Sunday, June 25, 2006

Unction in preaching

Lee Eclov writes at Preaching Today on unction in preaching. Not entirely comfortable with that term? Neither was the author at one time:

I must admit that unction hasn't always had an altogether positive connotation for me. It is a word that somewhere in my past was hung like a sideshow banner over a sweaty, pulpit-pounder caught up in a frenzy of conviction. He is a preacher I resent—for not preparing well, for running on emotion and guilt, for crying too easily, for thinking there is something superior about being a primitive preacher. He gives unction a bad name: unctuous.

So what, then, is true unction?

I told a seasoned preacher friend I was thinking about unction. "It's hard to explain," he said, "but I know when I have it." I know what he means, but I'm not sure he's right. If he means, "I can feel unction when it comes upon me, when my words turn to hammers or lightning or medicine," well, I'm not sure we can always tell. Sometimes unction is simply received by faith, without feeling the wind or the heat. We go home to our Sunday afternoon nap deflated and disappointed that nothing seemed to happen. But when with a pure heart, a Christian preacher declares the Scriptures, or proclaims Christ, or calls for repentance and holiness, his words are surely anointed.

However you define "unction," it's admitting this truth: that the transformative power of preaching lies not in the preacher's personality, style, delivery, rhetoric or technique, but in the Word and Spirit of God.


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