We like shortcuts assuming that they get us to where we are trying to go. If they do not then they are dangerous, unproductive detours. In his book The Priority of Preaching, Christopher Ash argues that there are no shortcuts for preaching with authority. He writes, “The authority is a wonderful authority, but it is an authority borrowed only at great cost. This is why there are no shortcuts that work.”
Ash then helpfully warns preachers of three common shortcuts that preachers are tempted to take. I’ll state his points and briefly summarize them.
1. Beware of the shortcut of individual interpretation. This is the notion that we can just beaver away at the passage like we were the first person to ever read it. Many, many Christians have gone before us and wrestled with these same passages. No matter how trendy it is today to have our own interpretation of things Christians preachers must know that they we are accountable to God and one another to hear what the passage really means. “We must not be lazily idiosyncratic.”
2. Beware of the shortcut of second-hand interpretation. When listening to others we must not just copy others. Ash tells the story of how early in his ministry he heard a famous preacher nail a sermon and figured that he and his hearers would be better served if he just copied the sermon and delivered it as his own. The result was a true failure. Why? First the context was completely different, so the style didn’t translate well. Secondly, the sermon was terribly superficial. He had not been gripped and shaped by the passage. In short it wasn’t in them. You can’t expect to put the sermon in someone else if it is not in you first.
3. Beware of the shortcut of mystical authority.“We need desperately the fresh filling of God’s Holy Spirit when we preach, and can accomplish nothing without his sovereign power; but that power does not in general come upon preachers who have not bothered to prepare, and the filling of the Spirt is not a God-given compensation for willful idleness.” In short: Get to work bro, God will show up in your study too. Don’t presume upon God’s mercy and grace while serving your laziness.
Good reminders. More from Ash’s book here.