Archives For Bibliology

Jason Meyer has some good thoughts on the need for preachers to rely on the power of the Word and not on their artistry and personality:

Many a good book has suffered at the hands of a movie maker’s “artistic license” that does not stay true to what made the book good in the first place. In the same way, many a biblical text has suffered at the hands of a preacher’s “artistic license” that is not faithful to God’s intent for the text. . . . God does not need us to improve his word. Our part is to give the text a voice, not a makeover.

In my experience, too many people believe that making God’s word real takes creative license or a flamboyant personality. That is simply not true. . . . Many efforts to preach boil down to man-centered attempts to do something in the flesh that only God can do by his Spirit. Preachers must put their faith in the power of God’s word, not in their ability to make something drab into something attractive and appealing. God’s word is living and active, not drab. (emphasis original)

 

Questions for Discussion

  1. What does it take to make God’s word “real” in preaching?
  2. How do you know when you have crossed the line from depending on God and his words to depending on yourself in preaching?
  3. What role, if any, does artistry and creativity play in God-dependent preaching?
  4. What homiletical method(s) best reflect “faith in the power of God’s word”?

Mike Bullmore begins his 9Marks at Southern 2013 session with this “strong claim:”

Preaching God’s word is the fundamental task of pastoral ministry and there is no more important or effective way that you can build up . . . your church than in your preparation to preach week by week and in your presentation of the Word on Sunday.

That’s quite a claim. “No more important or effective way” to build your church than through preaching. But not just any kind of preaching. The kind of preaching Bullmore is talking about here is biblical exposition,

that in which both the content and the intent of the sermon is controlled by . . . the content and intent of a particular passage of Scripture.

In other words, it’s not “just coverage of biblical material.” It’s the “accomplishment of a biblical intention.”

The Necessity of Biblical Exposition

So why would anyone continue to engage in biblical preaching when there are so many attractive alternatives out there?

Bullmore gives four general answers to that question:

  1. People’s lives are at stake.
  2. The health of the church is at stake.
  3. Our own integrity is at stake.
  4. Ultimately, the glory of God is at stake.

But in this session Bullmore narrows the focus to one particular answer based on Dueteronomy 8:2-3:

The Lord your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not. And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.

So why is biblical exposition necessary? Because, Bullmore argues, “the people to whom you are preaching need it in order to live.” It’s like in John 6 when “many of [Jesus’] disciples turned back and no longer walked with him,” Jesus said to the twelve, “Do you want to go aways as well?” and Peter replies, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”

Four Theological Convictions

What exactly is it about the word of God that serves to motivate us in preaching it expositionally? Bullmore enumerates four theological convictions that argue for perseverance in biblical exposition:

1. The God-breathedness of Scripture

Our God speaks and writes and continues to speak by what he has spoken.

Therefore, “we preach the Bible because God said something here and your job is to say what God said.” And that’s why it is imperative, Bullmore contends, that we not “tamper with God’s word. It doesn’t belong to you. It belongs to God.”

This theological conviction also serves as motivation to fulfill the biblical injunction in 1 Timothy 4:13, “Devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture.”

2. The Understandableness of Scripture

God isn’t hiding from us or playing games with us. He took the initiative to reveal himself to us so we could know him.

It’s not surprising then that Paul writes, “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.” That is to say, there is a right handling of the word of truth and a wrong handling.

Admittedly, certain parts of the Bible are difficult to grasp, and that’s why Bullmore says there is “no room for arrogance.” However, there is still “lots of room for confidence. In fact, there is room for conviction. The Scripture will yield to believing study.”

3. The Usefulness of Scripture

Paul writes in 2 Timothy 3:16-17 that because the Scripture is God-breathed it is necessarily “profitable.” The Bible is both useful and valuable. Therefore, Bullmore rightly concludes,

God’s word can be trusted to set the agenda for your preaching. God’s word can be trusted to set an agenda of usefulness for your people. You don’t have to fish around trying to find relevant stuff to preach on.

Be assured that whenever you give people the word of God you give them something inherently valuable and useful.

4. The Efficacy of Scripture

Do you know of any other book that “is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart”?

Scripture, Bullmore reminds us, initiates faith, gives new spiritual life, helps us grow, sanctifies, searches and convicts, liberates, refreshes and renews. So if you want your listeners to experience the saving and sanctifying power of God’s word, then give them the Bible in your preaching and watch God work.

Conclusion

So why is biblical exposition necessary? Here’s why:

Because of the God-breathedness of Scripture and because exposition is a way of speaking that. And because of the understandableness of Scirpture and because exposition is a way of achieving that. Because of the usefulness of Scripture and because exposition is a way of demonstrating that. And because of the powerful efficacy of scripture and because exposition is a way of touching that off, igniting that. This is why we preach God’s word according to its nature and its purpose. This is why we do faithful exposition of Scripture.

What is your sermon text for tomorrow?

Of course, when we hear the words “sermon text” we immediately think of some passage of Scripture. That’s all well and good. But have we stopped to think about what our text actually is? Not just the verse numbers or paragraph unit. But its essential nature and character.

John Frame reminds us in The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God that

When we go to Scripture . . ., it is important for us to remember that it is not only a text, an object of academic study. . . . It is the presence of God among us and therefore a book that cannot be tamed. It will never leave us the same. (145, emphasis mine)

The presence of God! Recognition of that fact alone would change a lot about the way we approach and preach any given passage of Scripture. For one thing it would remind us that the text we are preaching from is not dead. It is not some cold, lifeless object for dissection. No. It is alive!

In fact, the Scripture refers to itself in those terms: it is “living” and “active.”

However, it also true that the preached word is living and active.

Remember Acts 6? Seven men were selected to serve as deacons so the apostles could devote themselves to prayer and to “the ministry of the word.” It was then that

The word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem. (v. 7)

The “word of God” here is clearly pointing to the preached word.

Bock remarks in his commentary on Acts:

The word is described in personified terms here, as the word directs its own growth. This depicts God sending forth the word through the apostolic preaching, with the word much like seed growing into fruit or a harvest. (264, emphasis mine; cf. also Polhill, 183)

Someone may say, “But that was then. This is now. Times have changed.” Sure, but has God’s fundamental strategy for church growth in these changing times changed? The simple answer is “no.”

It is no accident that the church was originally born and unleashed into the first-century world chiefly through preaching. In fact, almost every time Luke made note of growth patterns in the early church, he expressed it in terms like this: “The word of God kept on spreading” (Acts 6:7; cf. 12:4 and 19:20). Clearly, preaching—specifically biblical preaching—is the main strategy God Himself ordained for church growth and for leading and feeding His flock. (Al Mohler, He Is Not Silent, 12, emphasis mine)

But why is that? Why is the preached word so vital for church growth and spiritual formation? Because the word preached is not merely a text or compilation of texts. It is the living and active word of God. It is “the presence of God among us and therefore a book that cannot be tamed.”