Two posts came across my Facebook last night. One was from Douglas Green, one of my fellow students back in the 80s at Westminster Theological Seminary. The other was from Tremper Longman, one of my Old Testament profs at WTS back in the 80s and 90s, as well as my doctoral advisor. These two posts were written to remember Raymond B. Dillard on the anniversary of his death, October 1, 1993. Ray was the very much beloved and highly respected chair of the Old Testament department at WTS until his way-too-early death from a heart attack at the age of 49.
Of course, students who have been in my Old Testament Introduction classes will remember the “Dillard and Longman” textbook. Ray was a brilliant scholar, a master teacher, an excellent preacher, and truly had a pastor’s heart. He had a tremendous impact on my life and teaching methodology. For many years, I had his picture on the wall above my office desk, to remind me of the debt I owed him, as well as to remind me to strive for excellence in research and teaching.
So, on this the twentieth anniversary of his death, I thought it might be a good thing to direct my readers to a sermon of his, a sermon I heard for the first time over thirty years ago. The sermon is entitled, “A Cup of Sour Wine.” One of the reasons I do this here on the blog is that the sermon is a veritable model of biblical-theological preaching. If you’re still having trouble figuring out what biblical theology is, this message will demonstrate for you what the homiletical results of biblical-theological study could look like. So, please, do yourself a big favor and listen to this sermon. And please come back to this blog and leave a comment with regard to your reactions.
October 1, 2013
This sermon is a powerful reminder that the issue of whether Christ’s death has a propitiatory significance involves much more than the linguistic question of the meaning of the Greek word that is rendered “propitiation” in some translations.
Very perceptive comment, Syd. I’m going to incorporate it in my fourth post on “What Is Biblical Theology.” Thanks.
Thanks for the encouragement to do something that I don’t do often enough– listen to someone else preach. Listening to Dr. Dillard has reminded me of some of the challenges that us “every week” preachers face.
The first is the reality that a message like “A Cup of Sour Wine” is not the product of two days of sermon prep but a lifetime of study. The challenge here is the rather obvious fact that a pastor’s time is divided in umpteen different ways.
A further challenge for the every week preacher is preaching both to people who “know their Bibles” and people who don’t know Paul or Jeremiah or Moses from Adam.
To this I would add one further challenge, pastors seldom receive real feedback about their sermons. Five years as a youth pastor and two years as a solo pastor and I have rarely heard anything more than, “I really enjoyed the sermon.” This feedback, as vacuous as it sometimes is, has a strange way of inflating my ego. What do I possibly have to learn when week after week everyone is “enjoying my sermons?”
Perhaps we pastors need to spend more time facing these challenges. Of course, one of the ways to face the challenges is to invest sincerely in Biblical study. It needs to be a priority. I think that people from the “academy” can aid us here not only by teaching us but by showing us as well. It won’t do for professors to tell seminarians and pastors that the practical part is up to them. We need occasional practical examples of what biblically faithful preaching looks like. (So thanks Dr. Shepherd and Dr. Dillard for providing us with some examples here!) These are also a reminder of the valuable role that community can play in shaping the way we preach. We need places to discuss and critique our preaching.
Regarding the challenge of speaking to people with varying degrees of Biblical knowledge a phrase I heard somewhere sticks with me, “we’re to feed sheep and not giraffes.” How do we take a high level of understanding and make it digestible without “dumbing it down.” Do we give our congregations too little credit? Too much? (Of course, this assumes that the preacher has a high level of understanding. I know of at least one preacher for whom this isn’t always true.)
So there you have it… (this would probably be a poor way to conclude a sermon but hopefully for a blog comment it will do!)
Thank you so much for your very perceptive and thought-provoking comments. This prompts a few more comments from me as well.
First, you are certainly right that sermons like Dillard’s are not simply thrown together on a Saturday night, or, as you put it, in “two days of sermon prep.” It does require, as you said, “a lifetime of study.” I think I’d add that it also requires constant meditative activity. Psalm 1:2 sets the standard here, “his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.” Especially with regard to biblical-theological preaching, this meditative activity is requisite. The more meditation, the more one will be able to see the connections between what at first might seem to be unrelated passages of Scripture.
Second, a pastor does, in fact, have to a wear a number of hats, and does not have the luxury of sitting in the study all day. But this does point out the need to be careful when setting priorities on what the pastor will read when the opportunity comes along. Better to read serious books devoted to exegesis, theology, church history, biographies of great saints, rather than the fluff that is sometimes passed off as being vitally important reading. Pastors are, of course, going to have their particular strengths; and some may be better at pastoral care, counselling, etc. But preaching is a form of pastoral care, and since, as I mentioned in another post, the church has a responsibility to say what no else is saying, I still think pastors have the responsibility to know their Bible well.
Third, as to what “level” to preach at, I suppose preachers just have to very wise and discerning. I seem to remember (don’t quote me) Dillard saying something to the effect that, either he himself, or someone to whom he was referring, when they lectured in class, always aimed for the top 10%. I don’t think that’s a good idea when it comes to sermons. But, perhaps a wise preacher will aim at differing levels in the course of the sermon.
Finally, I appreciate what you said about lack of meaningful feedback. One thing I would suggest is that a pastor ought to preach a message every so often in which they “encourage” the congregation to “encourage” one another, and not just in general terms, but specifically what it was that another person did which they appreciated, and why they appreciated it.
So, again, thanks for your insightful comments.
A few brief comments before I get back to the work of preparing a sermon.
“It requires constant meditative activity”
… Last night I lead a devotional for our local ministerial. When I finished the Orthodox priest said to me, “I don’t know whether to applaud you or be upset with you. That was very challenging.” I find myself similarly wanting to applaud you and defend myself from the conviction I feel by being upset with you.
“Preaching is a form of pastoral care”
… Yep, and a sometimes undervalued one! I wonder if the contemporary church has largely forgotten how powerful good preaching is.
Thanks for the tribute to my father…. Seeing first hand, the esteem his contemporaries and students have continued to heap upon him after all these years does take some of the sting out of losing him so early. God be praised for raising up such a man as raised me.
Thanks for the comment, Joel. Your father was a wonderful Christian and scholar, and a beloved mentor. And you were blessed to have such a great heritage. I know it must have hurt to lose him so early in your life. However, to borrow a phrase from a book your father wrote a commentary on, even though I am taking it out of context, may the Lord, somehow, “repay you for the years” you had to grow up without him (Joel 2:25).
He was a good man. (William White MAR 1982).
Thanks, Jerry. I think we over-lapped at WTS – I was there from ’81-’85 for full MAR-MDiv work, not to be confused with another Bill Johnson who preceded me a bit. I found my way to your blog and these posts as I prepare my own sermon on Jn 19.28-31, in French, as I labor in France in a church connected with the Evangelical Reformed Church of France, the only remaining evangelical descendants of the Huguenots. I wanted to hear Ray’s sermon again, and after that refresher on the Cup of God’s Wrath, I checked into this tribute. It was certainly a blessing to my preparation for ministry to sit under Ray Dillard’s teaching and example of dedicated scholarship and service to the Church and his presbytery. He preached my ordination sermon in 1985; later, I was serving in France when I learned of his untimely death. – Bill Johnson