The Bible, Expository & Consecutive Preaching – Part 5

Daniel Goepfrich wrote a substantial interaction with this blog over on his site – here – this post is responding to the issue of relevant preaching from paragraph 12 to the end.


You then progress to the issue of contemporary relevance.  I agree with you that the Bible is full of God’s spokesmen addressing contemporary issues (prophets, Jesus, apostles, etc.)  As I have already mentioned, my understanding of expository preaching is not about form of preaching, but a commitment to understanding and communicating the biblical text with emphasis on its relevance now.  I quoted Wiersbe’s comment on Ironside to prompt thought, not to suggest that we should only preach straight through books, and I appreciate you noticing that early on and changing your post accordingly.

However, there is an issue worth thinking through here.  Do we “make the text relevant” or do we show “how the text is relevant?”  To use Stott’s approach in Between Two Worlds, is the text boss of the message, or is the preacher?  This is where expository preaching is separated from other approaches (again, not a form issue, an authority issue).  Does the biblical narrative speak with authority in reference to God and humanity, or is it merely a recounting of what happened?  Does the message of the prophets, or Jesus, or Paul, or James, speak with authority today, or is it merely an example to follow in that we too should speak relevantly?  I don’t think you are suggesting that, but I gently push your words toward a perhaps logical conclusion?  No, you are right when you say that we preach the Bible because it is relevant today.  I heartily agree.

In fact, what you suggest is that we use the Bible texts to speak to today’s situations, but we need not feel constrained to the form of writing in which they were recorded.  I do not advocate strict adherence to the form so that every sermon has to be a verse-by-verse re-presentation.  I would suggest that is a good default place to start though.  Why?  Because form is not merely a type of cultural baggage that we can dispose of and lose nothing.  No, the writers were deliberate communicators and we will not fully understand them if we do not seek to understand what they wrote in the way that they wrote it.  So I would urge the preacher to study a passage both in context, and with awareness of the genre and form it is in.

Do we have to preach according to that form?  Not necessarily.  However, if we want our listeners to know how to understand the Bible, then we do them a major disservice if we don’t show how form influences meaning.  Hence my position – the form of the text is a good default for the form of the sermon, but there may be good reasons to adjust the form of the sermon away from the form of the text.

I have really appreciated your post and interaction with my site.  I hope my response has been helpful in clarifying where I’m coming from?  Thanks for recognizing that I’m not dogmatic about form as some are (i.e. the “consecutive only” preaching proponents).  I hope this post has helped to clarify that while I see real benefits to consecutive preaching, my real commitment is to a true understanding of “expository preaching.”

I agree that we need to keep preaching what people need to hear, rather than just what they want to hear. That argument could be used by both sides on the consecutive versus topical debate.  The fact is, people need to hear what God is saying, and for that we must be committed to expository preaching – whether we choose to use a consecutive approach (as you will with Philippians) or a topical approach.  Not everything is expository, though, and I am concerned about preaching that uses the text to say what the preacher wants to say (which could happen in both consecutive and topical preaching!)  For that reason we need to be continually growing as students of the Word of God.

Every blessing in your ministry, Daniel, and thank you again for reading

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!

Selecting Sermon Form: The Preacher’s Strategy – Part 1

Over the next days I will re-assert a basic commitment of expository preaching on this site – there is great flexibility on form.  You can preach a text deductively or inductively, or a combination, or using some variation on these basic shapes.  You can choose three points, or two, or one, or four.  You can go verse-by-verse, chunk-by-chunk, logical thought by thought.  You can preach in first-person, second-voice, etc.  You can follow the Stanley 5-Step (me-we-God-you-we), the “Lowry Loop,” or the “Clowney Construct,” or Chappell’s variation, or Keller’s.  Whatever.  You have freedom to choose your form.  So why do we choose the form we choose?  It’s simple really.  It’s about strategy.  As Robinson puts it, the sermon idea is the arrow, your sermon purpose is the target, and your sermon form is how you think you can best deliver that arrow to its intended target.

Since there are numerous possible variations on sermon form, which should you choose?  It’s simple really.  Whatever will work best.  If you have a goal, then you will choose your strategy in order to achieve your purpose.  I see at least three implications here:

1. Resolute commitment to a good strategy may be foolhardy. Seems obvious, but circumstances change.  It’s true in war.  It’s true in sport.  It’s true in preaching.  If you preach in first person (in character) and you get great feedback, don’t automatically commit to always preaching in first person.  It will become old and lose some of its effectiveness.  Each sermon is an opportunity to choose your strategy according to the factors uniquely present on that occasion.