четверг, 28 июня 2018 г.

Jean Claude, Charenton and expository preaching

Call me a dinosaur, but I love the past. And not only out of a sense of nostalgia, but also because I think that many of the issues and challenges we face in life and in Christian life are those shared by people of all ages; and potentially addressed by those who have gone before us.

Nowhere is this more true than when it comes to interacting with God's Word.

I recently saw on my Facebook newsfeed a post by a brother, extolling the virtues of a book on preaching. He described the book, written in the late 20th century, as being the A-Z of preaching. Haddon Robinson's Expository Preaching does have some merits, but it is most definitely standing on the shoulders of giants. (Incidentally, if I were to recommend a single book on preaching, it would be Donald Coggan, Stewards of Grace)

I would like to introduce you to one of the giants of preaching, whose principles of sermonising, unbeknown to many, are the basis for much of what is today called expository preaching.

Jean Claude (1619-1687) was a French Huguenot, which means that he was a Christian in the Reformed Protestant Tradition (Zwingli, Calvin etc.) living in France; French Reformed Christians are called Huguenots. He lived in the 17th century when Reformed Christianity was officially tolerated but in reality persecuted in France. Having studied at Montauban Jean Claude taught theology at Nimes, before serving as pastor of the central Huguenot congregation at Charenton (Protestants were banned from Paris). In 1685 when the Edict of Nantes, tolerating Protestant Christianity, was formally revoked in France, Jean Claude took refuge in the neighbouring Netherlands where he lived for another couple of years and wrote various works, including a history of the persecution of Huguenots in France and his most famous 'Treatise on the Composition of Sermons' published posthumously.

So, what is so great about Claude's Treatise?

Firstly, it represents a comprehensive distilling of the accumulated wisdom of rhetoric for the 17th century practitioner of expository preaching. Drawing on the principles of classical rhetoric (including Augustine's On the Teaching), Claude applies these to the weekly task of sermonising on Biblical texts. He discusses the length of passages to select. He gives principles for breaking passages down into an outline of points. There is lots of road-tested wisdom on pitfalls to avoid, for example dealing with trickier preaching texts.

Secondly, and just as significantly, Claude's Treatise was translated into English in 1778 and read by Charles Simeon. Charles Simeon was an Anglican minister at Cambridge, whose long tenure at Holy Trinity Church allowed him to disciple a generation of Cambridge students, whose ministry passed on Claude's principles in the form of countless sermon 'skeletons', thus furthering the cause of expository preaching. One of Simeon's more famous disciples was Henry Martyn, whose brief but brilliant missionary career left a mark in India and Persia.

So, the next time the preacher announces, "I have three points for you today," or, "This passage can be broken down into four sections," please remember a debt of gratitude not just to well-known 20th century expositors, but also to a French Huguenot whose thoughtful treatise lives on in our 21st century.

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