Chapter Review: the Interrogative in Preaching

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I will now move on from the indicative and the exclamative in preaching to consider John Carrick’s chapter on the interrogative, or the use of the question in preaching. 

Basic grammar is important for good communication, thus the importance of studying Hebrew and Greek grammar. In the same way, this study of the indicative, the exclamative, and the interrogative are important for understanding how to better communicate the gospel. Carrick understands the interrogative to be an aspect of the indicative. Both consider objective fact, but one states it while the other questions it. It is searching and it brings more of a connotation of dialogue to it. He recognizes three basic types of interrogative: the analytical, the rhetorical, and the searching. The analytical looks for an answer, the rhetorical assumes an answer, and the searching searches and probes the hearts of men.

  • Analytical: “What is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? Of works? No, but by the law of faith. Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law.” (Rom. 3:27-28)
  • Rhetorical: “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!'” (Rom. 10:14-15)
  • Searching: “You who preach that a man should not steal, do you steal?” (Rom. 2:21b)

He then shares a number of examples from the preaching of Jonathan Edwards, George Whitefield, Samuel Davies, Asahel Nettleton, and Martyn-Lloyd Jones. He writes about Jonathan Edwards: “Edwards individualizes is hearers; indeed, there is a sense in which Edwards thus interrogates his hearers. He reasons with them; he searches them; he almost hounds them.” (p. 73) It is often commented that Martyn Lloyd-Jones did not observe his congregation as passive, but he would seek to engage them with the Word. They were to be involved, not just sitting there as spectators. Here, Carrick emphasizes that this questioning moves the preaching of the Word from explication to application. The encouragement of self-reflection or self-examination in the hearer moves the sermon from being a lecture to a sermon. He concludes this section with this comment referring to a quote from CS Lewis: “There can be no question but that the sins of the pulpit have come home to roost in the pew. It is, therefore, high time for the pulpit to see to it that God is reinstated to the bench and that man is relegated to the dock.” (p. 80) He concludes the chapter in this way: “There can be no doubt that, under God and with God’s blessing, the interrogative is one of the foremost weapons in the preacher’s arsenal in the battle for the souls for men.” (p. 81).

I found that this chapter left me with a lot to reflect on. Again, as with the exclamative, the interrogative should never be contrived.

I have often found myself inclined to the interrogative because it brings about the reasoning aspect of the preacher’s task. Of course, the Holy Spirit must also be at work through the interrogative otherwise people will just enjoy the rhetoric without coming to a fuller realization of the truth of God’s Word. That being said, this is exactly what the Word of God does. It helps me to realize my condition and my need for a Savior. Pointed questions only drive that point home. This is one reason why I love the Book of Romans. As he writes in the power of the Holy Spirit, the Apostle Paul is relentless in driving these questions into the hearts and minds of his readers. It is then with this passion of the Apostle Paul that we also must engage congregations with the Word of God. 

The value of the interrogative is that it doesn’t necessarily assume certain things about people, but it forces them to put themselves under the scrutiny of God’s Word and Spirit. Used rightly, it avoids the dangers of preaching at, and instead focuses on preaching to.

Nathan Zekveld

Chapter Review: Preaching the Exclamative

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I am now moving from a summary of Carrick’s chapter on the indicative in preaching to his chapter on the exclamative. And yes, Reformed preaching is allowed to contain exclamation marks! Even if it is a Dutch guy on the pulpit.

He begins with the four types of sentences which include: statements, requests, questions, and exclamations. Statements are indicative, requests are imperative, questions are a branch of the indicative except with interrogative, and exclamations imply emotion. Digging deeper into the exclamative itself, it is usually expressed by words like how, what, oh, woe, etc. The purpose is to give a certain truth more emphasis. 

All these indicators of exclamatives are used in Scripture and I will record an example of each below focusing on the examples he gives from the Apostle Paul:

  1. Romans 10:15 “And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!'”
  2. 2 Corinthians 7:11 “For see what earnestness this godly grief has produced in you, but also what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what longing, what zeal, what punishment! At every point you have proved yourselves innocent in the matter.”
  3. Romans 11:33 “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!”
  4. Micah 2:1 “Woe to those who devise wickedness and work evil on their beds! When the morning dawns, they perform it, because it is in the power of their hand.”

In each case it is important to bring the emphasis and feeling that are appropriate in context. 

We can find examples of this in the preaching of Jonathan Edwards, George Whitefield, Samuel Davies, Asahel Nettleton, and Martyn-Lloyd Jones. All of these men use and abundance of exclamations in their sermons. Jonathan Edwards, for example, used these exclamations to emphasize the greatness of man’s sin. Harry S. Stout writes that “words or phrases such as ‘Hark!’ ‘Behold!’ ‘Alas!’ and ‘Oh!’ invariably signaled the pathos Whitefield dramatically recreated with his whole body.” Of course, contrary to his naturalistic evaluation, we have to consider how the Spirit was at work through his piety. Martin Lloyd-Jones once wrote that “Preaching a sermon is not to be confused with giving a lecture” and that “a sermon is not an essay”. On the opposite side, JI Packer has critiqued the type of sermon that only expresses “calm and chatty intimacy.” 

But of course, the real meat of the exclamative comes the preacher’s own heart and piety as the Spirit works through the preacher. J.W. Alexander writes: “No rhetorical appliance can make a cold passage truly warm. If, for any cause, an inanimate sermon must needs be uttered, it ought to be delivered with no more emotion than its contents engender in the speaker’s soul. Everything beyond that is pretence; and here is the source of all mock-passion, which is the fixed habit of many speakers.” We must remember that this is not simply rhetoric, but sacred rhetoric. And so Dabney challenges the preacher: “affectation in the preacher, in the orator, the damning sin.” This exclamative, then, is not primarily a rhetorical device, but flows from a heart that is overwhelmed by the goodness and mercy of God. 

Again, I appreciate Carrick’s exhortation to use exclamation marks in preaching as well as his warning against affectation. I have found it worthwhile to reflect on what the preaching does to me before I bring it onto the pulpit. Hebrews 4:12–13 states: “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.” This has always been an incredibly important truth to me as I am preparing for a sermon. No creature is hidden from His sight, that includes the preacher. And so if I am honest with myself, then I realize that this word must act first on my own pride, my own hypocrisy, my own sin! And so preaching must continue to be an overflow of my own faith life and union with Christ. This is why it is so important that true godliness accompany intellectual knowledge.

It’s like the old adage goes: “Theology leads to doxology.”

I will conclude with another quote from Dabney: “Nothing, therefore, is a true oration which is not a life, a spiritual action, transacted in the utterance.” 

 

Chapter Review: Preaching the Indicative

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Over the next couple weeks I will do a series of blog posts on preaching as I read through John Carrick’s book “The Imperative of Preaching: A Theology of Sacred Rhetoric.” Today, I will work through his introduction and his first chapter.

Carrick introduces his book with a discussion as to whether the use of the terminology “sacred rhetoric” is appropriate when speaking of preaching. He comments on how our culture sets rhetoric in antithesis to action. He also comments on the words of the Apostle Paul where Paul contrasts the preaching of himself and his colleagues with human wisdom of the Greeks (I Cor. 2:4). Of course, the abuse of a thing does not invalidate its proper use and so he points out how the Apostle Paul did use rhetoric, just not in the dishonest and manipulative way that it was used by the Greeks. The preacher’s task is one of persuasion. Carrick points out that the four main rhetorical voices that are used in Scripture are these: indicative, exclamative, interrogative, and imperative. He then points out the two sides to preaching: the crucial use of the means (the Scriptures) and the crucial role of the Holy Spirit. These two are necessary for good preaching when we consider the “rhetorical voices” of preaching.

His first chapter turns to the indicative, which as Machen remarks in his classic Christianity & Liberalism is central to the proclamation of the gospel. He writes that “Christianity begins with a triumphant indicative.” This matter is no light matter but comes down to the contrast between Christianity & Liberalism itself: “The liberal preacher offers us exhortation… The Christian evangelist… offers… not exhortation but a gospel.” Carrick points that in much of the preaching of the Apostles and of course the great preaching of history, the death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ are presented in the indicative. We can see the many indicative statements of triumph throughout the New Testament. Just consider the message of the Apostle Peter in Acts 2. The imperative ‘repent and believe the gospel’ rests on historical fact, what really happened. Preaching is not primarily application, but it is explication of historical facts.

This is also the difference between Augustinianism and Pelagianism. Augustine argued that man is morally dead, whereas Pelagius argued that he is simply morally sick. Augustine then had to begin with the indicative, whereas Pelagius could begin with the imperative. 

Carrick quotes Murray: “The indicative underlies the imperative, and the assurance of the indicative is the urge and incentive to the fulfilment of the imperative.” Or to quote John Stott: “The invitation cannot properly be given before the declaration has been made. Men must grasp the truth before they are asked to respond to it.” Again, Stott writes: “So the true herald of God is careful to make a thorough and thoughtful proclamation of God’s great deed of redemption through Christ’s cross, and then to issue a sincere and earnest appeal to men to repent and believe. Not one without the other, but both.” 

There are fatal consequences to not taking this route. Martyn Lloyd-Jones writes about certain ministers: “…they spend the whole time ‘getting at’ their people, and slashing them and exhorting them, calling them to do this and forcing them to do that.’ They start with the imperative rather than the indicative. The indicative and the imperative are inseparable: the indicative must move to the imperative, the imperative needs the indicative. What God has done must move men to respond. 

I appreciate Carrick’s grammatical approach to preaching. It puts into clear language the difference between Arminian preaching and Reformed preaching. It grounds all Biblical exhortation in the gospel and it bases the evangelical call of Christianity in the evangelical truths of Christianity. It is a reminder to preachers to begin with the gospel, the historical fact that Jesus died and rose again. But of course, when Paul was standing before Festus, he pointed out that these facts of the gospel were compelling reason for Festus to bow his knee to Jesus Christ: “For the king knows about these things, and to him I speak boldly. For I am persuaded that none of these things has escaped his notice, for this has not been done in a corner. King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know that you believe.” (Acts 2:26-27).

I trust that this is helpful food for thought. Next week I will reflect on Carrick’s 3rd chapter on the exclamative in preaching.