Preaching as the Word of God: Answering an Old Question with Speech-Act Theory

Preaching as the Word of God: Answering an Old Question with Speech-Act Theory


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How can preaching be the Word of God if it comes from the words of a human preacher? Sam Chan answers this question with a survey of Luther's and Calvin's views on preaching. Then he gives a detailed biblical theology of preaching. Finally, he applies speech-act theory to the theology of preaching. This may be the most comprehensive book on the theology of preaching - with a synthesis of historical, biblical, and philosophical theology.

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According to the Reformers, preaching is the word of God. As the word of God, preaching is a foundation for the church. It is also vital for the personal growth of a Christian. But Christians are poorly equipped to understand how preaching is the word of God. Some Christians look for preaching that closely reproduces the text in the Bible. Other Christians look for preaching that creates maximal emotional and existential impact. And there is a lot of name-calling with Christians accusing preachers of "not preaching the word." But what type of preaching is the word of God? The purpose of this book is to equip Christians to understand how preaching can be God speaking. It accomplishes this with a survey of the problem in the history of the church, a detailed overview of key biblical texts, and finally the application of the contemporary philosophical tool of speech act theory.

Reviews and Endorsements

"How can we conclude that what we preach is the Word of God--God himself speaking through the sermon--as the Reformers insisted? In this important study, Sam Chan demonstrates that Luther and Calvin have it right, provided we focus on the New Testament insistence that rightly proclaiming the gospel is what is meant by preaching the Word of God. Chan then uses speech act theory to clarify his argument. The work is important not only for students of the Reformation, but for preachers who need to see that the faithful proclamation of the gospel is precisely what authorizes them to insist that their preaching is the word of God."
D. A. Carson, Research Professor of New Testament, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School

"Preaching is at once one of the most familiar communicative acts and one of the most mysterious. Other forms of public speaking can be prophetic (remember Chris Rock's opening monologue at the Oscars?). Yet preaching is more than social commentary or stand-up comedy, for preachers proclaim God's gospel and speak for God. How is such a marvel possible? Sam Chan uses fresh tools--speech act philosophy--to bolster the Reformers' intuition that preaching (unlike theology) is not simply talk about God, but God's own personal address to the gathered assembly of the faithful today."
Kevin J. Vanhoozer, Research Professor of Systematic Theology, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (Deerfield, IL)

"If you've ever heard him in person, you'll know Sam Chan is a preacher's preacher. He's vibrant, dynamic, funny, moving, and--when it comes to the text of scripture--deeply insightful. This book offers an intriguing opportunity to take a look 'under the hood' and see what makes Sam's preaching so potent. It's the work of a scholar who has thought deeply not only about how the Bible works, but how our own words work. Sam provides a deft introduction to the world of speech act theory, and applies it to the vexed question of how our preaching actually 'is' the Word of God. In the process he has given me a set of new tools for the daunting weekly task of preaching God's Word."
Phil Campbell, Senior Minister, Mitchelton Presbyterian Church, Australia; Co-author of Saving Eutychus: How to Preach God's Word and Keep People Awake

"Chan explores some new ground in the interface between Speech Act Theory and preaching. He demonstrates that the gospel is a divine speech act that is 're-locuted' and 're-illocuted' by a preacher who, commissioned by God, derives the message from Scripture, in line with the Christological goal of the divine author. Chan's lucid exposition is worthwhile reading for all interested in the hermeneutics of homiletics."
Abraham Kuruvilla, Research Professor of Pastoral Ministries, Dallas Theological Seminary

"With great pleasure I commend Dr. Sam Chan's thesis to you for publication. I was his first reader. His other examiners were Dr. John Feinberg and Dr. Willem VanGemeren. His thesis impressed us all. We were not only unanimous in passing it without reservation but all three of us encouraged him to seek its publication. Dr. Chan astutely draws together Scripture, tradition, and contemporary needs in this work. The thesis serves both the academy and the church. It deserves a wide audience."
Graham Cole, Dean and Professor of Biblical and Systematic Theology, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School

"Dr. Chan has capably and faithfully explored the question of what happens in the preaching of the word. It is his contention that the faithful exposition of the word of God in preaching connects with the word in two ways. First, preaching is an attempt at entering into the textual world (locution). Second, it also makes an attempt at recontextualization of the text by remaining faithful to the intent of the word. He roots his approach in the Reformation tradition as well as in recent hermeneutic theory. I highly recommend the work for your consideration."
Willem A. VanGemeren, Professor Emeritus of Old Testament and Semitic Languages, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School