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Illuminated Preaching

Generally, books on preaching tend to focus on the art and science of correctly exegeting and applying God’s Word to his people by means of delivering a sermon. They are, by nature, practical and pragmatic. Yet books on the Holy Spirit’s role in preaching, tend to another extreme, abandoning the how-to in order to emphasize the mystical, affection-stirring, and experiential. These works are often predisposed to desert the hard work of sermon preparation for extemporaneous, Spirit-led prophecies. It is rare to find a book that is biblically rich, pragmatic, and focused on the Spirit’s role in proclamation. Yet that is what we find in Jeffrey Crotts, Illuminated Preaching: The Holy Spirit’s Vital Role in Unveiling His Word, the Bible. In his short, lucid book, Crotts presents a biblical theology of illumination that can enlighten the mind and stir the affections as the Spirit-led pastor labors in the art and science of preaching.

Crotts begins by using 2 Corinthians 4:1–6 to synthesize his biblical theology of illumination around four categories that come from the text: condemnation without illumination (v. 3–4), communication for illumination (v. 1, 2, and 5), conversion by illumination (v. 4 and 6), and convictions through illumination (v. 6). Next, he provides a brief historical context for his biblical theology of illumination focusing particularly on John Calvin’s work on this doctrine. In the remaining four chapters Crotts focuses on each category in turn, concluding each with short but helpful implications for the pastor.

In chapter three, “Condemnation Without Illumination,” Crotts takes the reader on a biblical tour of the Old and New Testaments to show that the reason why some people are not illumined by God’s Word is because of their sin. In rebellion they harden their hearts to God’s revelation and place themselves under his just judgment. This is the condition of all who have not received the illuminating work of the Holy Spirit. Because this is the case, Crotts argues in chapter four, “Communication for Illumination,” that the primary goal of the preacher is not to cater to the listener’s preferences, or to give inspiring, emotional speeches, but to preach the truth of God’s Word clearly and faithfully. Conversion does not happen because of persuasive, winsome messages, setting the mood, telling stories, or manipulation, but as the Holy Spirit works through the clearly communicated truth of God.

In chapter five, “Conversion by Illumination,” Crotts continues his argument by showing from Scripture that conversion is not the result of man’s toil, but is the work of the Holy Spirit alone. “Conversion is the miracle whereby God creates light in a person’s soul.” But the Holy Spirit not only brings about conversion; in chapter six, Crotts shows that he also brings convictions through illumination. As Christians persevere in the faith, the Holy Spirit continually and progressively impresses God’s truth upon their hearts, moving them from a superficial affirmation of truth to deep personal convictions. As Christians seek God in his Word, the work of the Holy Spirit is evidenced by their moving away from an intellectual understanding of truth to a passionate, willful certainty that is evidenced by how they live. According to Crotts, there is no better evaluative gauge for a person’s spiritual condition than his or her spiritual conviction. Crotts concludes by saying:

Regardless of a preacher’s platform or phase of ministry, confidence in communicating rises or falls based on the expectation of what preaching will accomplish. A clear understanding of illumination will, like a fresh breeze, offer a renewed sense of confidence in the disciplined exegetical study coupled with energetic, affectionate, expositional preaching. It will change the preacher. This God-inspired and God-blessed work of illumination can turn study into worship. No longer is study a mere preparation to speak, it is worship of Jesus . . . this kind of preaching connects the ministry of the Spirit with the Word of God, reinvigorating both study and pulpit.

Therefore the preacher can prepare vigorously, preach passionately, and wait expectantly for the illumination of the Holy Spirit.

Illuminated Preaching is convincing. In a few short chapters, Crotts helps his readers to take their focus off of the arrogance, affectivity, or anxiety of preacher-centered messages to a biblical, hope-filled expectancy of the Spirit’s illuminating work as the Word is faithfully proclaimed. It is a good reminder to all who take the pulpit that true life-giving transformation is not the work of man, but the grace of God given through the gospel. It is the Holy Spirit that enlightens eyes, opens hearts, and breathes new life as God’s workers rightly and confidently handle the word of truth. Crotts is calling his readers back to 2 Corinthians 4:5–6: “For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”

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