The second day of The Basics Conference began with Alistair Begg speaking from 2 Corinthians 5 and focusing on verse 20. He wanted to consider the matter of preaching that confronts people’s stubborn wills; to think about persuasive preaching.
To do this, is to place ourselves in good company for the apostolic precept pushes us in this direction (see Acts 18:4 by way of example). Scripture also urges people by way of precept, such as what we see in 2 Timothy where Paul encouraged Timothy to boldly proclaim the Word. The exhortation to be such a preacher and teacher is set firmly in the context of suffering. He knows that suffering will be the eventuality for Timothy as he faithfully preaches Christian doctrine. We find this same theme in 2 Corinthians. With persuasive preaching will inevitably come suffering. God kicks out the legs of the stools upon which God’s messengers sit comfortably and he does this to bring them to the end of self-dependence.
Paul’s exhortation in 2 Corinthians 5 is exhortation to those who would be on the receiving end of his instruction and it is set within the context of human opposition and divine compulsion. If we do not share with him the latter, then we will crumple in the face of the former. Preaching is unpopular and this is true both outside the church and within. If preaching is unpopular, no preaching is more unpopular than that which addresses the stubborn will and calls people to repentance in Jesus.
Begg said that preachers face three challenges based on the unpopularity of preaching:
1. Personal Challenges
a) First, they may well be personal, for when we think in terms of the peculiar responsibility of standing between a holy God and people he has made and fashioned for himself, then any sense of natural inhibition and fearfulness will almost definitely present themselves. It may demand everything in us simply to fulfill that to which we’ve been called. b) Second, we face a challenge when we’re tempted to self-preservation–an unwillingness to bring the demands of both the law and gospel to bear upon the listener. Satan is not blinding people’s minds to family values or tall stories and emotional exhortations and all these things that pass for preaching. He blinds the eyes of men and women to the glory of the gospel in Christ Jesus. c) Third, we face the challenge of familiarity with our material. Unless we go frequently in prayer in the secret place and the private place, we may quickly become the purveyors of that which passes our lips with no sense of conviction because familiarity has somehow destroyed delight.
2. Cultural Challenges
Many people see life as little more than a dirty trick, a short journey from nothingness to nothingness. The cultural challenge that comes by being ambassadors to the gospel has to be faced. People today want to be entertained all the time and perhaps especially so in church and education
3. Theological Challenges
Begg keeps meeting people who seem to find great comfort in their theology instead of in Jesus Christ. They come to strong (and even correct) convictions about great, important biblical truths, but they find themselves virtually tongue-tied when it comes to persuasive preaching. They begin to set great truths in opposition to one another believing somehow that one cancels out the other and they cease from evangelism almost totally. So there may be a theological challenge where men are laboring under the inhibitions that come with the fear that by freely offering the gospel to sinners, we may be going against God’s sovereignty. They worry that the non-elect may somehow end up being saved!
The challenge to the preacher is this: we need not bow beneath the immensity of Scripture and thus be unpersuasive in preaching. After suggesting that a pastor’s reaction to these challenges may come in three forms–confusion, fear and complacency–he spent a few moments dealing with each of these, turning to necessary prerequisites for preaching to the stubborn will:
a) Clarity and particularly clarity about the nature of the gospel itself. If we’re confused in our own minds, we’ll never be clear from the pulpit.
b) Boldness comes on the heels of clarity; it is easier to be bold when we’ve been clear. The Christian who wishes to share the gospel persuasively, must do it with boldness and confidence.
c) I’m not quite sure if I missed this or if Begg just ran out of time. Grab the audio and let me know!
Here are just two little notes that don’t fit into the flow of what I wrote above; two quotes I jotted down:
Speaking of pastors who encourage their people to evangelize boldly: “We’re urging things on our congregations that we don’t do ourselves.”
And second, in preaching the gospel: “We think because we’re telling people the benefits of the gospel or we’re warning people about rejecting the gospel, we’re actually telling people the gospel. Nothing will dull the soul more than exhortations without substance.”