Preaching Acts; Training Homileticians

Implications for Preaching from the Book of Acts

 This has been a great final week of term at Wycliffe Hall concentrating on preaching.

 We have David Cook from Sydney Missionary Bible School preaching to students and modelling good preaching practice.

 At the same time we have jointly hosted a Consultation with Langham Partnership.  We have delegates from around the world meeting to discuss best practice in developing good preachers through seminar and seminary education.

 I facilitated a discussion on using Acts as a model for building a Homiletics Curriculum.  In broad outline we felt that it should cover:

1.  Content

 The sermons of Acts are unashamedly Christological, with a particular emphasis on Christ’s death and resurrection (e.g. “he was not abandoned to the realm of the dead, nor did his body see decay.  God said this Jesus to life, and we are witnesses of the fact”; “You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead.  We are witnesses of this.” Acts 2:31f; 3:16)).

 Paul’s evangelistic sermons moved from known (identifying with his Jewish or Gentile audience) to unknown (e.g. Acts 17).

 Sermons were eschatologically focused.  Preachers today need to communicate the tension between that which has been certainly revealed (The Gospel summons to repent and believe) and that which requires a tentative and humble awareness of our limitations (E.g. confidence over Christ’s future return but humility over when).

 In Acts in is named and idolatry specified (it specifics which offend, not generalities) but always with the purpose of leading the audience to submit to Christ as Lord and call to him as Saviour.


2. Context/Culture

The various locations where the Apostles preached included: Synagogue, market place, homes, cities, countryside, riverside etc.

 We need to be helping our students use the variety of different locations and cultures around them to communicate Christ: the coffee shop, open air, debating hall, pub, homes, hustings rally, oh, yes, and of course, Church!  Practice and training in these skills need to work alongside a clear understanding of the content of the message.

 3. Character

 By character I mean both the personal character of the preacher and style/characteristics of the sermon

 Preaching in Acts is marked by:

  • Expectancy.  They assumed that something would happen when they preached, and invariably it did!
  • Event/explanation: The Spirit is poured at Pentecost and a sermon follows; someone is healed which provokes an explanation.  The event/explanation pattern has given birth to a “signs and wonders” theology for some.  I certainly do not want to undervalue the great opportunity which a miracle gives for preaching Christ!  However, I wonder whether Acts is also encouraging us to be attentive to speaking to and about the events which happen every day under God’s providential hand?
  • Evangelistic focus (Acts 1:8).  This centrifugal force (sending out the word into all the world) still operates today and motivates Gospel preaching
  • Teams/modelling: Paul was not a lone ranger.  He preached alongside Silas, Barnabas, Mark, Peter, and other companions.  Preaching is caught as well as taught; learnt and modelled; a gifting that needs training.


4. Communication

We had a fruitful discussion around the range of preaching/teaching words in Acts.  Peter Adam in Speaking God’s Words (IVP) summarises the main groups of speaking ministries as

  • information
  • declaration
  • exhortation
  • persuasion
  • conversation

 Preachers need to be competent in all these kinds of word-based ministries in order to be faithful and effective preachers of God’s word.

 Clearly there is more that can be learned from Acts, and indeed from the rest of the New Testament, about training today’s preachers in their God-given task.  But, this distillation from Acts is a great place to start!


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