Quoting Romans 10:14–17, author Roger E. Van Harn explains the central role of hearing in the mission of the church:
The church order is comprised of sending, preaching, and hearing. The salvation order is comprised of hearing, believing, and calling on the name of the Lord. The mission order joins the church order and the salvation order in the event of hearing. Hearing stands at the center between preaching and believing. It fulfills the purpose of the sending and makes possible the calling on the name of the Lord.
Hearing stands between preaching and believing, between the purpose of the church and the order of salvation, according to Van Harn. He declares that hearers reside at the center of the mission of the church as they listen to a sermon. Yet, hearing is not the whole mission of the church. Nor are other elements—sending, preaching, believing, and calling—inferior to hearing. For Van Harn, hearing “the word of faith” (Rom. 10:8) or “the word of Christ” (v. 17) stands at the center of the mission between preaching and believing.
Two Kinds of Hearing
For the Apostle Paul, there are two different kinds of hearing. The first kind is evident in Romans 10:18, where Paul asks, “Have they not heard? Indeed they have, for ‘Their voice has gone out to all the earth, and their words to the ends of the world.’” This “hearing” refers to God’s general revelation based on the first chapter of the epistle. The righteousness of God has been revealed to everyone through nature (Ps. 19). Therefore, people have no excuse. Their conscience knows the righteousness of God as they see God in nature. They have “heard” of God’s righteousness. In Greek, the word translated “hear” is akouō. It refers to hearing in general. But people do not necessarily believe what they hear.
The second kind of hearing Paul references is apparent in Romans 10:16: “But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, ‘Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?’” The word “obeyed” (hupoakouō) has akouō as its root. A more literal translation might be “hyper-hearing.” This word describes the kind of hearing that makes someone obey the gospel. They hear and truly believe it, which shows in their obedience to it. So, when it comes to missions and evangelism, we want hyper-hearing. We want people to really hear such that they believe the gospel and begin obeying Jesus as Lord.
It’s Not the Hearer’s Job
Nevertheless, according to Romans 10:16, the recipients of the gospel have not all practiced hyper-hearing or obedient hearing. Why not? John Calvin says:
We now see why this exception was by the way introduced; it was, that no one might suppose that faith necessarily follows where there is preaching. He however does afterwards point out the reason, by saying, “To whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?” by which he intimates that there is no benefit from the word, except when God shines in us by the light of his Spirit; and thus the inward calling, which alone is efficacious and peculiar to the elect, is distinguished from the outward voice of men.
According to Calvin, hyper-hearing is not something that humans can generate. The Holy Spirit takes the external calling and makes it an internal calling “efficacious and peculiar to the elect.” For example, someone listening to a sermon might think, “I don’t know what he is trying to say with such a serious look. I just don’t get it.” But those who practice hyper-hearing—those who receive the internal call—would instead think, “He is preaching the word of Christ. His appearance, his ethnic background, his degrees . . . none of those things matter to me. Oh, keep speaking to me; I’m listening!” Do preachers make them hear? No, preachers are incapable of doing such a thing. Of course, some preachers can be manipulative as they deliver sermons. They might crack some jokes and entertain the audience. Still, preachers cannot help people hear the word of Christ with the kind of hearing that chapter 10 of Romans describes. No preacher can induce hyper-hearing; humans cannot produce the kind of hearing that obeys the gospel.