Thursday, October 20, 2005

Preaching the Word

I was riding in my car to work this morning and I started thinking about preaching the Word.

Many preachers claim to be preaching the word. But, are they?

It is quite obvious that if the preacher only gives his own opinions, then he obviously is not preaching the Word!

The next question is, when are preachers actually preaching the Word? It is fairly difficult to simply make a positive comment as to when preachers are preaching the Word. However, it is easier to go into the negative as to when they are not!

It is my contention that when preachers have not done their homework in preparation for their sermons, then they are not preaching the Word. In these situations it is much easier to fall into the my-own-opinion trap! What does this homework entail?

First, it is important to spend time in prayer when preparing a sermon. Preparing a sermon is not preparing a speech with simple logic involved or just relaying facts. A sermon is to be an explanation of the Word of the Almighty God! Therefore, time must be spent with the Lord in preparing the sermon.

Second, the Scriptures must be pored over extensively. Too many sermons today, especially topical sermons, have a proof-text here and there and that is about all that the sermon contains. On the other hand, quoting many verses can mean just as little if they are not used wisely. Spend time in reading and rereading the passage in question as much as it takes.

Third, a sermon not based on proper exegesis will certainly become self-opinionated instead of Christ-centered.

It is my opinion that most topically based sermons end up being strewn with opinions not found in the Bible. It is certainly possible to preach topical sermons based on good preparatory exegesis--which lends itself to systematic theology--but on the other hand, I have seen (and heard) from experience that almost no topical preacher is a good exegete. It is so much easier to pick a topic to preach on and then to throw a couple of verses at the topic than to actually spend time searching the Scriptures and applying good hermeneutical principles to those Scriptures.

On the other hand, expository preaching lends itself to proper exegesis. Now hear me! I am not saying that you cannot be lazy when using expository preaching and end up preaching useless sermons. The nature of man is to take shortcuts where they are available! I am also not saying that good exegesis cannot be used in topical preaching. What I am saying is that one is forced more in expository preaching than in topical preaching to do exegesis. Now I know, you all have lists of preachers that are good at one style of preaching and preachers that are bad at another. That is not my point at all. I am not looking at the preachers per se in this point, but rather at the type of preaching and the preparation involved. What I particularly like about expository preaching is that it forces you to look at the context and to build the sermon based on the context of the passage, chapter and book!

Fourth, once the preacher is done with his own exegesis, it is always helpful to use good commentaries. I know that there are preachers, especially these new fandangled charismatic types, that believe that they do not need to use commentaries to help them in preparing their sermons. "Pride comes before a fall." The absolute conceit in this approach is telling. It is for this very reason that so many of these preachers have gone off the rails and are preaching erroneous doctrines at best and heresy at worst! There are many great men of God that have gone before us and they had wisdom and insight that most of us can't even dream of.

C.S. Lewis has something extremely wise to say about the reading of new as opposed to old books. This can easily be applied to the use of commentaries:

"There is a strange idea abroad that in every subject the ancient books should be read only by the professionals, and that the amateur should content himself with the modern books. Thus I have found as a tutor in English Literature that if the average student wants to find out something about Platonism, the very last thing he thinks of doing is to take a translation of Plato off the library shelf and read the Symposium. He would rather read some dreary modern book ten times as long, all about "isms" and influences and only once in twelve pages telling him what Plato actually said. The error is rather an amiable one, for it springs from humility. The student is half afraid to meet one of the great philosophers face to face. He feels himself inadequate and thinks he will not understand him. But if he only knew, the great man, just because of his greatness, is much more intelligible than his modern commentator. The simplest student will be able to understand, if not all, yet a very great deal of what Plato said; but hardly anyone can understand some modern books on Platonism. It has always therefore been one of my main endeavours as a teacher to persuade the young that firsthand knowledge is not only more worth acquiring than secondhand knowledge, but is usually much easier and more delightful to acquire.

"This mistaken preference for the modern books and this shyness of the old ones is nowhere more rampant than in theology. Wherever you find a little study circle of Christian laity you can be almost certain that they are studying not St. Luke or St. Paul or St. Augustine or Thomas Aquinas or Hooker or Butler, but M. Berdyaev or M. Maritain or M. Niebuhr or Miss Sayers or even myself.

"Now this seems to me topsy-turvy. Naturally, since I myself am a writer, I do not wish the ordinary reader to read no modern books. But if he must read only the new or only the old, I would advise him to read the old. And I would give him this advice precisely because he is an amateur and therefore much less protected than the expert against the dangers of an exclusive contemporary diet. A new book is still on its trial and the amateur is not in a position to judge it. It has to be tested against the great body of Christian thought down the ages, and all its hidden implications (often unsuspected by the author himself) have to be brought to light. Often it cannot be fully understood without the knowledge of a good many other modern books. If you join at eleven o'clock a conversation which began at eight you will often not see the real bearing of what is said. Remarks which seem to you very ordinary will produce laughter or irritation and you will not see why--the reason, of course, being that the earlier stages of the conversation have given them a special point. In the same way sentences in a modern book which look quite ordinary may be directed at some other book; in this way you may be led to accept what you would have indignantly rejected if you knew its real significance. The only safety is to have a standard of plain, central Christianity ("mere Christianity" as Baxter called it) which puts the controversies of the moment in their proper perspective. Such a standard can be acquired only from the old books. It is a good rule, after reading a new book, never to allow yourself another new one till you have read an old one in between. If that is too much for you, you should at least read one old one to every three new ones.

"Every age has its own outlook. It is specially good at seeing certain truths and specially liable to make certain mistakes. We all, therefore, need the books that will correct the characteristic mistakes of our own period. And that means the old books. All contemporary writers share to some extent the contemporary outlook—even those, like myself, who seem most opposed to it. Nothing strikes me more when I read the controversies of past ages than the fact that both sides were usually assuming without question a good deal which we should now absolutely deny. They thought that they were as completely opposed as two sides could be, but in fact they were all the time secretly united—united with each other and against earlier and later ages—by a great mass of common assumptions. We may be sure that the characteristic blindness of the twentieth century—the blindness about which posterity will ask, "But how could they have thought that?"—lies where we have never suspected it, and concerns something about which there is untroubled agreement between Hitler and President Roosevelt or between Mr. H. G. Wells and Karl Barth. None of us can fully escape this blindness, but we shall certainly increase it, and weaken our guard against it, if we read only modern books. Where they are true they will give us truths which we half knew already. Where they are false they will aggravate the error with which we are already dangerously ill. The only palliative is to keep the clean sea breeze of the centuries blowing through our minds, and this can be done only by reading old books. Not, of course, that there is any magic about the past. People were no cleverer then than they are now; they made as many mistakes as we. But not the same mistakes. They will not flatter us in the errors we are already committing; and their own errors, being now open and palpable, will not endanger us. Two heads are better than one, not because either is infallible, but because they are unlikely to go wrong in the same direction. To be sure, the books of the future would be just as good a corrective as the books of the past, but unfortunately we cannot get at them."
Continue reading.

Obviously, commentaries should not be used as a shortcut but rather as corrective or confirmatory tools.

Fifth, here many laymen and preachers disagree with me, but I believe that preachers today must become well-versed in Biblical Greek and/or Hebrew. Martin Luther wrote way back in 1524:

"In the measure that we love the Gospel, let us place a strong emphasis on the languages. For it was not without reason that God wrote the Scriptures in two [primary] languages, the Old Testament in Hebrew and the New Testament in Greek. Those languages which God did not despise, but rather chose above all others for His Word, are the languages which we also should honor above all others. It is a sin and a shame that we do not learn the languages of our Book."

Someone compiled a list of reasons as to why we, and in my opinion preachers most of all, should study New Testament Greek:

"1. You are always subject to the choices of the translator(s) in doing Biblical studies if you do not know the original languages.

" a.. Even though you may trust those translators, nevertheless it is more useful in doing serious study to know the language yourself.
b.. Unless you can read Biblical Greek, you have forever limited yourself to low-level study aids. The inability to research commentaries and lexicons that deal with the original language again means that you have decided to let someone else tell you what the Bible says: commentaries that are not based on the original languages are inadequate.
c.. It gives you access to the best scholarly journals and books in biblical and theological studies.
d.. It gives you a greater independence as an interpreter of Scripture

"2. It takes you a step closer to the people who used the language 2000 years ago.

" a.. It gives you a broader and deeper understanding of the linguistic and cultural milieu in which the NT was written.
b.. It gives you a new appreciation of the richness and depth of the sacred texts, which previously you have come to value even though you have perceived them only through a veil, dimly.
c.. Studying the Bible in the original languages brings a new dimension to the scriptures that simply does not get portrayed in English. It allows you to interact with the scriptures in a new way.

"3. Studying the Greek NT provides a way to get a fresh look at what the text is actually saying. It may help to overcome some of our preconceived notions of what the English text says.

"4. Studying New Testament Greek should turn a good NT scholar into a better one. [But it won't turn a bad one into a good one!]

"5. It helps you learn the grammar of your own language, and hopefully, makes you a better communicator in that language.

"6. It is great intellectual training.

"7. But, most of all, it's fun!!!!!!!"

Most preachers who give all kinds of reasons for not studying Greek are simply too lazy to do so! Others are too involved in things that have nothing to do with the ministry, and are sitting in waste-of-time meetings and treating the church as a business!

Last, I am sure that we can add many more to this list of points, but for now, return to the first point and start it all over again. Preparing a sermon is not a once off linear event. It is a cyclic, iterative process. Repetition on preparing sermons will help iron out difficulties.

So, when preachers go through this iterative process it will help getting rid of their opinions so that they can actually preach the Word and not just their own words or opinions.

Preachers owe it to their congregations, but most of all to Jesus Christ, to preach the Word and only the Word, or else to get out! If a preacher is not preaching the unadulterated Word of God, he is not representing God, and can in a certain sense be labeled a false prophet. As a preacher, where do YOU fit in?

Just thinking...

1 comment:

marc said...

Goot thoughtful posts here... for a schmeradactyl rider.

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