Friday, September 20, 2013

Answering 7 questions from Monday

Over the past 4 days I have posted on the subject of preaching and sermons. In the beginning, I asked 7 questions. Having investigated some of the preaching of the New Testament, I am prepared to suggest some answers to those questions. (Please understand much more study needs to be done on this subject.)

1. There are several "kinds" of sermons recorded in the New Testament. Some might be considered topical. Several relate God's redemptive history. Some might be called testimonies. Some are or include support or defense of doctrine (Acts 15), practice (Acts 2) and even "legal" (Acts 26). The closest to the pattern of the modern expository sermon might be the preaching of Philip to the eunuch. Though we are not told the details of Philip's words, we know that his teaching began with a text and a question about the meaning of that text.

2. I have not yet investigated the sermons of Jesus. I expect we will find a wide variety of teaching "styles", with a few possibly resembling the modern text-driven sermon while most do not.

3. When expository preaching is considered in what I feel is its most common presentation, we are hard pressed to find Peter, Paul, Stephen, James and others preaching these types of sermons.

4. The command to "preach the word" cannot strictly mean text-driven expository sermons, unless we are ready to admit that Peter, Paul, Stephen and others did not "preach the word". The one who laid down the mandate in 2 Timothy 4:2 did not preach that way, as far as I find in the record.

5. Is textual/expository preaching driven by a scriptural mandate, personal preference, education or something else? Answering this question fully requires investigation or survey of preachers and is outside the textual investigations that have preceded this post. It is my opinion (and nothing more) that text-driven expository preaching, though couched in scriptural mandate, is just as often mandated by logic, seminary training and personal preference.

6. The sermon examples of Jesus and the apostles must be followed. If not, we have no scriptural examples to follow! The imitation of these sermons must be mediated by several considerations. Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ is the eternal omniscient Son of God. His sermons were perfect. They are perfect examples of how a perfect God can preach. He didn't just read and quote the book, but also said "I say unto you!" Such is too high and ultimately unattainable by sinful man. It does not mean we do not look to Christ for guidance in preaching. The apostles spoke by direct inspiration and also had a degree of authority we do not have. In a sense they were composing Scripture where we are reading and interpreting it. There are parts of the biblical examples we cannot attain; they are still the examples we have. We preach the same message (the word), from the same authority (God), by the same power (the Spirit) to the same kinds of people (unbelievers and believers).

7. One  flaw of modern preaching is the combination of following the single pastor model (instead of plural elders) and the always one-sided lecture to a group of people. A single individual delivering a discourse to a crowd is seen mostly in the examples of preaching the gospel to unbelievers. But even on those occasions there is often a level of interaction between the crowd (or someone "in the crowd") and the preacher that is unseen in the modern pulpit delivery method. It is my sense that the teaching of gathered believers took on a more interactive style of communication -- one that included dialogue and that could be stopped if someone else had a word of teaching (Cf. 1 Cor. 14). Further, the single pastor model places almost all of the communication in the lips of one man, whereas the plural elder model uses the gifts of several men for the basis of teaching and edification in the gathering of the church.

I do not object to expository sermons or text-driven preaching. Most of my preaching probably fits in that category. I have heard preachers who seem to preach the same sermon whether they start out expository, topical, or some other way. Regardless of what text they use, they always end up in the same place. But I object to narrowly identifying this one type of sermon -- expository -- with "preaching the word". Preaching the word is presenting the truth of the word of God in many different ways. One preaching style does not exhaust the command to "preach the word".

[Note: David Allen further clarifies expository sermons as "text-driven". In text-driven sermons "all the points of the sermon, main or subordinate, are derived exclusively from the text itself...When the sermon outline reflects the semantic outline of the text, the sermon will follow this trajectory..."]

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