Preaching Jesus Christ is no easy task. There will always be serious opposition to anything which points to Jesus Christ as the unconditional gift, the ultimate atonement and the only true Savior for the sinner.
Both liberal and conservative theologians have a tendency to present Jesus Christ as an example, or a means to an end. When in fact Jesus Christ is the end! He is not a way to wisdom; He is wisdom (1Cor. 1:30). He is the Savior! It is true that Jesus Christ lived in perfect obedience, but when He is belittled to example, the gift of forgiveness and salvation is hidden from the hearer.
Turning Grace into Demand, Gospel into Law
Jesus Christ, in preaching, wants to be given as a gift, not as an example. Even when we speak about being gracious or forgiving, we run the risk of simply creating a new law. And this new law is not one of the Spirit, but of the Kantian method, which seeks to send us back into Aristotelian bondage. Once again you have something to do, so do the ultimate good for the neighbor! Grace is turned into law when response is demanded of the audience, or behavior is preached.
Where is the Absolution? The Promise is for you.
So I don’t need more preaching on better behavior. I need someone to absolve me with no strings attached! I need to know that Christ forgives me in the present. I need to hear that Christ’s promises are for me; REAL forgiveness in REAL Time. It is Christ’s perpetual absolution that creates faith (Rom. 10:17). I need belief, faith, i.e. trust bestowed to me as a gift. So this is the job of the preacher, to do the word to the hearer (John 20:23).
So I need a preacher to give me Christ; the Forgiving and Active Word (John 1; Is. 55:11). Where is the absolution? Are we preaching discipline? (Christ as Example) Are we preaching a philosophy of grace? (Christ as Example) Or are we speaking Christ into the sinner’s life: His unconditional action for the paralyzed, in a conditional world, yet in real time? (Christ as Gift)
The great Dr. James Nestingen once said on the topic of absolution that listening is good and important, but in the end, it is really social work. Listening followed by the Gospel proclaimed (absolution) distinguishes Christians from social workers. “For goodness sake I have heard your exhortation, and it does me no good, but do you have any good news?” (Horton, Christless Christianity DVD)
For Further Reading:
Luther For Armchair Theologians by Steven D. Paulson
The Preached God by Gerhard O. Forde
Handling the Word of Truth by John T. Pless
Martin Luther: His Life and Teachings by James Arnes Nestingen