York joins other prominent preachers at Cambridge event

Communications Staff — June 20, 2007

Hershael York, a professor of preaching at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, was one of the featured speakers at the Third Quinquennial International Congress on Preaching (ICOP), April 17-19 in Cambridge, England.

York, who serves as Victor and Louise Lester professor of Christian preaching and associate dean of the School of Theology at Southern, said being involved in a conference that also featured N.T. Wright, Alister McGrath and other prominent evangelical speakers was humbling.

“Add the august setting of Cambridge University and St. Andrews Street Baptist Church to the impressive array of speakers and I found myself a bit overwhelmed,” York said. “Thankfully I am used to that feeling simply by being on this faculty (at Southern), so by the grace of God I was able to say what God laid on my heart.”

ICOP is sponsored by “Preaching” magazine and is held once every five years. The goal of the event is to employ experienced preachers and teachers to encourage pastors to faithfully preach God’s Word in 21st century western culture, according to the ICOP website.

The theme of the 2007 ICOP was “For Such a Time as This: Preaching Truth in an Age of Idolatry.” The first and third days of the conference featured several plenary sessions, while the middle day offered both general talks and workshop lectures.

York presented a plenary talk on the first day and one workshop session on day two. On April 17, York argued that the emerging church movement dilutes the Gospel in an effort to be culturally-relevant in his plenary address titled, “Emergent Exposition: The Apostle Paul Meets Napoleon Dynamite.”

In the lecture, York identified five mistakes that often creep into modern preaching. York said many pastors assume that felt needs are a guide for preaching, while others demonstrate an embarrassment before the text of Scripture.

Another common error is the incorrect assumption that a postmodern audience is more closed to the Gospel and more difficult to reach than past generations, he said. The final two mistakes York identified were an aversion to appearing authoritarian and a lack of urgency.

Using Paul’s methodology on the Areopagus as a model, York suggested five consequent corrections that contemporary preaching should reflect: a deliberate move from felt needs to true needs, a boldness to proclaim the Gospel and practice a true Christian counterculture, a conviction that only the Word of God can penetrate the hardness of the human heart regardless of its culture or epoch, an embrace of the offense of the cross and a conviction of the reality of hell and that life apart from Christ is ultimately wasted.

In his workshop session on April 18, York answered the question, “Which comes first: the heart or the mind?” He argued that while reaching both mind and heart through preaching is necessary, the preacher must first preach to the heart in order to reach the mind.

“Preaching factoid sermons that are full of content but devoid of emotion is an inadequate model of preaching,” he said. “The prophets of both testaments were noted for their emotion as well as their content. Jeremiah is the weeping prophet. Nathan confronted David with his sin by first getting him emotionally angry at sin, then he made the connection that he was the guilty one. Ezekiel’s elaborate illustrations certainly conveyed truth, but not without first reaching the heart of his audience. While the mind is the ultimate goal, the heart serves as the gatekeeper.”

Other speakers included Wright, bishop of Durham; McGrath, professor of historical theology at Oxford University; David Jeremiah, senior pastor of Shadow Mountain Community Church in San Diego, Calif.; Dave Stone, senior pastor of Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, Ky.; Timothy Warren, interim chair and professor of pastoral ministries at Dallas Theological Seminary; and Calvin Miller and Robert Smith, both of whom serve as professors of preaching at Beeson Divinity School in Birmingham, Ala.

General sessions were held at St. Andrews Street Baptist Church in central Cambridge, while the workshop lectures took place on the campus of several Cambridge University colleges. Pastors and church leaders from the United States, the United Kingdom and other countries attended the event. York said the conference played an important role in the furtherance of biblical preaching.

“Preaching is in crisis today,” he said. “Preachers seem to have lost confidence in the Word of God. Some mock the notion of a preacher standing before a congregation and expounding the Word. A conference like this causes people to reflect on the nature of preaching and, I hope, to reaffirm a belief in the sufficiency of the Bible. Preaching can only have eternal effects to the degree that it says what God says in His Word.”

Previous ICOP events were held in 1997 at Westminster Chapel in London, and in 2002 at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland.

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