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Horace Bushnell: Drop Lecturing and Preach

Horace Bushnell (1802-1876)

Horace Bushnell (1802-1876)

I originally found this quote in the Appendix to Daniel Steele’s The Gospel of the Comforter. (It is the first part of Note H.) Horace Bushnell was a Congregationalist pastor and theologian, who was quite important — and controversial — in his day. See: Wikipedia, Christian Classics Ethereal Library.

Many a time nothing is wanting but to speak as to a soul already hungry and thirsty, or, if not consciously so, ready to hunger and thirst, as soon as the bread and water of life are presented. If the problem is to get souls under sin inspired again, which it certainly is, then it is required that the preacher shall drop lecturing on religion and preach it, testify it, prophesy it, speak to faith as being in faith, bring inspiration as being inspired, and so become the vehicle, in his own person, of the power he will communicate; that he may truly beget in the gospel such as will be saved by it. No man is a preacher because he has something like or about a gospel in his head. He really preaches only when his person is the living embodiment, the inspired organ of the gospel; in that manner no mere human power, but the demonstration of a Christly and divine power. Such preaching has had, in former times, effects so remarkable. At present we are almost all under the power, more or less, of the age in which we live. Infected with naturalism ourselves and having hearers, that are so, we can hardly find what account to make of our barrenness.

— Horace Bushnell, Nature and the Supernatural: As Together Constituting the One System of God (1858).

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4 Responses

  1. jwlung July 28, 2014 / 10:35 pm

    Confirmation: Worldview is everything. Great description of the power and authority of inspired preaching.

  2. jwlung July 29, 2014 / 6:38 am

    “Infected with naturalism ourselves and having hearers, that are so, we can hardly find what account to make of our barrenness.”

    Ouch!!! Would that our Council of Bishops would chew on that!

    Volumes written and thousands of hands heavily calloused from constant wringing over our decline, and after all that, what’s the answer: Empty slogans and sterile “Vital Church” initiatives.

    An article referenced in David F. Watson’s blog today ( discusses how one of today’s “progressive” NT scholars is “infected” with the spirit of our age.

    • Craig L. Adams July 29, 2014 / 8:38 am

      The hand wringing is not helpful, but I think the Vital Church initiatives are a positive — they are bringing up the issues and measuring the aspects of church life that people should have been looking at a long time ago. I got very little direction on what was needed / expected / wanted when I came into the ministry. The vital church initiatives have the potential of changing the culture of the institution in very positive ways. Whether it actually will remains to be seen, of course. Some congregations will benefit from it — many already are.

      But, I agree that Bushnell’s challenge is as relevant to our day as it was to his. People who do not affirm the supernatural power of God are not going to expect it — either in themselves or in others. The tradition of Schleiermacher, etc., which has been continued in Borg — is a tradition that I perceive to be lifeless and empty. It can never bring hope to the church — though I recognize that that is what it is seeking to do. How can “progressive” mean “modernist”? It can’t.

      We all need to open our minds to the possibilities of God’s powerful working in our world and in our lives today.

      • jwlung July 29, 2014 / 10:46 pm

        I’m sure the vital church stuff is helpful to Pastor types. And I’m sure everyone’s heart is in the right place.

        How many current Bishops would be willing to participate in a litany of confession, acknowledging we have bowed our knees to the spirit of the age?

        What would happen if the same resources, human and financial, would be expended reviving class meetings?

        Craig, thanks for reminding me my jaded view of our polity and leadership can make me miss the positive in what we are about.

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