Wednesday, June 30, 2010

"the devil is a preacher"

The opening line in Russell Moore's fine essay in Touchstone...

The devil is a preacher. From the third chapter of the Bible onward, he is opening up God’s Word to people, seeking to interpret it, to apply it, to offer an invitation. So the old Serpent of Eden comes to the primeval woman not with a Black Mass and occult symbols, but with the Word she’d received from her God—with the snake’s peculiar spin on it. Throughout the rest of the canon he does the same, implicitly or explicitly.

Throughout the Old Testament, he preaches peace—just like the angels of Bethlehem do—except he does so when there is no peace. He points God’s people to the particulars of worship commanded by God—sacrifices and offerings and feast-days—just without the preeminent mandates of love, justice, and mercy. Satan even preaches to God—about the proper motives needed for godly discipleship on the part of God’s servants.

In the New Testament, the satanic deception leads the scribes, Pharisees, and Sadducees to pore endlessly over biblical texts, just missing the point of Christ Jesus therein. They come to conclusions that have partially biblical foundations—the devil’s messages are always expository; they just intentionally avoid Jesus....

When the early Church rockets out of the upper room in Jerusalem, Satan is there, with false teachers, to preach all kinds of things that seem to be straight from God’s Word—from libertinism to legalism to hyper-spirituality to carnality. He never stops preaching...

But the devil is boring. That seems like exactly the opposite of what would be true of Satan. We think of the Tempter—and his temptations—as darkly exciting, tantalizing, seemingly irresistible.

But that’s not at all the case. False teaching in the Scripture—and in the ages of the church ever since—is boring. Read the expositions of Job’s counselors—and compare them to the proclamation of God at the end of the book of Job. Read what Balaam was paid to preach compared to what he announced through the power of the Spirit.

Satanic preaching is boring because the goal isn’t to engage people with preaching. It’s to leave the “desires of the flesh” alone, so that the hearers may continue in their captivity to the prince of the power of this air....

Jesus was often poorly received—but he never bored. When he preached, demons shrieked, crowds gasped, and services sometimes ended with attempted executions rather than altar calls. The prophets before him and the apostles after him were just like that, too. They provoked shouts of happiness or warrants for arrest, but they never prompted yawns.

If lost people don’t like your message because they’re hostile to the gospel, you’re in good company. But if you’re boring the people of God with the Word of God, something has gone seriously awry. It may be that you preach just like the devil, and that you don’t even know it.

Sometimes preachers bore because they don’t understand the nature of Scripture....Preachers who would rage against boredom can start by learning to listen to the literary power of the text. This means, for one thing, learning to form a moral imagination that can be fired up by the Scriptures. For the sake of your congregation, limit your television and stop surfing the Internet for hours on end. Read some good fiction and some poetry, and listen to stories being told—and thereby shape an imagination that recognizes literary structure, beauty, and coherence.

Some preachers bore because they misunderstand the nature of human rebellion. Sermons typically bore because they rest on abstractions at best, or on clichés and platitudes at worst....


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