In the book Sacred Art: Preaching and Theology in the African American Tradition, Olin Moyd quotes Peter T. Forsyth, who said, “The Christian preacher is not the successor of the Greek orator, but of the Hebrew prophet. The orator comes with inspiration; the prophet comes with a revelation.”
Oratorical Talent Alone Is not Preaching
Forsyth is reminding us of some preachers who think that they can get away with oratorical talent rather than Spirit-led inspiration. We all have seen some great orator-preachers. They can elicit a smile, laugh or cry at exactly the right time. Every word is exactly perfect. The voice is a booming baritone that reminds one of James Earl Jones. The “Hallelujah” or the “Praise God” is always in exactly the right place. The messages may “inspire,” but they don’t push us to change. They don’t even ask us to change; they are too busy patronizing us in our sin. They may make us feel good for a little while, but they don’t confront our society or us individually with the inbreaking of the Kingdom of God.
Often these preachers will prostitute the African American Tradition. They may whoop without integrity. In any case, they use the trappings of the tradition without being true to the full tradition that includes societal and individual transformation.
Where Are Nathan and John the Baptist?
The orator doesn’t provide any real change. It is Nathan who is the catalyst for a change in the wayward David. It is John the Baptist whose voice causes such fear that his head had to be chopped off. It is not the purveyors of the status quo who deserve the title “preacher.” No! We do not aspire to have the people say “Man, that is a preacher!” No, we aspire to have the people say “Did not our hearts burn within us as he opened the scriptures” (Luke 24:32).
As you get ready to preach the word next week, yes, be inspiring, but don’t just be that. Yes, have something for the people to shout about, but don’t just do that. Yes, plan the message so that it is in order, but always leave room for the Spirit, who will show up if we only allow it. And if the Spirit truly comes, then our messages will not merely tickle the ears of those who want to consume religious entertainment, but it will be the first step to changed lives and societies and worlds.