospel but I did not hear the proclamation that MY sins wereforgiven. 


So What?  Christianpreaching is all about proclaiming connecting the sinner to Christ as Redeemerfrom sin.  Jesus says that all thescripture is about him.  Preaching aboutthe doctrine of the Trinity must proclaim Christ as my Redeemer. 


Hinlicky states that he wanted to teach doctrine throughSunday preaching because there was not sufficient time to do it elsewhere.  The same is true with the preaching torepentance and absolving the sinner with the forgiveness of Christ.  The time is short.  We never know if the sermon we are preachingwill be the last opportunity for someone to hear that their sins are forgiven.  We never know if the sermon we are preachingis the last that a person will be called from unbelief.   


My point is this:  Doctrine is important-vital, and doctrinalpreaching must call us to repentance. Repenting, we must hear the Good News that all our sins are forgiven.


The best way to realize this is through an understanding ofLaw and Gospel.  Christian preaching isLaw and Gospel.  As I read the sermons inthe sermons in this book, I often thought that Hinlicky's preaching was soclose to proclaiming Law and Gospel, but fell short.  Why? In the postscript of the book is the answer.  He writes there of wanting to show that theScriptures and therefore preaching is not restricted to Law and Gospel, orletter and promise.  But the Law is howwe are made wise about our sin.  TheGospel is how we are made wise about absolution in and through Christ.   Law and Gospel properly preached is how weare made wise unto salvation.


Where we find God's grace? The Grace of God is found in Word and Sacrament.  The preaching presented is not sacramental inthat it does not direct the hearer to regular use of the Lord's Supper and thegifts found there. It preaches about the sacraments, but does not commend us tothem.


As a parish pastor, I did not find Hinlicky's sermonshelpful in conveying the grace of God in Jesus Christ to my people.  I also found inconsistencies in Christiandoctrine present. He alludes to women's ordination which in not taught in thescriptures, in fact it is forbidden. Luther's teaching was consistent with this.  


Also, in the postscript, Hinlicky writes about beingsubjected to a "litmus test" concerning a historical Jonah and whale (fish).   How can one preach about the  wonder and miracle of  the Trinity, or the incarnation, or theresurrection of Christ, or heaven an d not believe that God could provide areal fish to swallow Jonah?  It isinconsistent.  For the God of theresurrection, a fish and a Jonah are not difficult things to accomplish.


There are other departures from Christian doctrine in thesermons.   God does not overlook sin, or"overrule" the judgment against sin as Hinlicky preaches.  Rather, he visits his judgment on his Son whobecame Sin for us.   God's justicerequires death for sin, but in His Love and Mercy he visits that on Jesus.  Christ Jesus receives the punishment in ourplace.  By Grace, we are baptized intohis death for us, and receive the verdict, not guilty.


I disagree with the endorsements on the back cover of thebook.  I do not believe "Preaching God'sWord according to Luther's Doctrine in America Today" is profitable reading.




The Rev. Kirk Peters is pastor of Prince of Peace Lutheran Church, Buffalo, Wyoming, Third Vice President of the Wyoming District of The Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod, and Advising Editor of QBR.

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