AN ANALYSIS OF: POWER IN THE PULPIT by JERRY VINE

AN ANALYSIS OF: POWER IN THE PULPIT by JERRY VINE

             Speaking of the life of Christ, the Apostle John wrote:  “There are many other things Jesus did. If every one of them were written down, I suppose the whole world would not be big enough for all the books that would be written”, (John 21:25), New Century Bible, 1981[1].  Since then, many have attempted to complete this odious task by filling the world with books about Christ, faith and the Christian religion.  This has included a broad and varied collection of eclectic works covering a gamut of topics. One of the topics that have become a mainstay with those who work as minister’s of the Gospel is the concern over the task of preaching.  Numerous books have been written about this subject as long as men have preaching.

Application of biblical truth should always be the goal of those who function within the portals of God’s Holy Writ, regardless of station.  This truth is relevant to both those who serve within the professorial ranks of the academician and the front line expositors of the various preaching stations found throughout the globe.  The flavor of Power in the Pulpit captures the essential value of the sermon’s power in motivating the participants in Scriptural reception as Vine stresses the need for activation concerning God’s incarnational truth.

The field of study that relates to the fine art of expositing Scripture has witnessed an inordinately high number of entries that focus on hermeneutical principles of interpretation that function in an extremely practical manner.  These books include Bernard Ramm’s classic Protestant Biblical Interpretation[2], Milton Terry’s Biblical Hermeneutics[3], Merrill Unger’s’ Principles of Expository Preaching[4], or Douglas White’s obscure but valuable The Excellence of Exposition,[5] to note just a few of the more esteemed variations that have approached the level of directly influencing the general community of modern evangelical preachers. Henry Virkler’s Hermeneutics:  Principles and Processes of Biblical Interpretation,[6] is also worthy of note here, as Dr. Virkler attempts a unique and somewhat novel approach to the practice of exposition through the use of brain teasers (BT’s). These BT’s consist of practical exercises designed to draw out thoughtful analysis of the hermeneutical rules with the intent of eliciting careful responses that highlight the personal impact of proper exegesis, or conversely, the danger of improper exegesis.

Vines’ also approaches the practical aspects of sermon construction as well, as he shares the philosophical underpinnings of sound, homiletic constructs that possess the power to both test and convict his audience.  But Vines’ doesn’t stop at the exotic challenge to simply preach well, alone and by itself.  He adds depth to the subject by inserting various examples of each aspect of the nature that a sermon can take from his prodigious body of work that has been compiled over the years.  The outline of the book in all of its various elements lends itself to a common belief that Vines’ would be a ready advocate of the standard three point sermon.  The stock system that Vines’ presents is a tried and true pattern that has been tested down through the ages and has produced a significant level of success by many, many ministers.  Power in the Pulpit is a good bridge between those who advocate preaching with conviction and those who see sermonizing as a less than relevant mode of challenging those who fill the pews.  This is a good work that should remain in any library for occasional review.

The need to review is predicated upon the belief that at times it appears that modern Christianity is experiencing a death in effective preaching, at least when effectiveness is measured by obedient response to the sacred mandates.  Vines’ sees this as particularly germane to the last half of the 20th Century, as he declares: “The last half of the twentieth century has witnessed a dearth of good preaching in America and abroad.”[7]  The plague of shallow exposition and its relatives, gullible congregants seem to be reconfiguring the guise of Christian expressionism.  Ministers would exercise prudent wisdom by granting a reflective pause within Power in the Pulpit’s warm embrace.  Vines’ has created a micro-masterpiece, as he critically disassembles the sermons connection point, allowing the visitor to study his deliberative critique concerning the ability to view the invitation from the vantage points of techniques that have proved invaluable throughout church history.  He also examines various modern approaches to the sermon, calling for a consolidated matrix, even as he observes the powerful emotive tool style expresses during the sermon.

An added bonus to Power in the Pulpit’s lessons can be found in the concise guidelines Vines’ lays out concerning the practical functions of the sermon for the effective communicator.  The assertion that preaching is defined by: “The oral communication of biblical truth by the Holy Spirit through a human personality to a given audience with the intent of enabling a positive response,”[8] rings true.  The words that follow Vines practical observations are realistic and effective, as he lays out a methodology concerning the sermon that is intriguing.  Underneath his postured stance on technique, Vines’ acknowledges the need to be attentive to the discipline of prayer.  This welcoming voice, that beckons the sermonizer into the place of divine communication, places the impetus upon the deliverer’s reliance on the God for whom they speak.  The challenge to bear the burden of the lost, which is the heart of God, is as convicting as it is correct.

Moving into a more germane field of examination, Vines’ develops a very beneficial presentation about the pastor and his study in the third chapter.  Vines’ admonition to keep the mornings as a sacred meeting time for prayer and study showcases one of the main reasons for his success as a pastor and denominational leader, as Vines’ has served as the head of the Southern Baptist Convention in times past.  The meditative morning has served him well as Vines’ communes with God, prepares sermons, thought through his day and the problems it would bring, and as an escape vehicle from the pressures of the world that constantly attempt to be a detractive element in the life of God’s servants.  Regardless of what may have attempted to intrude upon Vines’ day, the morning belonged to him and to the God who owned his love and allegiance.

Vines’ expresses great understanding in his appraisal of the value of study as a promotional aid into the realm of wisdom as an expression of knowledge that is put into action as a functional part of a leader’s method of personal discipline.  He accurately judges its appeal for the leaders in the midst of Christ’s body in a very practical manner when he surmises that just as: “The more tools a man has in his tool box, the more tasks he will be able to accomplish, so it is with the intellectual development… the preacher should, however, acquire as much specific education in the area of theology and Bible as he possibly can.”[9]  Furthermore, Vines’ advances this notion of wisdoms reliance upon knowledge as he states: “Regardless of your past intellectual training, you should spend all the days of your ministry studying and preparing to preach.”[10]   Is there any better way to state the obvious dependent nature of knowledge, intelligence and wisdom?  The three form of a symbiotic relationship that is at the center of sound judgment and keen insight in so far as leadership is concerned.  This triad forms an alliance that can advance the kingdom of God far into the portals of Hell, as they present a reasonable defense for the faith that is found in God’s great love expression: Jesus Christ.

Power in the Pulpit takes a position that ensconces the value of both character development and proper study as a means of improving the intricate demands that are placed upon the leader in all aspects of ministry and preaching the Word in a decisive manner in particular.  This dual pronged challenge of character development through the exercise of habitual study is one that needs to be heeded in today’s haphazard approach to knowledge and comprehension.  It is in the dark recesses of the written tomes that the mind is challenged with new thoughts and ideas, helping the minister to overcome the difficulties and trials that leadership brings into its often cold and lonely embrace.  The minister can hardly afford to neglect the fine art of studious practice, as books are gateways into time, allowing the servant of God to commune with the great thinkers and contributors of the past who have traveled down the road of humanity already, contributing to the cycle of thought in both the secular arena and in the field of religious ruminations, regardless of the era to which they may have belonged.

The emphasis that is placed on the call and qualifications of the exegete is thought-provoking, and his challenge concerning the use of sound principles, held in balance with the emphasis of effective communication, helps the expositor to understand the need of alleviating the dangerous practice of allegorical exegesis, or deeper meanings of interpretation that the original author never intended.  Vines’ also introduces the readers to the essential tools for the trade:  word studies, lexicons, dictionaries, commentaries, etc.,[11] thus helping the novice with the need of appropriating proper tools of the business of preaching sound messages that will be invaluable in assisting the preacher in the area of thorough research on a personal level and in assessing the composite works of those who have undergone the challenge of expositing Scripture previously.

The transcendent qualities of study are further ensconced by Vines’ as he points out the ability of great written works to benefit the reader spiritually, intellectually and morally as the benefactors of reading accept the counsel of the items they are analyzing.  This is particularly true of books and study material that enhances the spiritual nature of the student, drawing them into an improved relationship with God as they ponder new truths about Him.  Hopefully, this exercise will broaden the neophytes’ intellectual acumen, as it equally augments the ability of the learner to articulate the new found ideas in a congruent manner.  By all means, this is a path worthy of following in a society that is rapidly jettisoning its valves of consistent thought and morality for a philosophy founded in moral relativism as expressed in the burgeoning field of Humanisms twin: Postmodernism.  Godly wisdom, gained through masterful study, is truly a viable means of advancing the Christian faith; pulling the church out of a direction that is heading toward mediocrity and stagnation.

In addressing the content of his pulpit’s focus, Vines’ advocates using the Bible as the basis of the ongoing, expositional material that Vines’ continued to present to his congregation.  This has possibly been a fine example of the expository methodology, as utilized in the modern context, exegeting particular Books of the Bible in a verse by verse format, at a time when the method had fallen out of favor with many ministers.  By making the most of this system of exposition, Vines’ has found a never ending source of material to share with his people.  This may be his greatest legacy to the modern church, with many Baptist and IndependentChurches adopting this system with great success, as they have followed his example.  The demand for excellence in exposition is an admonition that should be heard throughout the rank and file of the episcopate.

Vines’ makes a compelling case for simplicity, coupled with soundness of principle, as he attempts to balance the focus of the biblical text, the audience intended and the expositor’s unique task of reaching equilibrium in his methodology and understanding in a riveting fashion and format.  The underlying theme and attitude toward the gilded halls of preaching are readily seen to be in agreement with Stephen Olford’s point of view concerning expository preaching’s value.  This can be seen in Olford’s following statement: “Our own definition [of exposition] reads: “Expository preaching is the Spirit empowered explanation and proclamation of the text of God’s Word with due regard to the historical, contextual, grammatical, and doctrinal significance of the given passage, with the specific object of invoking a Christ-transforming response.”[12]  In this light, Olford brings the reader to the cardinal rule of exposition:  context and context alone rules. The case Olford makes is profound in its simplicity: let the Word of God dictate the message’s content, not preconceived ideas or theological suppositions brought by the preacher to the task in a preordained way.  Vine and Olford find easy agreement in these areas.

Vine further elicits considerations in this vein as he forces the reader to examine the usage of language in a way that links conceptual truths with lifestyle and practicality in personal expression.  In this, Vine agrees with Haddon Robinson who surmises that: “Words are stupid things until linked with other words to convey meaning.”[13]  The challenge to be accurate in the use of words as a ‘big idea’[14] that are forced to be dealt within the context of the and the historical milieu, is a striking statement against kabalistic tendencies of excessive word valuations and illegitimate transference of identity in the exclusive word study methodological approach to exposition.  Individual words must not be isolated or divorced from the author’s originally intended thoughts as inspired by God.  To do so devalues both the words and the concepts that the words combined convey to the audience.  Let the Word of God dictate the usage of the words God has chosen to convey His thoughts to the race that was created in His image.

A point of interest in this issue would be research and evaluation of the possible re-emergence of letterism in evangelical schools of thought.  Is the emphasis on word studies a redeployment of this ancient, excessive, enumeration making a comeback?  It appears that the over-emphasis of word (singular) value lends itself to the inherent problems associated with Jewish letterism. Is there a surfacing danger that equates philosophical, economic, political and cultural overlays within Protestant Biblical interpretations, thus creating a type of illegitimate cultural transference? If so, the guilt would be in transposing modern values and systems into the ancient text and practices in a way never intended by either the original authors or He who inspired them.

Vines’ inclusion of his methodological approach to preaching is helpful to the basic construction of his thoughts.  The use of effective outlining bleeds through the text and speaks in very loud manner to those who would just listen.  Vines’ homiletic focus lends itself to the practical form of exposition as he identifies and reinforces the salient necessity of purpose in the sermon. With this in mind, Vines’ makes the most of the standard hermeneutical principles as simple tools necessary for sound exegesis that is practical in its ability to be both understood and comprehended by the listener. These tools exist only as aids to the expositors main task of communicating God’s Holy Word with power and accessibility. Thus, the rules and conditions are viewed as means to the end, with the end result being found in the impartation of truth.

Shoddy sermon preparation is a risk that isn’t worth taking.  The sacred text holds the keys to freedom from sin and advancement within the ranks of the church.  Scripture has the means to effectively instruct all who name the name of Jesus as Lord and Savior.  Utilizing its truths grants the minister the ability to call the people into a place of sacrificial service, obediently following the pathway that has been well trodden down through the ages.  ‘Exposit Scripture; release life’, could easily be seen as the theme for Vines’ Power in the pulpit.

The statement: “In real preaching the pastor delivers his soul… by means of his voice, his gestures, his intellect and his heart, the preacher lays before the throne of God and the hearts of his people his very life”[15] is a clear challenge to the preacher to serve the people in a sacrificial place of ceremony as well as presenting a servant component that challenges the minister to pursue excellence in the pulpit.  Half-hearted attempts at preaching should be way laid, as an ill prepared or ill delivered sermon will always do a disservice to the king of Glory, in whose employment the minister truly attends.  Vines’ thrust in sermonizing could be encapsulated by stating that the minister should always be as knowledgeable as possible, as dependent on God as probable, with as much clarity and goal orientation as feasible.  These three points: informed, dependency and clarity are serviceable measures in the realm of communicating God’s Word.

An auxiliary that lends support to the necessity of sound exposition is found in Vines’ urging the laborers in the Lord’s fields to continue filling the role of the student.  The appeal concerning the Word’s presentation that: “You must deem important what you are saying if you desire to make an impact on your audience”[16] is a poignant statement.  What is presented must be believed, both intellectually and experientially, if possible.  The servants of the Lord need to continually grow at a personal level, as they are subjected to the same conditions and troubles of life that everyone the minister serves is subjected to as well.  The minister must be a person who is disciplined and well trained, never ceding the high demands that Scripture beckons them to become individually.

Perhaps one of the greatest strengths of the book is the manner in which it is written.  It is, for the most part, a non-technical manual, written in a style that almost anyone could appreciate and understand.  Thus it could easily serve as an introductory work with the intent of educating laity on the over arching complexities of a public speaking ministry.  There is an even deeper application for this work however, if the neophyte is willing to glean its messages intent.  Vines’ uses this comprehensive work to extol his high view of Scripture and its integral place within the life of the pulpit as the authoritative Word of God.  This is a truly refreshing aspect of Power in the Pulpit.

Personal communication between the preacher and the God for whom he speaks is also a significant point of interest for Vines’.  Prayer leads the issuer of the Most High’s proclamation of freedom from sins shackle, into the power of a forceful transition of life, one that must for all practical purposes; revolve around the concept of connection.  Words formed, no matter how cleaver or thoughtful, are insignificant, meaningless exercises of a non-pedagogical sort, if the thoughts expressed fail to motivate the listener to respond to the demands of Jesus that compel the initiate to come and become a part of the redeemed.  This cohesive process encompasses the dynamic impact of God’s overarching promises to humanity.  The only cautionary note here is to be reminded that the response should always be predicated upon the theological assumptions of God’s love.  It should also be stated that there is a proper use for persuasive powers’ employment in compelling the penitent to enter into the sacred halls of redemption.  Herein lies the lynchpin of an effective sermon, for: “The sermon summation reinforces the proposition and reviews its relevancy… your listeners are deciding on the issues at hand.”[17]

Wisdom rings from this book in another aspect of a minister’s life when it focuses on the minister’s home.  Regrettably, Vines’ doesn’t pursue this subject; however, MacArthur does, in Pastoral Ministry.  The growing trends in America that have threatened the home in general, such as financial pressures, non-traditional couples, divorce, career challenges, and multi-parental homes are threatening the fabric of the biblical ideal of family.  These pressures are also seen in the clergy and addressed in this book, as Pastoral Ministry points out that: “No thinking person can deny that the ministry is potentially hazardous to a pastor’s marriage and family.”[18]

This view is echoed in Church Administration Handbook, as the author makes a statement that coincides with the major themes found in the section of Vines’ book that deals with the pastor’s home in relation to the task of building solid support foundations into the marriage as an enhancer of the calling into ministry.  The point is made that: “Effective ministry requires effective support-system management… (Because) ministry is a stressful, wear and tear calling and because ministry is a vocation of attrition for ministers and their families…[19]” Ministry can be very hazardous to the minister couples who embrace the calling to the pulpit.

Robert Dale, the author of the chapter, Managing the Minister’s Personal Life in Church Administration brings out the truth that there are three main aspects of managing the personal dynamics of ministry.  They are succinct and fully comply with the advice given in Power in the Pulpit, but deserve recognition for their insightful promotion of biblical ideals relating to marriage and the pressures pastoral couples face.  These focal points of help are: “marriage and family relationships, career development, and the general elements of a well-constructed ministry support system.”  The author builds a case for managing the personal issues of marriage by focusing in on the topics of:

  • Enriching your marriage and family living
  • Handling family stress
  • Charting your career path
  • Planning for career growth
  • Discovering the stages in a minister’s career cycle
  • Balancing your support network
  • Managing personal and professional stress
  • Avoiding burnout

The author gives sound, practical advice that includes preventative measures that help the clergy to avoid the traps of failed marriages.[20] Ideas such as approaching family living as a life long prospect coupled with an ongoing commitment to renew the vows of marriage and family as an unending process are particularly helpful, and serve as a viable addendum to Power in the Pulpit sound guidance.

All of these lessons are practical and useful, and will serve as an able guide in the concluding aspects of any sermon, thus enhancing its strengths and mitigating its shortcomings.  Every pastor, evangelist, teacher and winner of souls should make sure this volume becomes an able assistant to them as they labor in the task of a sermon’s creation.  A proper analysis of Vines assertions will help in creating a desire to see the churches aisles filled with able bodied respondents to the biblical message of grace’s ability to liberate those who labor under any taskmaster other than Jesus.  Once again, it is time for the prophetic voices of the Lord’s servants to rely on Holy Spirit’s empowering presence to anoint the words conveyed about the Savior’s call to come and dwell in the shadow of the cross.

 

 



[1]New Century Bible (Word Publishing, Waco TX, 1981)

[2] Ramm, Bernard, Protestant Biblical Interpretation (Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, MI, 1970)

[3] Terry, Milton, Biblical Hermeneutics (Zondervan Publishing, Grand   Rapids, MI, N.D.)

[4] Unger, Merrill, Principles of Expository Preaching (Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, MI,

1955)

[5] White, Douglas  (The Excellence of Exposition, Loizeaux Brothers, NJ, 1977)

[6] Virkler, Henry (Hermeneutics, Baker Books, Grand Rapids, MI, 1981, 1985)

[7] Vine, Jerry, Power in the Pulpit (Moody Press, Chicago, 1999) p. 16

[8] ____ Vines, p. 27

[9] ____ Vines, p. 74

[10] ____ Vines, p. 76

[11] ____ Vines, pp. 84-87

[12] Olford, Stephen, Anointed Expository Preaching (Broadman & Holman publishers, Nashville TN, 1998)

p. 69

[13]Robinson, Haddon, Biblical Preaching (Baker Books, Grand Rapids MI, 1980) p.21

[14] ___ Anointed Expository Preaching, p.75

 

[15] ____ Vines, p. 352

[16] ____ Vines, p. 236

[17] ____ Vines, p. 207

[18] MacArthur, John, Rediscovering Pastoral Ministry (Harper & Row, San Francisco, 1999) p. 155

[19] Powers, Bruce, Editor, Church Administration Handbook (Broadman Press, Nashville TN, 1985) p.285

[20] ____, Bruce, pp. 284-87

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