The Interrogation Room: Preaching to the Heart
Everyone wants a seat at the table, just not this one. Hopefully, you have never had to sit there, but surely you have seen it. I’m talking about the interrogation room. The room is designed for maximum discomfort: four concrete walls, three chairs designed for a two on one, and the table. Then . . . the questions begin: “Where were you? Did you? Do you? Have you? Would you say? Is it true? Can you verify? How do you explain?” Believe it or not, something very similar should be happening every time the gospel is preached. Good preaching is interrogating preaching. Our sermons should be peppered with well-timed, carefully thought out, precise and penetrating questions. Why is this so? Here are five reasons we should preach to the heart through interrogating preaching:
1) Penetrating questions address our fallenness. We are depraved. Deeply. Radically. Totally. When we listen to the Word preached, our natural bent is to simply absorb information, but information is not necessarily intrusive, nor does it necessarily bring change. Additionally, even as we hear exhortations to live in a particular way, our first thought is usually how someone else measures up to that standard. We begin taking out specks rather than dealing with personal planks (see Mt. 7:1-5). We think: “My wife, my kids, my friends, my co-workers really need to hear this.” This is why we need direct, heart-searching questions. Penetrating questions turn hearers in on themselves and lead people to ask: “Is this true of me? How do I need to change?”
2) Penetrating questions hold up the mirror of God’s Word to hearers. Anytime we hear the Word of God, we should take a hard look in the mirror (James 1:22-25). When a question hits the heart, people stop looking around and start looking in the mirror. Mirrors provide a reality check revealing the positive and not so positive, areas of growth and areas for growth, sin and grace. Good preaching must push people to reflect. Martyn Lloyd-Jones once said, “If people can listen to us without becoming anxious about themselves or reflecting on themselves we have not been preaching” (Preaching & Preachers, 56).
3) Penetrating questions provide homiletic versatility. Questions can confront and comfort. They help us evaluate and exhort. A great question can summarize both the explanation and application of a particular point. For example, in the parable of the Good Samaritan you have two contrasting approaches to loving our neighbor. The lawyer wishes to restrict love to a certain group of people, while Jesus liberates love to all people. To interrogate, ask: “Do you limit your love, or do you love without limits?” That question reinforces explanation and personalizes application.
4) Penetrating questions confront and comfort. Take an example from 19th century British pastor, Octavius Winslow. In a sermon on Galatians 2:20, he utilized questions to accomplish both. First, he utilized questions to confront: “Let me ask and press upon you the personal and searching question, has the law of God been brought into your conscience with that enlightening, convincing, and condemning power, as first to startle you from your spiritual slumber, and then to sever you from all hope or expectation of salvation in yourself?” Later in the sermon he brought hope and assurance: “The life of God in the soul evidences itself by its actings. Are you sensible of your sinfulness? Do you love the atoning blood? Is Jesus precious to your soul? Do you delight in God, and in retirement for communion with Him? Then for your encouragement we remind you, that these are not the actings of a soul lying in a state of moral death, nor are these the productions of a soul still unregenerate.”
5) Penetrating questions demand a response. This may seem obvious, but this is what we are after in preaching, a response. More concretely, a response of worship. That is why we must address the heart.
The next time you preach, step into the interrogation room. Craft questions loaded with grace and a prayer for the Spirit to use those questions to transform those who hear. And oh by the way, before you pose penetrating questions to others, ask them first of yourself. Then you will be preaching from the heart to the heart.Tanner Turley is the Lead Pastor and Planter of Redemption Hill Church in Medford, MA (Greater Boston). He and his wife, Marsha, have two girls, Parker and Kesed. He enjoys hanging with friends and family, frequenting coffee shops, reading, and following the Red Sox and Celtics. His desire is to see people become missional disciples who love Jesus, his Word, his people, his mission, and his glory. He holds an M.Div. and Ph.D. degrees from SEBTS. Tanner has a forthcoming book in 2013 entitled Preaching From the Heart to the Heart: The Experimental Homiletic of Octavius Winslow, which will be published by Reformation Heritage Books.