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Smith urges a return to Christ-centered preaching

Robert Smith, of Beeson Divinity School, preaches at a worship service Oct. 7. (Photo by Morris Abernathy)
Robert Smith, of Beeson Divinity School, preaches at a worship service Oct. 7. (Photo by Morris Abernathy)

JACKSON, Tenn.Oct. 12, 2009 – Christians have limited Christ in their preaching today and must return to the proclamation of Christ alone in their lives, said Robert Smith, associate professor of divinity at Beeson Divinity School, Oct. 7 at Union University.

Smith spoke at a special Wednesday evening worship service as part of “Southern Baptists, Evangelicals, and the Future of Denominationalism,” a conference at Union Oct. 6-9 that marked the 400th anniversary of the Baptist movement.

“We preach an unalterable and immutable gospel in a changing world,” Smith said, calling Christians to return to the Bible as the basis for their confession of faith. “We stand on a foundation that can never be moved, and we stand upon a foundation that can never be cancelled or abrogated. We stand upon Jesus Christ himself.”

Smith said there is room for differences of opinion about theological matters and diversity within the church as long as Christ remains “the church’s one foundation.”

“As evangelicals, we do not have a coerced conformity or a one-size-fits-all theology when it comes to the nonessentials,” Smith said. “But we cannot disagree when it comes to the person of Christ, that which is salvific.”

Smith pointed to Acts 8, which contains the story of Philip and the Ethiopian, as a miniaturized picture of the Great Commission and a “Kodak moment” foreshadowing heaven.

“There will be people there who don’t look like me and perhaps people who don’t look like you,” he said. “There will be Jews, there will be Gentiles, there will be people of multi-ethnic and multi-lingual ... and multi-national orientations. I think I’d better get ready to see people included in the kingdom who don’t dress like me, who don’t look like me, who don’t come from a place like me. I think I’d better move over because God is tearing down more and more barriers.”

Smith emphasized the need for a renewed focus on “Christ on whom we stand or we fall.” He said Jesus is what people want and need, even if they do not know it.

“Too much preaching has become christologically bankrupt and deficient,” he said. “You can hear many sermons and Jesus is never mentioned, even though he’s the one who is doing the speaking. Brothers and sisters, many people have not heard about him, and those who’ve heard about him don’t really know who he is.”

In many cases, Smith said, Arianism -- which denies the true deity of Christ -- is experiencing a revival practically in preaching.

“It’s not that we don’t believe in Christ as being coequal and coeternal and coexistent with the Father, it’s that we have limited him,” he said. “He is not limited, he is still able, he is not put in a box. He is a God who is still omnipotent. He is a God who still walks with us.”

Smith also cautioned against forgetting the importance of the Holy Spirit as a member of the Trinity. He said he believes many are close to becoming binarians who believe in God as Father and God as Son but have difficulty recognizing the work of God as Spirit.

“It’s the Spirit who enlightens us,” Smith said. “You can’t understand (the Bible) that was inspired by the Spirit without the interpretation given to you by the Spirit of God. As evangelicals we must not be silent about the work of the Spirit.”

The Ethiopian in Acts 8 was moved from consternation to celebration because his position was changed in relation to God, Smith said, and Christians can likewise rejoice because they who were without God have been drawn near to him through Christ.

Audio from Smith’s address and other conference speakers is available at www.uu.edu/audio/event.cfm?ID=2515.

By Elizabeth Waibel (’11)

Media contact: Tim Ellsworth, news@uu.edu, 731-661-5215

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