Our hearts will not be drawn out to worship if someone just dissects and analyzes the worth and glory of God but does not exult in it before us. Our hearts long for true preaching. Some of us don’t even know that is what we are missing.
Like children who grew up in homes where mom and dad never exulted in anything. They never rejoiced or praised or verbally admired and treasured anything. They were always flat and unenthused (except when they got angry). You couldn’t tell if anything really moved them deeply and positively. So the kids grow up not knowing what they are missing. That is what many people in the church are like who have never tasted true preaching.
God exists to be worshiped—to be admired and treasured and desired and praised. Therefore, the Word of God is written primarily to produce worship. This means that if that Word is handled like a hot-dish recipe or a repair manual, it is mishandled. And the people will suffer.
The Truth of God begs to be handled with exultation. And our hearts yearn for this and need it. Something in us starts to die when precious and infinitely valuable realities are handled without feelings and words of wonder and exultation. That is, a church starts to die, without preaching.
What is the chief end of preaching? I like to think it is this. It is to give men and women a sense of God and His presence. As I have said already, during this last year I have been ill, and so have had the opportunity, and the privilege, of listening to others, instead of preaching myself. As I have listened in physical weakness this is the thing I have looked for and longed for and desired. I can forgive a man for a bad sermon, I can forgive the preacher almost anything if he gives me a sense of God, if he gives me something for my soul, if he gives me the sense that, though he is inadequate himself, he is handling something which is very great and very glorious, if he gives me some dim glimpse of the majesty and the glory of God, the love of Christ my Saviour, and the magnificence of the Gospel. If he does that I am his debtor, and I am profoundly grateful to him. Preaching is the most amazing, and the most thrilling activity that one can ever be engaged in, because of all that it holds out for all of us in the present, and because of the glorious endless possibilities in an eternal future.”
Martin Lloyd-Jones, Preaching and Preachers, 98
My time in seminary has taught that there is a type of ‘expository preaching’ which misses the point. I’ve fallen prey to it a time or two. There is a type of ‘expository preaching’ that digs deep to mine out all the significance of the Greek/Hebrew and then uses these ‘nuggets’ as bad illustrations of one’s own point. Stories make more powerful illustrations than fallacious word pictures from Greek etymology. Using illustrations that make educated people say ‘that’s interesting’ doesn’t mean you’ve got the point of the passage, nor does it mean that you have exalted Christ. I pray we can do both.
Matthias Media has a magazine called The Briefing which I’m not sure how I got signed up for (Mark?) which had an interesting article this week called “The dangers of valuing preaching” which deserves some comment.
The article is badly titled because it should be “the dangers of our particular brand of ‘expository preaching’ ” (but of course that doesn’t have the punch their does). I would like the post a couple quotes however to illustrate his point:
1. A shift from content to form: “First, there is the danger of the focus moving gradually from the content onto the form of preaching itself…We work hard on our preaching, and we seek to develop the craft of giving better sermons for our people…the danger is that because we are still sinful people, we are constantly caught in a drift that seeks to reorient our focuse away from the divine and onto the human.”
2. A shift from vertical to horizontal: “It is the shift from the vertical to the merely horizontal in terms of our understanding of what is actually happening as we open up the Scriptures. Too easily we begin to think of Bible ‘teaching’ and ‘learning’ as merely mutual edification along the horizontal axis. We forget the vertical axis. We forget the presence of the living God himself, whose word is not just being heard as if from a distance, but who is present by his Spirit and who is breathing out his living word as the Scriptures are opened today.”
3. A shift from the corporate to the individual: “In essence, of course, this is just another expression of the general shift from a God-centered, Kingdom-oriented mentality to the man-centered, self preoccupation that is the hallmark of our natural condition, and to which we constantly naturally regress if left unchecked by the correction of God’s word.”
Of course it is difficult to evaluate this article just based on the snippets I have included, but he brings up a topic I have thought on recently. Does the traditional craft of our preaching lend itself to a semi-pelagian view of sanctification? We are told to examine the text and get our points from the text and then corner the listener into making a decision for change. We are told to garner proper ‘applications’ from the text to give the listener something tangible to grasp, or to do. The problem with this seems to be that we forget that the Bible is primarily a revelation of God about himself and about ourselves and our relationship with him. The Bible is first a communique concerning the gospel. Shouldn’t our preaching instead be ‘vertical’ as Philip states it, that is the purpose of preaching is to exalt Christ and his work not our own efforts?
I think one of the issues Philips sees is that expository preaching has tended to focus strongly on what we should do rather than why or how. Are not the why/how questions answered by inner spiritual change which are wrought by the hearing of the word and the response of faith? Should we neglect the exaltation of God by preaching the gospel to preach a list of do’s and dont’s? God forbid.
To begin with, though at a fairly elementary level, one may analyze the text sentence by sentence, in fragments. This may yield information, but probably not understanding. Such reading is a bit like viewing an impressionist painting from too close up; all one sees is sundry color patches. Only when one steps back does the pattern (e.g., the Rouen cathedral at sunrise) emerge. So it is with most literary acts; their sense emerges only when one “steps back” and surveys the whole. It follows that the text itself, in its complete and final form, is the best evidence for determining what the author is doing.
From Matt Chandler’s, Vision of a Church Planter which can be found at Resurgence from their recent conference.
A church on mission is committed to the authoritative, infallible, inspired, all sufficient Scriptures…If you don’t believe the Scriptures are sufficient it’s going to be easy to leave behind parts of it in the interest in engaging…It’s been a long long time since I’ve heard anyone address hell.
Let me tell you why I’m so committed to that (expository preaching), because I am a creative, artistic thinker and if I’m not careful I’m going to out think the Scriptures. And I’m not going to address things that God says are a big, big, big deal. And so you’ve got to wrestle with this because I’m telling you what’s going to happen is you’re going to engage a society that finds Christ to be the aroma of death. And the thought if you’re not careful is if you just squirt a littler perfume on him, if you just clean him up a little bit, if you just make him not as offensive, not as bloody, if you can do that, then more people will accept him and the second you done that you are not longer presenting God in the flesh. You are presenting the marginalized Jewish peasant who just happened to be brilliant in ethics.