As One with Authority: The Four Pillars of Authoritative Preaching

According to Craddock, the modern preacher cannot—and perhaps should not—preach with authority.

In the words of Craddock, the preacher exists as one without authority. In a sense, Craddock’s diagnosis was right. The modern mind may well be adverse to authority and disinclined to trust the “sage on the stage.” Nonetheless, his prescription was dead wrong. Where there is no authority, there is no true preaching.

 

When published in 1971, Fred Craddock’s As One without Authority landed like “a bombshell on the playground of preachers.” In it, Craddock called for a new homiletic, for preaching to start with the hearer, not the text, and for preaching to be inductive, not deductive.

Craddock argued preaching was in hopeless decline and the church must reinvent homiletics or forfeit the sermon altogether. At the core of his critique was the issue of authority. According to Craddock, the modern preacher cannot—and perhaps should not—preach with authority. Thus, in the words of Craddock, the preacher exists as one without authority.

In a sense, Craddock’s diagnosis was right. The modern mind may well be adverse to authority and disinclined to trust the “sage on the stage.” Nonetheless, his prescription was dead wrong. Where there is no authority, there is no true preaching.

Authority, Essential to True Preaching

The Bible assumes an authoritative sermon. In biblical terms, it is impossible to conceptualize preaching without authority. The many biblical injunctions associated with preaching—admonish, instruct, warn, exhort, rebuke, reprove, correct, confront—presume and necessitate an authoritative sermon.

As a teacher, Jesus distinguished himself from the religious leaders of the day by speaking with authority.  In the synagogue, he amazed his hearers, because he was “teaching as one with authority, and not as their scribes.”[i]

What is more, Paul’s command to Titus is a timeless charge to every preacher, “These things teach, reprove, and rebuke, as one having all authority; let no one disregard you.”[ii] Such authoritative preaching rests on four pillars.

Authority, Established by the Scriptures

John Stott, commenting on the preacher’s authority, rightly argued, “Our formula, if we use one at all, should be in the well-known, oft-repeated and quite proper phrase of Dr. Billy Graham, ‘The Bible says.’”[iii]

Stott was right. The preacher’s authority is the Bible itself. God chose to reveal himself to his people through his Word. His Word is inspired, infallible and inerrant, thus it is authoritative. As the Reformers reasoned, Vox Scriptura Vox Dei, the voice of Scripture is the voice of God. God’s voice is an authoritative voice and his word is an authoritative Word. God meant it to be preached in an authoritative manner.

Throughout the Bible, Scripture references its own power and authority. Jeremiah declared God’s Word is “a hammer that breaks the rock,”[iv] and Isaiah testified God’s Word “will not return void.”[v] His prophets of old, like Jonah, heralded his message authoritatively.

The pattern continues in the New Testament. John the Baptist, Jesus, Peter, and Paul all preached with authority. II Timothy 3:16–4:2 unites the authority of the text with the authority of the sermon. All Scripture is “inspired by God” and “profitable for teaching, reproof, correction and training in righteousness.” Since the Bible, as God’s inspired Word, is powerful and authoritative, the minister is called to “Preach the Word! Be ready in season and out of season reprove, rebuke, and exhort with great patience and instruction.”[vi]

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