Saturday, January 11, 2014

Dr. Gardner C. Taylor on ‘The Presumptuousness of Preaching'

Since my formative years of preaching, I have always had an admiration and connection to the preaching prowess and giftedness of Dr. Gardner C. Taylor.  In short, his preaching has always carried me to a peculiar mix of height and depth I still fail to adequately explain or describe, even now.  Some of my favorite preachers are not originals; but their preaching is highly filtered through the sifting of their own personality and crafting of the art we call ‘Preaching.’  This should at least solicit a respect and reverence of the diligence the preacher has committed to the stewardship of their ministry.  Patti Labelle, the long-standing R & B singer, is a great example.  When you hear her voice, there is no question on whether or not you’ve heard her voice.  In fact, unlike many singers, many who’ve come and gone have not even attempted to imitate the tone, texture and intonation of her voice.  In some sense, I suppose it seems pointless and redundant to do so.  This example helps me to explain my view of Dr. Taylor’s preaching giftedness.  Unlike many preachers, there is no way to put a handle on the preaching of Dr. Gardner C. Taylor.  When you hear his voice, there is no question on whether or not you’ve heard his voice.  If a young (or old) preacher made an attempt to emulate his preaching, they would merely be caught in an ecclesiastical web of preaching futility.  

I contend that, while Dr. Taylor can be hard to pen down, he is worthy of the attention of any preacher, young or old.  He, now in his 90’s, brings a grace to the pulpit that is unparalleled.  One of the things one will note in his preaching, and in his classic work, ‘How Shall They Preach’, is Dr. Taylor’s language and communicative distinction.  You cannot help but note that he is heavily drawn to Alexander Mclaren, or J.W. Forsyth and a G. Campbell Morgan (one of my favorites).  You can also discern his love of the works of the Quakers and the Puritans.  How he has redefined black preaching to the extent of being given the nomenclature ‘Prince of Preachers’ (beyond all color lines) is a testament, in and of itself, when you consider Dr. Taylor never perfected the ‘Art of Intonation’ or what we call, ‘Whooping’, in the African-American preaching context.  

“How Shall They Preach” is a collection of Dr. Taylor’s Lyman Beecher Lectureship on Preaching, held at Yale Divinity School since 1871.  Taylor lectured there in 1975-76.  His book (and lecture) is vintage Dr. Gardner C. Taylor.  It is filled with his wit, genius, humor, charm, wordings and a summation of forty years of preaching sojourn, at that time.  Dr. Taylor explores 'the presumptuousness of preaching’, as he terms it.  He says, ‘…preaching is a presumptuous business.  If the undertaking does not have some sanctions beyond human reckoning, then it is, indeed, rash and audacious for one person to dare to stand up before or among other people and declare that he or she brings from the Eternal God a message for those who listen which involves issues nothing less than those of life and death.’ (pg.24)   Dr. Taylor puts forth and holds up an important facet of preaching - the preacher must strive to know the God in Whom we proclaim.  We must acquaint ourselves with the very character, nature, personality and even tendencies of the God of the Bible.  Even as we study the scripture and read the historical events in the pages of God’s Word, we must always identify the character of God.  When we commune with Him, and come to know Him, those things become much easier to spot.  This becomes a life-long pursuit, I think.  After all, no one can claim to know fully a God Who is not only ubiquitous, but simply mysterious.  Dr. Taylor says that, “The temptation to vanity is one of the great perils of the person who preaches.” (pg. 31) Taylor says that, if we are not careful, we can start to believe in our own press clippings.  

I believe it is best for us to carry the conviction of our preaching with us home and in life, but that we should keep the influencing charisma of our preaching in the pulpit.  In a sense, forget about it!  

Taylor says:

“That was a fine sermon,” said a woman as she left the church. “Thank you,” said the preacher, “the devil has already told me so.”

When God uses us as instruments to deliver an outstanding message that touches people, please remember that God hasn’t just smiled on you, or on His people….He is smiling on His Word!  God responds to the proclamation of HIS Word.  If you happen to see ‘preaching’ that seems to elicit excitement from the crowd and there is clearly no reference to God’s Word, it is nothing more than objective truth that has been sweetened by music and made palatable by religious entertainment.  

When it comes to the presumptuousness of preaching, Dr. Taylor lists the great temptations of the preacher:
  1. To recline
  2. To shine
  3. To whine (pg. 33)

In a culture that views the preacher as the mogul or ‘next door Savior’, we must avoid these temptations like the plague.  Taylor says, and I agree, that we should take our flaws and morph them into our strengths.  We should use our infirmities and flaws as an opportunity to not only identify with the humanity to whom we preach, but to flesh it out in a manner that grows us and them.  He says, ‘We who preach are apart of the whole human undertaking.’ (pg. 34)  In describing the power of this reality, in connecting with the humanity (and weaknesses) within one’s self and others, Taylor parallels our pursuit of God with God’s pursuit of us through the incarnation.  That somehow it is implicit within the gospel that God could not work through us until He got ‘with us.’ (i.e. - Immanuel)  I think it is important to note that when we become acquainted with our own human proclivities, and avoid the temptations to become celebrity, and are aware of our own flaws, it places us in the right position to minister effectively to others who, knowingly or unknowingly, have the same plight.  We are then apt to allow God’s Spirit to proclaim “from" victory, rather than “for" it.  

My original intent was to review the entire work, ‘How Shall They Preach’, however, I guess this will suffice.  I highly recommend every preacher find a copy of this book, if possible.

1 comment:

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