Preach in view of a stadium of witnesses, says Lawson at Mullins Lectures
Heroes of the pulpit like Charles Spurgeon and George Whitefield provide models of bold preaching for today’s ministers, said Steven Lawson in the Mullins Lectures on Preaching at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Oct. 25-26. The nation’s second-oldest lectureship on preaching was held in conjunction with the fifth annual Expositors Summit, Oct. 25-27.
"One of the greatest steps of faith that you and I will ever take is the mere act of preaching," said Lawson, founder and president of OnePassion Ministries.
Lawson said he regularly draws inspiration from the greatest preachers in the history of the church, and has portraits of Jonathan Edwards, William Tyndale, John Knox, John Calvin, Charles Spurgeon, Martin Luther, and George Whitefield hanging above his desk.
Preaching from Hebrews 12, Lawson challenged students to see their preaching ministry arrayed beneath a “great cloud of witnesses,” a metaphor that pictures a stadium full of thousands of spectators. Modern preachers must learn from the example of these men, said Lawson, who focused on Spurgeon, Whitefield, and 20th-century Welsh preacher Martyn Lloyd-Jones in his three lectures.
“They are a cloud of witnesses who have already run their race and have assumed their place now in the grandstands,” Lawson said. “They are cheering us on by the example of their lives. They do not witness us; they bear witness to us.”
During the three-day Expositors Summit, SBTS President R. Albert Mohler Jr. said Jesus’ parables not only contain judgment, but “point to the grace of God in Christ for our salvation.”
“We haven’t possibly preached until we have preached the gospel,” Mohler said. “We can’t possibly believe that we have finished preaching until we declare that Jesus saves sinners and tell sinners how they can find salvation through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.”
Using the parable of the pharisee and the tax collector in Luke 18 and the parable of the 10 minas in Luke 19, Mohler highlighted the judgment and grace held within each parable. He urged preachers to keep judgment and grace present in their sermons.
In the parable of the tax collector, the reader should be shocked that grace is extended to the worst of sinners. It is in the tax collector’s cry for mercy that he recognizes his sinfulness, believes in faith, and believing, is justified. We can have confidence that we, too, can be saved because of the grace given to the tax collector, Mohler said.
The parable of the 10 minas is not primarily about money, he said. It is about believers sharing in the Son’s reign of the kingdom. Judgment is coming first for the believers and then for all the rest, Mohler said. Therefore, Christians should be occupied with kingdom work until Christ returns, including the call to preach the gospel.
“By the time we finish preaching, the saved ought to know that they are saved and the lost need to know they’re lost,” Mohler said.
Also during the Expositors Summit, Alistair Begg, senior pastor of Parkside Church in Cleveland, Ohio, said Christians need to grasp the essential nature of the gospel in order to be faithful preachers. Preaching from Ephesians 1, Begg said pastors must not settle for a simplistic understanding of the gospel, but instead embrace the rich complexity of its message and the countercultural nature of its effect.
“Some of us have become very good at telling people how important it is to believe the gospel and warning them about what will happen to them if they don’t believe the gospel, and many of them are still sitting in their pews going, ‘Yes, but what exactly is the gospel?’” Begg said. “Ephesians tells us. [The gospel is] what God has done for us in Christ to save us from sin and from the devil and from death.”
The effectiveness of preaching and evangelism largely depends on how the preacher perceives the wholly undeserved nature of God’s grace, Begg said. When Christians recognize the “divine diagnosis” of abject depravity that covers all humanity, they are better equipped to proclaim divine forgiveness, Begg said.
“The difficulty for some of us is that we really have not faced up to the gravity of our condition, and therefore, we’re a little bit tongue-tied when it comes to declaring these things. And when we do declare them, if we’re not careful, it comes off as unbelievably self-righteous,” Begg said. “Our businessmen are going, ‘Wow, it must be terrific to be perfect.’ What we need to say to them is, ‘Our Christian lives are, with Luther, lives of daily repentance.’”
Audio and video of the chapel messages during the Mullins Lectures and Expositors Summit are available at sbts.edu/resources.