Two kinds of preachers

There are many kinds of preachers, just as there are many kinds of theologians or fishermen … or sausages, for that matter. While it may or may not be helpful to try and distinguish between them, I want to suggest that there are basically two kinds of Christian preachers . There are those who preach the gospel as a thing done, and there are those who preach about the gospel as a thing still to be finished, usually by way of human response other than that offered vicariously by the last Adam. [Of course there are others – many in fact – who preach neither a thing done, nor a thing to do. While some of these may be preaching Christians, they are not Christian preachers in any sense of the word! Some of these even try to hide behind the rhetoric of doing ‘expository’ preaching. Of course, all preaching worthy of the name is expository, but I have in mind here those who think that the preaching task is finished when one has explained what the text means].

Among the former, that is among those who preach the gospel as a thing done, are people like James Denney. I’ve been reading Denney today, and have been struck afresh at just how different his word is to so much of what passes for evangelical preaching today. Here’s a wee passage that struck a good chord:

The work of reconciliation, in the sense of the New Testament, is a work which is finished, and which we must conceive to be finished, before the gospel is preached. It is the good tidings of the Gospel, with which the evangelists go forth, that God has wrought in Christ a work of reconciliation which avails for no less than the world, and of which the whole world may have the benefit. The summons of the evangelist is – ‘Receive the reconciliation; consent that it become effective in your case.’ The work of reconciliation is not a work wrought upon the souls of men, though it is a work wrought in their interests, and bearing so directly upon them that we can say God has reconciled the world to Himself; it is a work – as Cromwell said of the covenant – outside of us, in which God so deals in Christ with the sin of the world, that it shall no longer be a barrier between Himself and men … Reconciliation is not something which is doing; it is something which is done. No doubt there is a work of Christ which is in process, but it has as its basis a finished work of Christ; it is in virtue of something already consummated on His cross that Christ is able to make the appeal to us which He does, and to win the response in which we receive the reconciliation. A finished work of Christ and an objective atonement – a katallagh. – in the New Testament sense – are synonymous terms; the one means exactly the same as the other; and it seems to me self-evident, as I think it did to St. Paul, that unless we can preach a finished work of Christ in relation to sin, a katallagh. or reconciliation or peace which has been achieved independently of us, at an infinite cost, and to which we are called in a word or ministry of reconciliation, we have no real gospel for sinful men at all’. – James Denney, The Death of Christ: Its Place and Interpretation in the New Testament (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1909), 144–5, 146.

To be sure, there is an appropriation that must take place – by both reconciled parties – but it is an appropriation of a finished work, the entering into what is already de facto a reconciled situation, a new creation. God’s reconciliation in Christ was not ‘a tentative, preliminary affair’ (Forsyth) but a finished one. ‘Paul did not preach a gradual reconciliation. He preached what the old divines use to call a finished work’ (Forsyth). We live in a reconciled world.

Blessed are those with eyes to see, ears to hear, and faith to proclaim …

4 comments

  1. Yes, but the ‘done’ gospel must still have a ‘not yet’ promise. The (finished) opening/refashioning/new birth of the new creation is itself a promise. There is more to come. There is already resurrection from the dead, but not yet the resurrection of the dead. Both will be in Christ, of course, since the future is nothing other than the future of Christ.

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  2. Byron. Many thanks for your comment. I agree, and have updated the post to reflect something of that. Of course there remains something of God’s unfinished business to do, but I would want to stress that the answer to the ‘not yet’ promise has already been given, latent in the thing done. While much of its unpacking awaits a future time, the ‘package’ itself has arrived!

    We live in a redeemed world, and one day all humanity will know it.

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  3. Yes, I like those changes. And thanks for your response.

    But isn’t this unpacking more than simply a revelation of what is already the case? Doesn’t Christ need to ‘come’ as well as simply ‘appear’? Are the dead already raised, they (or we) just don’t know it yet? Is the only remaining problem in the world blindness to the fact that there are now no more problems?

    I agree wholeheartedly that Christ’s death and resurrection is the heart of God’s redemption, but it is also a pattern, a first-fruits, and hence a promise of redemption that is still yet to come. However, this completion is not up to us. Christ is the Omega as well as the Alpha, the perfecter as well as the author of our faith. It is not as though he has done his bit and passed the baton on to us and if we drop it, the race will not be finished. But he still has more to do.

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  4. Byron,

    This discussion basically reflects the co-existent realities of past-present-future witnessed to in the NT. eg. We have been saved … we are being saved … we will be saved.

    My point (with Denney et al) is simply to stress the witness of the prolepsis in the NT so that whatever ‘more to do’ we want to identify that it be understood as the outworking of Christ’s finished work of reconciliation. So…

    Yes, the unpacking is more than simply a revelation of what is already the case.
    Yes, Christ needs to ‘come’ as well as simply ‘appear’.
    Are the dead already raised? Yes … and not yet.
    Is the only remaining problem in the world blindness to the fact that there are now no more problems. No. Think Romans 7, at least.

    Is the world reconciled to God in Christ or not! YES … and with no buts.

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