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White Horse Inn: Conversational Theology

What is the Purpose of a Sermon?

Many people today confuse preaching with therapy, seeing Jesus as a kind of life coach who gives us “be happy attitudes” to help us cope with life’s disappointments, along with practical principles for self-transformation. Others view preaching as a kind of political speech, where Jesus becomes the mascot of either Democratic or Republican policy prescriptions. So then what is the purpose of a sermon, and why have Christians over the centuries given so much attention to the proclamation of the Word during the weekly worship service? That’s the focus of this edition of the program as the hosts are continuing their discussion of the Ministry of Word & Sacrament.


“Imagine a doctor telling you you have cancer, and a year later after treatment, you heard him saying the cancer is gone. That is good news. That’s great news. Do you say that’s too intellectualistic? I would rather the doctor appeal to my will or to my emotions. No, the good news comes through the intellect… but it immediately compels the whole being. It draws the whole person and even bodily emotions. The whole person is involved because good news has been proclaimed, but you can’t get good news by somebody directing it at your emotions. That’s manipulation. It has to be objective, factual, good news. You can’t just give [the cancer patient] a massage. They’re waiting with bated breath for the news.

“If we do just aim at the emotions, don’t we really go back to what the apostle Paul was talking about when he said, ‘That’s exactly why I resolved to plainly proclaim Christ,’ precisely because if I’m aiming at your emotions through rhetorical skill, I’m manipulating. I’m not announcing something that is true. If someone just aims at your emotions and not your intellect, they are manipulating you.”

Michael Horton



Preaching is the Ellis Island of God’s kingdom, the port of entry for ‘strangers and aliens’ through which we must constantly pass again and again throughout our lives. We come in with our own scripts, our own storied selves, and instead of editing them here and there, God rewrites them entirely in the light of his own plot….The point is not to find a place for God in our story but to receive the good news that God has found a place for us in his. There is a seat for us at the table of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, even though we didn’t even belong in the same neighborhood.

(Michael Horton, A Better Way: Rediscovering the Drama of God-Centered Worship, p. 78)

More from this Series: The Ministry of Word & Sacrament

  1. The Ministry of Word & Sacrament Listen Now ›
  2. The Foolishness of Cross-Centered Preaching Listen Now ›
  3. What is the Purpose of a Sermon? Listen Now ›
  4. Spreading the Word Listen Now ›
  5. Discussing Our Differences on Baptism (1) Listen Now ›
  6. Discussing Our Differences on Baptism (2) Listen Now ›
  7. Discussing Our Differences on the Lord’s Supper Listen Now ›
  8. Icon of the Gospel Listen Now ›