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Sinclair Ferguson on Preaching Poetry

Since the very first time I heard him preach, I've had an enormous admiration for--and have been fascinated by--the preaching of Sinclair Ferguson. The creativity which he exhibits in the pulpit makes his sermons seem more like spiritual and intellectual works of art than mere logical and informative lectures. Some of that creativity obviously has to do with personality, education and manner of thinking; some is certainly owing to a personal dependance on the Holy Spirit; but one factor that makes his preaching style unique is his own understanding of the stylistic methods employed in the different genres in the Scriptures. In his 2001 Crieff Fellowship lecture, "Preaching Poetry," Ferguson develops the idea that the minister of the Gospel must learn to preach "the truth of the poetry in the spirit of the poetry." He suggest that the Scriptures contain genres with unique styles which must be proclaimed in a manner commensurate with the genre itself. Ferguson suggests that the Lord Jesus Christ is the ultimate example of One who best embodied the understanding of what God had spoken to fallen humanity through different literary genres in the Old and New Testament. Christ's own preaching, therefore, reflected a complexity in the styles with which He made truth known. When the minister of the Gospel is conformed more and more into the image of the Son of God, his own preaching will reflect something of this diversity in preaching style. Ferguson explains:

The true preacher of the Gospel had gathered into himself this sense of the diversity of genre in which God wanted to speak to fallen man in order to restore him to a true and full humanity. And so our Lord Jesus Christ had this variety of preaching styles, whereas I think most of us would confess we tend to be limited to one. We either--if I can make a generalization--we either prefer it when its narrative or we prefer it when its logic.

Since we move by and large towards the Reformed spectrum of the Christian church our tendency inherently is to be most comfortable when we are preaching Paul--and as a consequence, to be least comfortable when we are preaching from things that are very different from the Pauline style--with the result that we tend to preach the whole of the Bible as if Paul had written it. We take historical narrative or poetic narrative and there is really no difference in the style of our exposition whether we are preaching from one part of Scripture or from another.

I think that the very consciousness that there are these different modes of communication in the Old and the New Testament is itself an aid to us as we allow the Scriptures to mold our way of thinking, and our way of feeling and our way of responding--it's a God-given aid to us in our fallen, limited humanity to be able to more and more reflect the preaching of our Lord Jesus Christ; and that, of course, is perhaps particularly important with poetry. Because in any language with poetry--and certainly in Hebrews poetry in the Old Testament Scriptures--the medium appears to be part of the message. Now that's a notion with which we tend to be rather uncomfortable. We want to distinguish the medium and the message, and we want to affirm that the message controls the medium. And all that is true, but in Scripture--in infallible speech--the medium and the message can never be severed from one another. And as I say I think that's particularly important in the way in which poetry works. And when we understand that we will turn poetry into something other than what it actually is.

  You can listen to the talk here.  

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