Peter Adam is Principal of Ridley Theological College in Melbourne, Australia. In a recent lecture on John Calvin as a preacher, he sets out nine demanding engagements that Calvin sought to fulfil in his own preaching.
1. Engaging with God. The preacher doesn’t just talk about God in some remote and objective way. No: the preacher expects God to be present with and in his Word by his Spirit.
2. Engaging with the 66 texts of the Bible. The preacher does not use snippets of the Bible merely as mottoes, or as hooks upon which to hang his own thoughts. No: the preacher will seek to teach the Bible, as it comes to us in the books of the Old and New Testaments. Calvin was an expository preacher, committed to preaching through entire books of the Bible.
3. Engaging with theology. The preacher does this when he deal with his text in the context of the biblical revelation as a whole, and brings it to bear on contemporary questions and issues. Both biblical theology (the unfolding revelation of Scriptures) and systematic theology (synthesising the Bible’s teaching on the topic in hand).
4. Engaging with the congregation. We do not deal only with timeless truths. Just like Christ and the apostles, we speak to real people, and deal with their real needs and problems. We should be students of our congregations, as well as students of the Bible.
5. Engaging with the congregation as hearers. There is a difference between an essay (to be read) and a sermon (to be heard). In preaching, Calvin rarely used ‘I’ and ‘you’: he usually identified himself with the congregation by saying, ‘we’.
6. Engaging in training. The preacher trains people to read and understand God’s word for themselves, teaches them to honour preaching and preachers, and empowers them to teach others.
7. Engaging the congregation in gospel ministry. We adorn the gospel when we do our daily work honestly and conscientiously. But the church as a whole (not just preachers) has a responsibility to draw the world to God’s kingdom.
8. Engaging in training future preachers. The preacher seeks to model good preaching, and thus inspire and instruct the future generation of preachers.
9. Engaging the humanity of the preacher. We do not glorify God by diminishing our own humanity, but by being fully human as we have been created (and are being re-created) in God’s image. Our preaching will reflect our own personalities and personal styles.
Each of these, says Adam, is demanding, and to do all nine in any one sermon is very demanding. But Calvin provides a notable model.