Few churches in the world enjoy the international reputation Westminster Chapel has established for excellence in biblical preaching. Located just a few meters from Buckingham Palace, Westminster Chapel has been a powerful fixture on the religious scene for several generations.
Lions of the pulpit, such as G. Campbell Morgan and Martyn Lloyd-Jones, thundered across England and throughout the world from the stately pulpit of Westminster Chapel.
The current steward of that pulpit is R. T. Kendall, an American minister. Educated at The University of Louisville and The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in the United States, and with a Doctor of Philosophy degree from Oxford University, Kendall brings a rich background to his ministry at Westminster Chapel. The author of several books — including Jonah, God Meant it for Good, Stand Up and Be Counted, and Once Saved, Always Saved — Kendall is a powerful expository preacher. Preaching Associate Editor R. Albert Mohler, Jr., interviewed Kendall in the Vestry at Westminster Chapel in London.
Preaching: From the vantage point of an American currently preaching in one of the most famous churches in Great Britain, how do you evaluate the current state of preaching in the world?
Kendall: My first thought is that preaching is not given much prominence. The emphasis these days seems to be on worship rather than preaching. Preaching is almost perfunctory in some churches rather than the central act of expectation within worship.
Preaching: What do you see as the difference between the condition of preaching in England and the place of preaching in American churches?
Kendall: In England, more so even than in America, preaching has had a preeminent place in the church. This is less so now. This is explained partly by the incredible increase in secularism among the British, a general decline of interest in religion. It may also be explained by a lack of great preachers.
Preaching: How would you describe your philosophy and theology of preaching?
Kendall: I think the preaching of the Word should be the center of the worship event. The centrality of preaching is what God will honor, assuming of course that this preaching is the faithful preaching of the Gospel and truth.
We must acknowledge that 1 Corinthians 1:21 refers to the foolishness of what is preached as well as the human instrument of preaching. But I think that preaching — and even the traditional role of the preacher in the pulpit — should be given prominence.
It has not always been so, and it should not be done at the expense of other forms of witness and ministry. Personal witness is good preaching; faithful preaching can come through a hymn; but I think a symptom of the superficiality of the church and the declining interest in the church on the part of some sectors of society is the decline of preaching.
I admit also that if preachers are not very committed the preaching will not be powerful and there will be, of course, little interest. I just believe that God will honor a church that is making preaching central — and a preacher who is making exposition the center of his preaching. This is crucial. Preaching must be expository.
Preaching: As I understand the preaching heritage of Westminster Chapel, G. Campbell Morgan called himself an “exegetical preacher” and there was a dramatic shift in that tradition when Martyn Lloyd-Jones succeeded him and began a ministry of what he defined as “expository preaching.” You describe your own preaching as expository. How do you define this kind of preaching?
Kendall: Expository preaching is simply making clear the meaning of the text and showing its relevance and application for the life we live. Though Campbell Morgan and Martyn Lloyd-Jones used different terms to describe their preaching styles, both were really expository in method. Lloyd-Jones was perhaps more theologically-minded than Campbell Morgan, and Morgan was perhaps more biblical than theological in the pulpit, but both were really very effective expositors of the Word.
Preaching: Before your call to Westminster Chapel as pastor, you had begun a series on the prophet Jonah as a Visiting Minister. Before that series was complete you were to accept a call to Westminster Chapel as Minister. How did that come about?
Kendall: That is a most remarkable story. When I came to Westminister Chapel it was to be for six months as a Visiting Minister. I had no intention of staying beyond that. As I thought and prayed about what to preach my thoughts came to rest on Jonah. I had never preached on Jonah before, but I thought in terms of eight sermons for eight Sundays on Jonah.
Yet when I worked on the very first sermon I had an experience like nothing I had ever had before. The thoughts just kept pouring into my mind. When I stepped into the pulpit for that first sermon I did not get beyond the very first verse of the book.
As it happened, my plan for eight sermons expanded week by week into twenty-three. After the sixth sermon I happened to have lunch with John R. W. Stott. He chuckled and was amazed that anyone would preach in Jonah for six weeks. Neither of us knew that it would expand to twenty-three!
Preaching: In most American evangelical churches it would be considered unusual for any series of expository sermons to last through twenty-three messages, much less a series based upon the prophet Jonah. Nevertheless, this tradition of long expository series seems to be well established at Westminister Chapel. How does your method of expository preaching lend itself to series of this duration?
Kendall: I almost never announce in advance how long a series will be. Just now, however, I am engaged in an experiment to see if I can discipline myself to keep within twelve sermons on the twelve verses of Isaiah 53. I knew if I did not announce the length of this series I would never get out of that great chapter of Isaiah. I have forced myself to push on in this case, and the series is coming along. Nevertheless, I would not want to make this my usual practice. I recently completed a series on 1 John of over one hundred sermons.
Preaching: Westminster Chapel is an inner-city congregation. How does this context inform and shape your preaching?
Kendall: I do not think that the context determines what I preach or how I present the message. It is the case, however, that we are attempting to reach our immediate area in a way not always attempted in the past.
I believe God honors preaching as a means of reaching those around us at Westminster Chapel. We are better known two thousand miles away from us than we are in our own neighborhood. Visitors come regularly from around the world, but not much from the immediate area. Nevertheless, for the last few years we have sought to reach our immediate area and have reached hundreds.
Westminister Chapel has never been a traditional local church, a neighborhood church. Lloyd-Jones said to me that Morgan had said to him that Westminster Chapel was not a church, it is a center for preaching. My vision is to be both.
Preaching: You have inaugurated the practice at Westminster Chapel of inviting persons to make a “public pledge” of their faith. Many American churches end every service with such an invitation. How is this done at Westminster Chapel?
Kendall: With the Public Pledge a person confesses publicly what has taken place in the heart. This to me was more biblical than inviting persons forward to receive salvation. They come to confess their salvation rather than to receive it. Some come who do not really know what they are doing, and we have counsellors there to talk to them. There is, we feel, a theological integrity to this — and a biblical mandate.
Preaching: What are your hopes for preaching? What would you like to see happen in the pulpits of the world?
Kendall: I pray that preachers would be mastered by the text, that they would learn the art of bowing before the text with such a high view of Scripture that one hears the very Word of God. When one hears this voice the text is necessarily taken more seriously, and the preacher is less likely to impose his own meaning on the text.
The greatest weakness of preachers on both side of the Atlantic is the tendency to come to the text with a preconceived notion of what the text means, and then to hijack the text with no feelings of guilt whatsoever. The preacher can easily have no clue what Paul really meant, or Jesus really said, but come to a text to mean what they want to say.

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