Ca s-a schimbat in 50 de ani…
In the October 15, 1956 inaugural issue of Christianity Today, founder Billy Graham authored an article, “Biblical Authority in Evangelism.” Over 50 years later, Leadership’s Angie Ward interviewed five respected American preachers about what’s changed, if anything, in light of today’s culture. We offer excerpts from Graham’s original article, along with comments by these leaders. Their insights help us understand our world so we can better touch our culture with the gospel.
Billy Graham: No one who once heard Jesus could ever again be the same. What was the secret of this Master Teacher? How did He hold these crowds spellbound?
“When Jesus had ended these sayings, the people were astonished at his doctrine; for he taught them as one having authority” (Matt. 7:28, 29). Is not this authoritative note part of the secret of the earthly ministry of Christ? The great prophets of the past had also spoken with authority. The impact of their preaching cannot be traced simply to an authoritative technique. Nor was it based on confidence merely in the rightness of their own speculations. Their secret is traceable to nothing less than the confidence that they were the mediators of Divine revelation.
What makes a preacher or preaching authoritative?
Mohler: I do see the preacher as one with authority, but it’s not his own authority. There is a certain authority vested in the teaching office in the church. The authority is not that of the teacher, but that of the Scripture which is to be taught. That distinction is often lost on some in the congregation.
Buchanan: The Presbyterian view is that there is authority given in God’s word when it is conveyed by the preacher. People do for preaching what they do for no one else: sit for 20 minutes and listen. Why? There is some authority granted there. It comes from the context of the gathered community sitting in front of the Word. We insist that people need a bit of education before they step up and do this. We wouldn’t hand someone a scalpel and say, “Go ahead and operate.” Presbyterians are big on theological education but also on internships, residencies, learning by watching. We learn by being taught by wise mentors, watching it, then stepping on the ice and doing it.
Tchividjian: The authority of a preacher has both an “inside-out” dynamic and an “outside-in” dynamic. God anoints particular people as carriers of his truth. The ones God anoints-what theologians used to call unction-preach with an authority that is clearly “out of this world.” In this sense, authority flows from inside-out. But since God’s Word (the Bible), not my words, carry ultimate authority, then authority, in this sense, flows from the outside-in. In both cases, though, it is God’s authority that gives the preacher an authoritative message.
Anderson: The Word of God is the baseline of authority, but then the Spirit of God is the conduit through which that authority is wielded. The Spirit of God works in the preacher who speaks the Word.
Warren: Preaching becomes authoritative when two elements combine: the Word of God, and the life of the preacher. A humble, authentic life is usually the missing ingredient. We’ve all heard preaching by those whose life didn’t model the truth and their words fell flat. Christlike preaching is incarnational preaching. When the Word becomes flesh it transforms people. Paul said, “We shared with you not only the gospel of God but our own lives as well.” The world today is dying to hear an authoritative message through a humble messenger. When those two elements come together, the force is irresistible.
Authority comes from God’s Word, humility from experiences with the Word and the Spirit.
Billy Graham: Throughout the Old Testament, we find Isaiah, Jeremiah, Hosea, and the other prophets continually using expressions such as “The word of the Lord came unto me” or “Thus saith the Lord.” The prophets of old gained their authority from this: they were not simply speaking their own words, they were mouthpieces for God.
Do you consider yourself a mouthpiece for God?
Tchividjian: I want to be careful how I put this, but I would not be preaching if I did not believe God called me and equipped me for this holy task. But my internal sense of calling had to be checked and verified externally. In my denomination, part of the ordination process is that the church must confirm that God has in fact set this person apart.
Mohler: I am certainly supposed to be a mouthpiece for Scripture, a human instrument through which the Scripture is heard and received by God’s people. But the human preacher’s authority only reaches the human ear. It is only God himself who can take his word from the human ear to the human heart.
Buchanan: We need to be very careful about that. So many people have abused this, preachers need to be very careful before claiming they are God’s mouthpiece. I think the preacher needs to be suggestive and not declarative. There are times in history when people (like Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Martin Luther King) were called with some authority to say, “This is wrong.” But we need to be cautious. One of our central doctrines is that we all fall short of the glory of God. Sin touches all of us. Our call is to study, pray, discern the word, then convey it to people.
Anderson: At times I do believe I am a mouthpiece for God. People who aren’t preachers can be mouthpieces for God, but there is a special anointing that God has placed on messengers (angels) in the Bible. People have gifts, but when those gifts are matched with a position of authority given by God and affirmed by his people, there is a special authority.
Warren: I am. That’s what makes preaching such a terrifying responsibility and drives me to total dependence upon God. Years ago I wrote out and memorized a prayer of heart searching and surrender, about 15 minutes long, that I pray every single time before I preach. As Paul said, “We have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.”
Does a preacher provide something that reading Scripture personally does not?
Mohler: Preaching is a congregational activity. It’s not just one individual speaking to another. It’s God’s people gathered to hear his word. This is different from listening to a preacher alone, because people are experiencing it together in the context of the church. In addition, there is a teaching office in the church. It was God’s design that men would preach the word, those whom he has called and the church has recognized. This is not just a job that human beings have devised as a means of fulfilling a need.
Buchanan: In every age and in every generation, God has called people to be conveyors and proclaimers of the word. The job of the preacher is to go to Scripture; wrestle with it; then report to the congregation what he or she has found. Wrestling with Scripture has always been a communal project.
Warren: Anointing. It was said of St. Basil, “His words were thunder because his life was lightning.” You’re always more powerful as a personal witness than as an orator. People grow faster and better with models.
Tchividjian: For those who might say, “I don’t need a preacher, my teacher is the Holy Spirit and I can learn what I need on my own”-if your chief concern is to follow the Bible, the Bible itself says you need to be sitting at the feet of reliable carriers of God’s truth (Eph. 4). God has gifted his church with teachers and preachers to explain and apply his truth.
What part does the preacher’s personality play?
Warren: Phillips Brooks defined preaching as “truth through a personality.” Since God sovereignly gave us different personalities, he also chooses to use different styles of preaching. The examples in the Bible prove that! To elevate one particular human method above all others is idolatry, and reflects both arrogance and racism. For 2,000 years, God has used as many styles of preaching as he has created preachers and personalities.
Tchividjian: Personality plays a significant part. The Bible shows that God works through human personality, such as David the poet and Luke the doctor. But preachers need to be careful that people leave a sermon not so much with grand impressions of human personality, but with grand impressions of divine personality. That’s where expository preaching helps, because you are explaining what God is saying. You are pointing away from yourself to what God is saying, but you obviously communicate through your personality.
How does the preacher simultaneously maintain supreme confidence in God’s Word, and humility suited to his ongoing sinfulness, ignorance, and other limitations?
Mohler: God alone can change lives. As a preacher, I have tremendous confidence that, insofar as I teach the Scriptures, I am serving God and serving God’s people. Preaching is a means of grace. I’m humbled by the realization that it’s not my own authority at stake here, not my wisdom that is to be on display.
Warren: Authority comes from God’s word, humility from the application of that Word to your own life. Humility is often misunderstood. It doesn’t mean denying your strength. It means admitting your weaknesses and being honest about them. Humility is dependence. Humility lives out the first sentence of The Purpose-Driven Life: “It’s not about you.”
Billy Graham: During that [1949 Los Angeles] crusade I discovered the secret that changed my ministry. I stopped trying to prove that the Bible was true. I had settled in my own mind that it was, and this faith was conveyed to the audience. … Authority created faith. Faith generated response, and hundreds of people were impelled to come to Christ. …
I felt as though I had a rapier in my hand and, through the power of the Bible, was slashing deeply into men’s consciences, leading them to surrender to God. Does not the Bible say of itself, “For the Word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart” (Heb. 4:12)? …
I am not advocating bibliolatry. … I am, however, fervently urging a return to Bible-centered preaching, a gospel presentation that says without apology and without ambiguity, “Thus saith the Lord.”
In 1956 Graham described the power of “Thus saith the Lord” preaching. Is this what preaching should be today?
Mohler: If it’s not, then I have to wonder what we really think of the teaching office at all. If we’re not speaking on behalf of God on the basis of God’s self-revelation in Scripture, you have to wonder if there could be a teaching office. Instead, there could be a consulting office, a counseling office, maybe a therapeutic office, but not a teaching office.
Anderson: “Thus saith the Lord” works perfectly as long as we mean not only the written words of God, but also the spoken words of God. Ephesians 6 describes the “word” (rema) of God being the sword of the Spirit. That’s not logos. Rema means the Holy Spirit taking the word, wielding it like a sword, and using it precisely.
Tchividjian: I’m not sure that, in our post-Christian culture, people know what “Thus saith the Lord” means. Cult leaders say that kind of thing. I remember Os Guinness saying one time that, as a college student, he would listen to Martyn Lloyd-Jones in the morning and John Stott in the evening, and he never once remembered them saying, “Thus saith the Lord.” Their anointing was so obvious, their commitment to God’s Word so thorough, it was clear that the audience was not simply hearing from a man. That requires the preacher to be living a holy life and basking in God’s presence and living before the face of God so that when you preach, you don’t have to say, “Thus saith the Lord.” It’s clear without saying it.
Billy Graham: In August of  I had been invited to Forest Home conference center in the mountains outside Los Angeles. I remember walking down a trail and wrestling with God. I dueled with my doubts, and my soul seemed to be caught in the crossfire.
Finally, in desperation, I surrendered my will to the living God revealed in Scripture.
I knelt before the open Bible and said: “Lord, many things in this Book I do not understand. But Thou has said, ‘The just shall live by faith.’ All I have received from Thee, I have taken by faith. Here and now, by faith, I accept the Bible as Thy word. I take it all. I take it without reservations. Where there are things I cannot understand, I will reserve judgment until I receive more light. If this pleases Thee, give me authority as I proclaim Thy word, and through that authority convict me of sin and turn sinners to the Savior.”
Is there any room for doubt or uncertainty in the preacher?
Buchanan: There is definitely room for doubt and uncertainty for me. To make the judgment that [doubt and uncertainty] are the evidence for no faith is contrary to what the Bible says. In Mark 9, Jesus commends the man who says, “I believe; help my unbelief!” Faith is not certainty. Faith is trust. Faith is putting yourself in the hands of a gracious and benevolent God and doing your best to be faithful to Jesus Christ.
Anderson: When people are clear on all the unclear passages, that scares me. Preachers can be too sure. It’s not an issue of doubt; it’s an issue of humility. The problem is taking unclear passages and building theological doctrines around them. God is bigger than my finite brain and understanding.
Warren: I don’t doubt the Word of God, but I have doubted my ability to live it and convey it. Paul said, “I come to you in weaknesses, fear, and trembling.” He never faked it. He was honest about his fears, failures, faults, and feelings. He shared his struggles instead of pretending to have it all together. You can spot a phony.
Tchividjian: There are levels of doubt and uncertainty. Every preacher needs to be certain that what they are expounding is God’s timeless, inerrant, infallible truth. But at another level I doubt my ability as a human agent to apply it. I don’t doubt God, but I do doubt me.
Mohler: I can honestly say that the answer is no. That is not to say that I’ve never struggled with certain issues, but by the time I’ve preached them, they’re settled. Certain things are less clear than others, such as some matters of eschatology. But when it comes to that which has been revealed in Scripture, I don’t think there is room for doubt. Our responsibility is to be aware that people may be struggling with these things as we are preaching.
Points of Agreement
A calling to preach. All the pastors interviewed for this article believe they have been divinely called to a ministry of proclaiming God’s Word, and their calls have been affirmed by their faith communities.
Passion for God’s word. All are clearly passionate about communicating the Word of God.
Pastors’ hearts. Each person evidences a deep love for the people they serve and lead. All are committed to ministering in the context of community, not as lone rangers relying on their considerable communication gifts.
A sense of awe and responsibility for the pulpit. Just as athletes talk about “respecting the game,” these leaders all have a high view of the preaching office, which is a great burden and responsibility.
David Anderson is pastor of Bridgeway Community Church, an intentionally multicultural church in Columbia, Maryland.
John M. Buchanan pastors Fourth Presbyterian Church in downtown Chicago. He is also editor and publisher of The Christian Century.
R. Albert Mohler, Jr. is president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky.
Tullian Tchividjian is a grandson of Billy Graham and the senior pastor at New City Church in Margate, Florida, outside Fort Lauderdale.
Rick Warren is the founding pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California.
Copyright © 2008 by the author or Christianity Today International/Leadership Journa