We all affirm that God speaks in preaching. For Steve Levy, it oozes out of every pore. His opening prayer is a plea: “Father, please talk to us!” His introduction is a plea: “I want everyone to hear this… children at the back, look at me…” His conclusion is a plea: “You need to call on the Lord who is calling your name!” Every illustration is employed to grip the congregation and say – You! You! I’m talking to You! And throughout he is constantly anticipating objections from the congregation, voicing their thoughts and answering them. As a passionate believer in church, Steve does not prepare abstract messages for abstract people. He never, for a minute, forgets that, through his preaching, Jesus is addressing these particular people here and now.
As a member of his church said to me yesterday, “He looks at who’s in front of him, gets their attention and grips them with the Word. No nonsense!” (For an example, check out this sermon preached with 70 non-Christian guests for a child’s thanksgiving).
Steve’s obviously a big believer in Christ in all of Scripture (see his book with Paul), but for he and Paul this isn’t a hobby horse to be ridden – it’s a deep conviction about the nature of revelation. God does not so much communicate plans and programmes and patterns. He gives us His Son. Jesus is not some unifying principle of Scripture – He is the Content of what God offers in His word. Therefore preaching is the communication of Jesus Himself. As Steve says, “You can sum up the Bible in a word: Jesus.” Steve’s preaching is a relentless offering of Christ with the (very!) pointed aim that we receive Him / look to Him /believe only in Him. “Christ alone” preaching is “grace alone, faith alone” preaching.
If you imagine that this concentration on Christ makes for boring preaching, you’d be wrong. Partly this is because Steve believes that the original authors of the Scriptures themselves were proclaiming Christ. Therefore he’s not trying to rip gospel illustrations out of the Law and the Prophets (which gets very same-y). Instead he preaches Christ in the distinctive manner of Moses and the Prophets (e.g. recently they built a tabernacle, dressed people up as priests and walked everyone through the gospel in Leviticus!). When you preach Christ as intended by the Law and the Prophets it’s always variegated and interesting.
The other reason his preaching is never dull is a foundational belief in law-gospel. I don’t think I’ve heard him phrase it as “law-gospel”, instead he’s told me he preaches a “raw gospel.” But it’s the same thing! His sermons are full of the exposing, death-dealing condemnation of Scripture’s demands. He is brutally honest about his and our total inability to be who we should be. And this is where he really connects. He preaches the law not to spur us to goodness but to expose our badness. And as he does so, it’s utterly compelling.
For instance, in his Hebrews 4-5 sermon below, he speaks, obviously, of Christ our great High Priest. But his preaching brings out the wonder of Christ’s mediation because, first, he speaks of the double-edged sword of the word which puts us to death. He allows the law to drive us to Christ and it makes the comfort of the High Priest all the sweeter.
The conservative evangelicalism with which I’m familiar is a thoroughly middle-class affair. And maybe “law-gospel” doesn’t really happen in our churches because no-one’s bold enough to preach “raw gospel”! A drug addict would feel completely understood under Steve’s preaching. I wonder if he’d feel understood under mine.
So put it all together and you’ve got a Christ-obsessed, church-loving, shouty, Lloyd-Jones loving Welshman who preaches the gospel Sunday-in, Sunday-out. What’s not to like!