Limit, No Limit

When it comes to preaching there are fewer rules than people might think.  Some like to impose significant amounts of structure on the preaching event, but in reality there are few limits involved.  There may be some limits imposed by the culture and heritage of a church – congregational traditions – and it is wise to think carefully before smashing through those expectations in an attempt to be creative.  However, these limits vary from place to place and it is possible, once trust is established, to carefully adjust such expectations.

However, putting aside the idiosyncracies of specific congregations (and the key change monitors who might take it on themselves to preserve order!), the whole issue of limits seems to come down to two principles:

1. To have integrity as a biblical preacher, I must be constrained by the true meaning of the passage I am preaching. This is the one limit that must be in place.  We commit to preaching the true meaning of the text.  To the best of our ability we must strive to understand what was intended in the preaching text.  We cannot preach on anything from anywhere in the Bible.  Sometimes the pursuit of being “interesting” and “relevant” undermines the exegetical integrity of our ministry.  We need this limit firmly in place.

2. To be effective as a biblical preacher, I have freedom in the formation of the sermon and its delivery during preaching. What shape should a sermon take?  What style of delivery should be used?  Matters of form are matters of freedom for the preacher.  Different texts, different circumstances, different occasions, even different listeners, can all prompt different sermon shape and delivery style.  At this level our goal is effectiveness in communication.  We do not need unnecessary limits in place to hinder our effectiveness.

Sadly too many preachers settle into a predictable pattern where there is freedom – in form and delivery.  And too many choose freedom where there is a limit – in the meaning of the text.  Let’s be sure to get our limit and our no limits the right way around!

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Exegesis Homiletics

I am currently preparing a course that I will be teaching at the end of October – Hermeneutics for Preaching.  I came across this very important reminder in Grant Osborne’s Hermeneutical Spiral (p343):

“The hermeneutical process culminates not in the results of exegesis (centering on the original meaning of the text) but in the homiletical process (centering on the significance of the Word for the life of the Christian today).”

To some of us it is obvious that there must be a direct link between exegesis and homiletics, but we all need the reminder.  C.R.Wells, in Interpreting the New Testament (edited by Black and Dockery, pp506-523), writes the final chapter on interpretation and its connection to preaching.  He warns of some critical approaches that will produce “tempting” content for sermons, but content that should not be included.  However, critical methods that deal with the “text-as-is” have great potential as tools of the preacher.  According to Wells, “Every preacher should and must be a critic, but no preacher should ever forget that critical study serves homiletics.”

Accurate interpretation governs expository preaching.  So two simple implications:

1. Don’t allow interpretation and exegesis to be an end in itself. Study in God’s Word must run its course, not only to personal application, but to communication for corporate application.  If you have opportunity and ability to preach the Word, do it.  If you don’t, then find another way to share the truth and its implications with others.

2. If you ever preach, then be an ever-improving interpreter and exegete of God’s Word. Don’t try to preach without the foundation of biblical interpretation under your efforts.  Preaching is more than sharing the fruit of exegetical work out loud, but it cannot be less.  Skill in communication, relevance in content, personal spirituality and prayerful preparation are all important, but without effective biblical interpretation undergirding your messages, don’t call it preaching.