Keller Channels Edwards [Edwardsisms]

I haven’t watched the whole sermon, but Tim Keller recently channeled Jonathan Edwards in a sermon at Newfrontiers in London. (HT: Justin Taylor)

Adrian Warnock has the video and notes on the sermon. He also throws up a couple of quotations by Edwards and Lloyd-Jones on the need to “change people in their seats” (Keller’s phrase). I can’t be sure, but I think the Lloyd-Jones quotation is building off of  one from Edwards in Some Thoughts Concerning the Reviving of Religion. Here’s the story:

During the Awakening, religious meetings were almost a daily practice and people would hear multiple sermons per week. Charles Chauncy and other opponents of the Awakening disparaged this practice because there was no way that people could remember what they heard in order to apply it to their lives. Edwards described this objection thusly:

The frequent preaching that has lately been, has in a particular manner been objected against as unprofitable and prejudicial. ‘Tis objected that when sermons are heard so very often, one sermon tends to thrust out another; so that persons lose the benefit of all: they say two or three sermons in a week is as much as they can remember and digest.

Edwards responded by making an incredibly profound statement on the benefit of preaching:

Such objections against frequent preaching, if they ben’t from an enmity against religion, are for want of duly considering the way that sermons usually profit an auditory. The main benefit that is obtained by preaching is by impression made upon the mind in the time of it, and not by an effect that arises afterwards by a remembrance of what was delivered. And though an after remembrance of what was heard in a sermon is oftentimes very profitable; yet, for the most part, that remembrance is from an impression the words made on the heart in the time of it; and the memory profits as it renews and increases that impression; and a frequent inculcating [of] the more important things of religion in preaching has no tendency to raze out such impressions, but to increase them, and fix them deeper and deeper in the mind, as is found by experience. (Some Thoughts, Part III, in Works of Jonathan Edwards, vol. 4, page 397)

That statement has been hugely influential for me as I approach not only preaching, but classroom teaching and listening to sermons. My primary goal in hearing a sermon is not to take copious notes for later reflection (as helpful as those may be). The main goal in hearing a sermon is to meet with the living God, to have his grace awaken my affections so that I am conformed to the image of his Son (Romans 8:29).

Such a view of preaching and teaching is hugely liberating because it means that my aim as a preacher is not that my hearers be able to pass a quiz two days (or 30 minutes!) later, but that they would encounter the triune God in the preached word and be transformed from one degree of glory to another (2 Corinthians 3:17-18).

Before this post gets too long, I’ll just direct your attention to one other place where Keller unpacks this view of preaching and contrasts it with common models today. In an issue of Cutting Edge, the Vineyard Church magazine, Keller had this to say about informational vs. experiential preaching:

The informational view of preaching conceives of preaching as changing people’s lives after the sermon. They listen to the sermon, take notes, and then apply the Biblical principles during the week. But this assumes that our main problem is a lack of compliance to Biblical principles when, in fact, our problems are actually due to a lack of joy and belief in the gospel. If that’s our real problem, then the purpose of preaching is to make Christ so real to the heart that in the sermon itself people have an experience of God’s grace such that false idols and false saviors lose their power and grip on us on the spot. That’s the experiential view of preaching we see in someone like Jonathan Edwards.

In any event, I think that the view of preaching set forth by Edwards, Lloyd-Jones, and Keller is worth deep reflection and meditation. I’d love to hear your thoughts.