The Problem with Preaching That Fails to Prescribe
In 2014, victims of medical malpractice received $3,891,743,050. Such a monetary figure cannot even begin to compensate for the untold number of victims who suffered painful and sometimes fatal consequences by well-intended but wrong diagnoses, treatments, prescriptions, surgeries, etc. Given the potential for error, the pressures faced by the medial professional are understandably intense. Every application of his or her knowledge has the potential to heal, to harm, or, in some cases, to kill.
The parallel between medical professionals and preachers is all too clear. Every sermon carries with it the potential to help or to harm the sin-sick souls of the hearers.
According to J.I. Packer, this is why the Puritans viewed themselves as “physicians of the soul.” These godly preachers accepted their responsibility to promote the spiritual health of their people. Accordingly, their preaching was saturated not only with the explanation of biblical truth, but with the practical implications of that truth in the lives of their listeners. They were careful both to diagnose potential problems and to prescribe biblical remedies.
That was their attitude but what about ours?
Are preachers today no longer responsible for helping their spiritually-ailing congregations see the implications of spiritual truth? Can a pastor be faithful to the flock by merely stuffing his shelves with left-over seminary exegetical papers, sound theology books, and expensive commentaries?
While appropriately caring for our people begins with education and exegesis, it certainly cannot end there. Faithful preaching not only explains the meaning of the text, it also compels its listeners to grapple with the mandates of the text. In other words, it is preaching that diagnoses and prescribes.