Contours of a Great Commission Resurgence, Part 16: The Crisis in 21st Century Preaching: A Mandate for Biblical Exposition, Part D

Contours of a Great Commission Resurgence is a series of articles by faculty of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary that seeks to offer some definitions of what constitutes a GCR, why we believe the SBC is in need of such a movement, and what such a movement might look like in SBC life. The series will address biblical, theological, historical and practical issues related to a GCR with the hope that God will use our finite and flawed efforts for His glory and the good of the people called Southern Baptist.

A Mandate for Biblical Exposition, Part D

4. Pulpit proclamation must affirm that the historical-grammatical-theological interpretation will best discover both the truth of the text and the theology of the text.

The modern evangelical church faces a serious danger. It is the danger of being swallowed whole by shallow and sloppy theology. If we will teach our people solid biblical theology rooted in biblical exposition, extreme theological agendas from any direction will be easily recognized and quickly set aside.

It is our conviction that biblical theology is prior to systematic theology, but that biblical theology must always proceed to systematic theology. The hesitancy on the part of some students of the Bible to follow through on this latter point is unwise and unacceptable. Allowing the priority of biblical/exegetical theology will result in a more faithful and honest interpretation, but it will also demand more tension in one’s theological system.

Walter Kaiser reminds us that, “the discipline of Biblical theology must be a twin of exegesis. Exegetical theology will remain incomplete and virtually barren in its results, as far as the church is concerned, without a proper input of “informing theology” (Kaiser, Toward and Exegetical Theology, 139).

Doctrinal/theological preaching is noticeably absent in the modern pulpit. Theological and biblical illiteracy is the heavy price being paid. As the preacher exegetes both his text and audience, he should be sensitive to the theological truths contained in and supported by the text. He must endeavor to develop a strategy that will allow him to convey these truths in a clear, winsome and relevant manner. A faithful minister of the Word will bombard every text with a series of questions that many preachers of the Holy Scripture never ask, questions that will inspire and equip a congregation to become competent systematic theologians.

  1. What does this text say about the Bible (and the doctrine of Revelation)?
  2. What does this text say about God (also Creation, angelology)?
  3. What does this text say about humanity (and sin, our falleness)?
  4. What does this text say about Jesus Christ (His person and work)?
  5. What does this text say about the Holy Spirit?
  6. What does this text say about Salvation?
  7. What does this text say about the Church?
  8. What does this text say about Last Things?

Now, we need to be honest and forthright at this point. It is impossible to preach without preaching some type of theology or doctrine. However, an unhealthy allegiance to a particular tradition of theology may give you a nice, tight, clean theological system, but it will also lead you to squeeze and twist certain texts of Scripture in order to force them into your theological mold, grid or ghetto! We believe a better way is to let your exegesis drive your theology. Let your theological system be shaped by Scripture and not the reverse. You will most certainly have more tension, more mystery, but your will be more true to the text of Holy Scripture, and you will embrace and cultivate a more healthy and balanced theology.

In this context, we would encourage every preacher to always ask of every text three questions, and to ask them in this order, 1) What does this text say about God? 2) What does this text say about fallen humanity? 3) How does this text point to Christ and His person and work? This three-fold inquiry appropriates the insight of Bryan Chappell and his “Fallen Condition Focus” (FCF). It also will guide us in having a Theocentric/Christocentric homiletic and theology. It will make sure that the real hero of the Bible is always on display: the Lord Jesus Christ. It will serve as an effective vaccine to the psychological, therapeutic, feel-good or mystical/personalistic diseases that have infected the Church. It will keep Jesus preeminent and the gospel front and center.

Warren Wiersbe has sounded a much needed warning in this area,

I don’t think the average church member realizes the extent of the theological erosion that’s taken place on the American exegetical scene since World War II, but the changes I’ve witnesses in Christian broadcasting and publishing make it very real to me. Radio programs that once majored in practical Bible teaching are now given over to man-centered interviews (“talk” radio is a popular thing) and man-centered music that sounds so much like what the world presents, you wonder if your radio is tuned to a Christian station. In so much of today’s ministry “feeling good” has replaced being good, and ‘happiness’ has replaced holiness (Wiersbe, Be Myself, 301).

Donald Bloesch adds,

[T]he church that does not take theology seriously is unwittingly encouraging understandings of the faith that are warped or unbalanced (Bloesch, Crumbling Foundations: Death And Rebirth In An Age Of Upheaval, 107).

A steady diet of exegetical theology fleshed out in expository preaching is a certain cure for the spiritual anemia that afflicts too many of our churches. rpg mobi

Contours of a Great Commission Resurgence, Part 15: The Crisis in 21st Century Preaching: A Mandate for Biblical Exposition, Part C

Contours of a Great Commission Resurgence is a series of articles by faculty of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary that seeks to offer some definitions of what constitutes a GCR, why we believe the SBC is in need of such a movement, and what such a movement might look like in SBC life. The series will address biblical, theological, historical and practical issues related to a GCR with the hope that God will use our finite and flawed efforts for His glory and the good of the people called Southern Baptist.

The Crisis in 21st Century Preaching: A Mandate for Biblical Exposition, Part C

2. Preaching must honor the principle of authorial intent, recognizing that the ultimate author of Scripture is the Holy Spirit, God Himself.

The faithful expositor is humbled, even haunted, by the realization that when he stands to preach he stands to preach what has been given by the Holy Spirit of God. Why is he haunted? Because he understands that what is before his eyes is divinely inspired by God, and he trembles at the very thought of abusing, neglecting or altering what God Himself wrote. Yes, the Bible is best described as the Word of God written in the words of men. However, we must never forget it is ultimately the Word of God, and the divine author’s intended meaning as deposited in the text should be honored. The Westminster Dictionary (A.D. 1645) captures this well when it states, “. . . the true idea of preaching is that the preacher should become a mouthpiece for his text, opening it up and applying it as a word from God to his hearers, . . . in order that the text may speak . . . and be heard, making each point from his text in such a manner that [his audience] may discern [the voice of God].” Charles Spurgeon notes,

A sermon comes with far greater power to the consciences of the hearers when it is plainly the very Word of God–not a lecture about the Scripture, but Scripture itself opened up and inforced . . . I will further recommend you to hold to the ipsissima verba, the very Words of the Holy Ghost . . . those sermons which expound the exact words of the Holy Spirit are the most useful and most agreeable to the major part of our congregations. They love to have the words themselves explained and
expounded (Lectures to My Students, 73).

Haddon Robinson adds, “When a preacher fails to preach the Scriptures, he abandons his authority. He confronts his hearers no longer with a word from God but only with another word from men.” In the 20th century the issue of authorial intent came under heavy and sustained assault, especially with the popularity of the deconstruction movement and its godfather, the deceased Jacques Derrida. For a number of years the English literary critic E. D. Hirsch stood in the gap. Kevin Vanhoozer has exposed the underlying [a] theistic/ [a] gnostic agenda that was driving the deconstructionist all along. In his work, Is There a Meaning in This Text, he presents a careful and impressive defense for “Resurrecting the Author” (ch. 5) and “Redeeming the Text” (ch. 6). This is a much needed critique. It is a sad commentary how easily evangelicals can be fooled, if not by the academy, then by the culture. That this theological and hermeneutical quicksand is ever a serious consideration for those who man our pulpits and shepherd the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ is a tragedy with enormous consequences. We should not ignore what a reader or hearer brings to a text or a sermon. However, we should not deify (small “d”) it either.

3. Scripture must be interpreted and understood as it was given to the original audience. The text cannot mean today what it did not mean then.

Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart correctly assert, “A text cannot mean what it never could have meant to its author or his or her readers” (How to Read the Bible For All Its Worth, 64).

This principle does not neglect the fact that the faithful expositor must build a sturdy bridge between the historical audience and their context, and the audience he addresses here and now. It does mean he will not “eisegete” the text, reading into it the preconceived notions of his own imagination or interest. Further, he will not injure the inspired text with a fanciful and irresponsible hermeneutic that surpasses the allegorist of the medieval period. As evangelical expositors we must continue to affirm that “the meaning is one, though the applications are many.” We must honor the text as it was given and as it would have been understood by the original audience. However, and this is crucially important. This principle does not ignore the divine authorship of Scripture, interpreting Scripture in light of the whole canon, the flow and nature of redemptive history and its Christological focus (principle #5 below), or the intriguing issue of Sensus Plenior. As Vanhoozer argues, and we find his argument compelling, “‘the fuller meaning’ of Scripture–the meaning associated with divine authorship–emerges only at the level of the whole canon . . .the canon as a whole becomes the unified act for which the divine intention serves as the unifying principle. The divine intention supervenes on the intention of the human authors. The Spirit will apply meaning, not change it” (264-65). In other words, implications and significances embedded in the meaning of the text, in light of the whole canon and the grand redemptive storyline may certainly come to light. This will provide balance, as well as a healthy affirmation of the principle of progressive revelation.

Contours of a Great Commission Resurgence, Part 14: The Crisis in 21st Century Preaching: A Mandate for Biblical Exposition, Part B

Contours of a Great Commission Resurgence is a series of articles by faculty of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary that seeks to offer some definitions of what constitutes a GCR, why we believe the SBC is in need of such a movement, and what such a movement might look like in SBC life. The series will address biblical, theological, historical and practical issues related to a GCR with the hope that God will use our finite and flawed efforts for His glory and the good of the people called Southern Baptist.

A Mandate for Biblical Exposition, Part B

1. Preaching Must Be Text-Driven So That It Truly Honors What Is In The Divine Revelation.
Mark Dever writes, “The first mark of a healthy church is expository preaching. It is not only the first mark; it is far and away the most important of them all, because if you get this one right, all of the others should follow” (Nine Marks of a Healthy Church, 39). Mark is absolutely right in our judgment.

Expository preaching allows the Scripture text to determine both the substance and the structure of the message. How one structures the Scriptures will determine how one structures the sermon. The Scriptural text drives and determines, shapes and forms sermon development as it relates to the explanation of the biblical text. Sidney Greidanus reminds us that,

Biblical preaching is “a Bible shaped word imparted in a Bible-like way.” In expository preaching the biblical text is neither a conventional introduction to a sermon on a largely different theme, nor a convenient peg on which to hang a ragbag of miscellaneous thoughts, but a master which dictates and controls what is said (The Modern Preacher and the Ancient Text, 11).

Allen Ross of the Beeson Divinity School concurs and adds an important warning:

Too many so-called expositors simply make one central idea the substance of their message. The narrative may be read or retold, but the sermon is essentially their central expository idea-it is explained, illustrated, and applied without further recourse to the text. This approach is not valid exegetical exposition. In exegetical exposition, the substance of the exposition must be clearly derived from the text so that the central idea unfolds in the analysis of the passage and so that all parts of the passage may be interpreted to show their contribution to the theological idea (Creation and Blessing, 47).

We believe the faithful expositor will reject any method that would entice him to superimpose his preconceived agenda on the text. He will not use the text as a springboard to address the particular issue that currently has his attention. The faithful expositor will make sure that his people hear the message of God who inspired the text and is in the text. Anything less is to be derelict in one’s pulpit ministry.

Are there advantages in this expositional method? The answer is yes and there are many. Don Carson highlights six:

  1. It is the method least likely to stray from Scripture.
  2. It teaches people how to read their Bible.
  3. It gives confidence to the preacher and authorizes the message.
  4. It meets the need for relevance without allowing the clamor for relevance to dictate the message.
  5. It forces the preacher to handle the tough passages.
  6. It enables the preacher to most systematically expound the whole counsel of God if sufficient chunks are handled.

Unfortunately, in our therapeutic culture, where felt needs and how-to sermons are dominant and deemed essential (even by a number of evangelicals!), text-driven preaching is viewed as simply inadequate for the day. The perspective of many was expressed well in an article entitled “What Is The Matter With Preaching?” The author writes,

Every sermon should have for its main business the solving of some problem- a vital, important problem puzzling minds, burdening consciences, distracting lives. . . . And if any preacher is not doing this, even though he have at his disposal both erudition and oratory, he is not functioning at all. Many preachers, for example, indulge habitually in what they call expository sermons. They take a passage from Scripture and, proceeding on the assumption that the people attending church that morning are deeply concerned about what the passage means, they spend their half hour or more on historical exposition of the verse or chapter, ending with some appended practical application to the auditors. Could any procedure be more surely predestined to dullness and futility? Who seriously supposes that, as a matter of fact, one in a hundred of the congregation cares, to start with, what Moses, Isaiah, Paul or John meant in those special verses, or came to church deeply concerned about it? Nobody else who talks to the public so assumes that the vial interests of the people are located in the meaning of words spoken two thousand years ago. The advertisers of any goods, from a five foot shelf of classic books to the latest life insurance policy, plunge as directly as possible after the contemporary wants, felt needs, actual interests and concerns. . . . Preachers who pick out texts from the Bible then proceed to give their historic settings, their logical meaning in the context, their place in the theology of the write, are grossly misusing the Bible. Let them not end but start with thinking of the audience’s vital needs, and then let the whole sermon be organized around their endeavor to meet those needs. This is all good sense and psychology (“What is the Matter with Preaching?” in Harper’s Magazine (July 1928): 135).

Interestingly, this statement is not the musings of a contemporary pulpiteer. Its author is Harry Emerson Fosdick, who penned these words in 1928! Contemporary evangelicals need to be careful from whose homiletical stream they drink. This stream is poison water and will be the death-blow to a Great Commission Resurgence in our churches.