At a Glance: Fleming Rutledge and Why Being ‘Spiritual’ is Never Enough

Below is an excerpt from Fleming Rutledge’s phenomenal article in Christianity Today from last month. Read the rest of it here as she powerfully argues how both the notion of being “religious” and “spiritual” both fall short in light of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. ‘Tis good news indeed.

In today’s context, it is more crucial than ever to make a sufficiently sharp distinction between self-justification and self-sanctification on the one hand, and on the other, the utterly gratuitous, prevenient action of God in justifying humanity through his Son. The answer to our problem, then, is both simple and difficult: We need substantive, biblical preaching that drives home our need for justification through Christ.

“Biblical preaching is practically unknown these days,” remarked the Anglican missionary bishop and historian Stephen Neill in an interview some years ago. “I find a very remarkable response to biblical preaching. There’s not nearly enough of it in the churches in America.”

I, too, would argue that our crisis of discipleship stems in part from a dearth of biblical preaching. Many people, clergy and lay people alike, think we are hearing biblical preaching because the sermons we hear on Sunday seem to be based on a biblical text, but that is not what makes a sermon biblical. If the preacher is not personally invested in expounding the text, so that he or she seems to be risking something, it’s not biblical preaching. If the sermon does not seem to be coming out of the preacher’s inmost convictions, it’s not biblical preaching. If the preacher is not preaching as George Whitfield did, “a dying man to dying men,” it’s not biblical preaching.

In my very early days as a preacher, I was giving a sermon in a Lenten series in a very liberal-minded church in Richmond, Virginia. I was preaching from the story about Jesus raising the daughter of Jairus. My mother was in the congregation. She reported to me afterward that she overheard someone saying, incredulously, “She preaches about that as if she believes it!” That was a watershed moment for me. I learned how important it is that, even if no one in the congregation believes the biblical story, the preacher believes it. More than that—the preacher stakes her life on it.

The preacher should be changed by his preaching in some way, every time. If the text is really having its way with you, you will know it, and those who have ears to hear will know it. If you know you are dying, you will know the word of life when you hear it, and it will not be something plucked out of an online homiletical resource. It will be wrenched out of your gut by something—Someone—whose power issues forth from the same living Word that brought the creation into being out of nothing—ex nihilo.

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