Imperatives and Indicatives in Preaching

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SolusChristus1646

Puritan Board Freshman
I've been noticing lately that in Presbyterian circles, even online, it's very difficult to find a Presbyterian preacher who has a good balance of preaching indicatives and imperatives. The preaching is usually indicative heavy, and is usually careful to point the listener to Christ, but lacks hardly any imperatives all within a 40 minute span. Does anybody have any thoughts on this? Reasons for this? Just looking to get a conversation going on this I guess to help me understand, thanks guys.
 

Susan777

Puritan Board Sophomore
I've been noticing lately that in Presbyterian circles, even online, it's very difficult to find a Presbyterian preacher who has a good balance of preaching indicatives and imperatives. The preaching is usually indicative heavy, and is usually careful to point the listener to Christ, but lacks hardly any imperatives all within a 40 minute span. Does anybody have any thoughts on this? Reasons for this? Just looking to get a conversation going on this I guess to help me understand, thanks guys.
Isn’t that another way of talking about law and gospel? I would think it is partially dependent on the text being preached, although Christ is always to be drawn out and presented to us.
 

SolusChristus1646

Puritan Board Freshman
Isn’t that another way of talking about law and gospel? I would think it is partially dependent on the text being preached, although Christ is always to be drawn out and presented to us.
Indicatives are what the text is about, and merely indicates what is there. Imperatives are when the preacher draws out application for our lives, and in the sense I'm using it, would include the admonishing, exhorting, and encouraging of the congregation from the pulpit. Does that make sense?
 

Susan777

Puritan Board Sophomore
Indicatives are what the text is about, and merely indicates what is there. Imperatives are when the preacher draws out application for our lives, and in the sense I'm using it, would include the admonishing, exhorting, and encouraging of the congregation from the pulpit. Does that make sense?
Yes that makes sense but I’m viewing it somewhat differently. I’m not talking about a hermeneutical principle so much as a way of viewing the implications of a text. An indicative is what we are and who we are in Christ. An imperative is how we are to act in accordance with that truth statement. So maybe we are just using the terms somewhat differently. Carry on.:)
 

ADKing

Puritan Board Junior
I don’t know, I suppose it depends on who you’re listening to. I have found many Presbyterian preachers, past and present, to be rich in both indicative and imperative. To the extent there is imbalance among some (even many?) it is undoubtedly due to a mixture of personal and theological issues. I don’t think there’s anything inherent in Presbyterianism that would lead to this result.
 

Poimen

Puritan Board Post-Graduate
Grammatically they are distinct but not so when considered as parts of the whole Christian life in Christ (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:30). For example, sanctification is not only factual but reality. I am not only required to be holy but I am holy in Christ and being made holy in Christ. They are also distinct when considering the law/gospel dichotomy but that is only true of, again, one part of the Christian life, namely justification. So the divide is in scripture but perhaps it should not be so sharply drawn.

Consider too that imperatives are indicative(l) insofar these are things that the Lord wants you to know about how you should live your life. And indicatives are imperative(l) insofar as these are things that the Lord requires us to believe.

After all, the gospel, as a proclamation of what Christ has done, must lead to the imperative because in it is a command, namely to believe in what Christ has done. And the spirit by the command comes to me and says: you (Daniel) believe. Which is to say that where there is truth there must be "belief of the truth" (2 Thessalonians 2:13).
 
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Poimen

Puritan Board Post-Graduate
As to why preaching may tend more towards the indicative than imperative a number of reasons could be assigned: 1) antinominianism (or an over reaction to neonomianism) 2) theory, as in the prevailing theory of preaching as taught in seminary 3) fear of man & 4) conversely, little fear of God.

As far as theory goes, I think many of the men I graduated from seminary with learned to preach and were comfortable with preaching redemptive-historically-only (or primarily) because they came out of circles where Christ was so preached so little. I remember one professor saying (of medieval hermeneutics) that it would be better to allegorize scripture to speak of Christ than to not preach him at all. There is some truth to that, but it can be overstated. Jesus' preaching was exceedingly personal and heart searching, just as the prophets. Our preaching can be no less.
 
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iainduguid

Puritan Board Sophomore
If preaching has no indicatives, it has no gospel: the gospel is, after all, about what God has done for us in Christ, not what we need to do in response. Equally, if preaching has no imperatives, it lacks specificity. We are to respond to the gospel in many and various ways.

Contemporary Evangelical preaching is often moralistic - telling you all the things you need to do to be an effective Christian. I arrive knowing five ways in which I have failed as a Christian and leaving knowing ten ways. A friend of mine calls these "Another brick in the backpack sermons. Lutheran preaching, on the other hand, is allergic to application, leaving application entirely up to the Holy Spirit, not the preacher. Both of these influences can sometimes be seen in Reformed pulpits.

At its best, Reformed preaching balances indicative and imperative, and gets them in their proper order. I approach it as a fourfold process in my own thinking:
1) what is the law of the passage? What duty does it tell me to do, or doctrine does it tell me to believe? This will be relevant even where there are no direct imperatives, for example narratives, where there are examples to imitate or avoid. The focus here is the law's role in exposing our sin and driving us to Christ, showing us afresh our need of the gospel.

2) How is the gospel specifically good news for a sinner like me whose sin has been exposed in part 1? How has Christ perfectly fulfilled the "law" of this passage? The focus here is on the gospel as the remedy for sin (not moral reformation).

3) How would my life be different if I really believed this passage? What would I do, say, think, believe differently tomorrow morning (the third use of the law)? After all, we believe that the Holy Spirit can convict and instruct his people through means, especially through preaching, not just immediately.

4) How is the gospel still good news for me, as someone who will continue to fail in this specific area, and in many others? If you have weekly communion, this is a natural transition to the Lord's Table.

I find this structure helps me to do justice to both emphases, in a way that sends people out with their eyes on Christ, not their own works (good or bad).
 

SolusChristus1646

Puritan Board Freshman
Thank you everyone for all your input. I definitely have some things to chew on. Pondering on what Poimen said:

As to why preaching may tend more towards the indicative than imperative a number of reasons could be assigned: 1) antinominianism (or an over reaction to neonomianism) 2) theory, as in the prevailing theory of preaching as taught in seminary 3) fear of man & 4) conversely, little fear of God.
Four very good points. Perhaps there is a too much of a caution to avoid anything that might sound like "works-based" preaching? But if we preach the indicative of the gospel of Jesus Christ, what do preachers need to fear? From what I see in Jesus and the Apostles, they didn't seem to have any reservations in this area. Just my thoughts that raise questions for me in this area.
 
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Delahunt

Puritan Board Freshman
The Redemptive-Historical hermeneutic poorly handled has lead to a dearth of imperatives. Preachers often preach the text for the first half, then go into the RH routine for the second of how Christ is the one Who has done it all where we have failed. in my opinion this is typically an understanding that Justification is the basis of Sanctification, whereas I think Paul makes it clear (1 Corinthians 1:30-31) that both Justification and Sanctification are both distinct fruits of our Union with Christ.

If one is going to preach the RH hermeneutic, then make sure that a third portion is preached. Now that you are in Christ, what does this text tell you to do (in the power of the Spirit and not your own strength)? That question and the accompanying exposition does not get asked and preached nearly enough.
 
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chuckd

Puritan Board Sophomore
One of my favorite lines from As Good as It Gets. "I'm drowning here and you're describing the water."
 

BayouHuguenot

Puritanboard Amanuensis
I've been on both sides of this debate and I've preached bad examples (no pun intended) of both kinds of sermons.

The RH types can come across as "Don't discipline your kids because Jesus has taken the big spanking for them."

The application types can come across "Y'all better straighten up."
 
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