Bishop Curry comes to sermon workshop

Feedback on our preaching can be a humbling and helpful thing. At Bible college students often face the fearful frontline of having their message and manner in the pulpit analysed and constructively criticised. In the assistantships that I have been privileged to be part of in Millisle Baptist I have been sharpened and corrected by Monday morning feedback sessions on the preaching from the day before. In this post I want to put Bishop Curry’s preaching from the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle under the microscope, recording five observations from my own limited perspective.

1. Bishop Curry’s message broke the mould by modelling passion in preaching: at the end of yesterday’s sermon Prince Harry can be seen to mouth the word ‘wow’ in response to what he had heard. There is no doubt that Bishop Curry’s manner was a hand grenade thrown into the staid environment of a state occasion – his extemporary style and impassioned vernacular have grabbed the attention of many who tuned in. Given the sheer visual spectacle that the wedding presented it is a marvel that the spoken word could be any kind of talking point, but passion is only of benefit when it is matched with precision, heat with light. Spurgeon phrased it thus, ‘Never fall into the notion that mere earnestness will suffice without knowledge, and that souls are to be saved simply by being zealous…that kind of fire that has no light in it is of a very doubtful nature, and cometh not from above’.

2. Bishop Curry’s message affirmed the historical veracity of Jesus’ life and miracles: in the course of his message, reference was made to Jesus walking on water – ‘I know what the Bible says, and I believe it, that Jesus walked on the water’. This was an aside, but a refreshing one to hear on the lips of a preacher at a state ceremony. Earlier in the message he affirmed that the words recorded in the Gospels are those of Jesus himself.

3. Bishop Curry’s message declared the selfless love of Christ on Calvary, but not the substitutionary nature of his work: the rhythms and cadences of Bishop Curry’s message made it a compelling listen. The repetition of love bordered on being a little too much, but on balance it lent poetry rather than monotony to his address. There were, nevertheless, significant flaws in how love itself was portrayed. Assumptions were made that his hearers would understand love romantically and that this could be transposed to the key of divine love. This is a major mistake, and effectively enervated the power of the love he was claiming to declare. ‘While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us’ (Romans 5:8) –  this is the measure of the category-shattering love of God. As a sinner I need to know that God loves me, but as one loved by God I need to grasp that I am a sinner in order to see the scandal and necessity of the cross. Without this the cross is an expression rather than a transaction, an example rather an atonement, and this falls far short of the biblical picture.

4. Bishop Curry emphasised the ethical outcome of the gospel (neighbourliness and love for one another) without insisting on the new life from Christ upon which those things depend: this was a message full of imperative, but short on the indicative and that can make for tremendous rhetorical power, but not redemptive power. He is not alone in tipping the balance in this direction – which of us doesn’t struggle to avoid rushing to application before exposition? Allowance must be made for the fact that this was a sermonette of extremely short duration, but the grounds of our acceptance in Christ must always be placed ahead of our enjoyment of it.

5. Bishop Curry’s closing words express our greatest hope for all of our rulers, political and constitutional: I am thankful that the sermon ended by wishing God’s blessing on this young couple and that they might abide in God’s hands. Surely the sociological implications of Bishop Curry’s final words cannot be lost on us. A man whose forbears were sharecroppers stood before a Prince and called him his brother, and this is affecting beyond words – as well as being of tremendous cultural weight. I want, however, that this benediction be felt heavily by the Duke and Duchess of Sussex. I pray that they might realise their need to be redemptively placed in the hands of the Saviour, so that they might know they can rest in the hands of the True Sovereign, that the comforts of God might come to them via the conviction of the gospel.

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