My Preaching Essentials (Part 2)
And the list continues…
4. Preparation. Some circles emphasize extemporaneous preaching. I think there should be great freedom for the Spirit to work in a preaching setting. That being said, flexibility is usually enabled by preparation. Why should one carefully prepare? First, it is the model of Scripture. When the apostles spoke, their message was theologically deep and biblically sound. They had pondered what they would say. When the Scripture writers wrote, they carefully crafted arguments with deep biblical connections and powerful rhetoric. The Biblical writers demonstrated great care in the way they used words. We would do well to emulate their example. Second, the text of Scripture is too important to teach flippantly. In addition, though it is able to be understood it is not always easy to understand. The distance between our language and the languages of the Bible, our culture and the cultures of the Bible, and our background and the backgrounds of the Bible necessitate care in teaching its message. (1 Timothy 4:11–16)
5. Honest. I know the temptation to preach ‘what works’. I know the ‘that’ll preach’ mentality. I know how my ego and desire for approval bids me sacrifice truth at the altar of utility. My appeal to preachers is to avoid pragmatism. Be honest with people even when the honest answer is not always the easiest thing to preach. Share your struggles. Preach the difficult texts.
Be honest about the text. Tell people when there is a passage that exceeds your understanding. Explain interpretive options when you don’t know which is best. The tendency for preachers is to yell louder and make statements of certainty to overshadow any doubts. However, the historical, textual, and hermeneutical difficulties make it tough to preach. Rejoice in the diversity and celebrate the difficulty. One example of a difficult text is the famous pericope de adulterae (the story of the adulterous woman) found in John 7:53–8:11. Whether or not this story really happened, the evidence is strong that it is not original to John’s gospel. The historical and textual evidence points fairly conclusively to it being a later addition. However, this story ‘will preach.’ It’s powerful and illustrates a lot of honest truths about Christ. However, what will preach and what is original to the Bible conflict (in this instance). I would implore preachers to trust the plan of God in the organization and content of Scripture. What is original is sufficient. Some hearers might be dismayed by such a choice but I think the harm done by glossing over the truth will be exposed when someone less amenable to Christianity uses Christian deceit or ignorance to undermine the truthfulness of the Bible. Be honest when you preach! (Colossians 2:8)
Be honest about yourself. Be honest about your sin. Be honest about your failures. Be honest about your limitations. Be honest about your sources. Be honest about your life. Be honest about your credentials. The end. (1 Thessalonians 5:5; Titus 2:7)
6. Textual. This is a good counterbalance to my talk about originality. While the messenger is unique, the message is timeless. The text should determine the shape and structure of the message. I love Andy Stanley’s classic, Communicating for a Change. He has a lot of good information for communicators on how to memorably and winsomely engage an audience with a message. My biggest concern with his thesis is in regard to his ‘one point sermon.’ He lays out an argument from pragmatism. Essentially, people can only remember one point when you preach. In addition, the preacher can only really make an impact if he has a laser focus around one clear area. While I think people can remember, understand, and apply more than one point, my major critique is that the principle of a ‘one point message’ dare not overrun the logic of God’s Word. Sometimes a self-contained pericope contains multiple points. What if Paul uses multiple points to get his message across? Am I, the contemporary preacher, really confident that the original authors intent is of no value in this case? Am I willing to overrun the organization and rhetoric of the original text to make it more palatable for the modern audience? Ultimately, we only know God if he speaks to us. Let’s trust that what he said and how he said it is sufficient. For more on this, see Mark Dever and David Platt talking about the role of expository preaching in a healthy church. (1 Timothy 4:11–16)