Archives For Philosophy of Preaching

Before I preach I nearly always ask God to cleanse my heart and purify my motives. It’s so easy to preach the right message for all the wrong reasons (cf. Phil. 1:15-17).

In a section dealing with division within the church at Corinth, Paul writes,

11 For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there is quarreling among you, my brothers. 12 What I mean is that each one of you says, “I follow Paul,” or “I followApollos,” or “I follow Cephas,” or “I follow Christ.” 13 Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? 14 I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, 15 so that no one may say that you were baptized in my name. . . . 17 For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. (1 Cor. 1:11-17)

Paul was called to preach the gospel not to win people to himself. In other words, “he was not sent to start a cult of people baptized by him” (MacArthur, 1 Corinthians, 33).

But even in his primary calling of preaching he sought to direct people away from himself and toward the cross. He says his preaching was “not with the words of eloquent wisdom.” That means Paul’s preaching of the gospel wasn’t characterized by “clever, skilled, educated, or rhetorically sophisticated speech” (Garland, 56). For Paul preaching wasn’t about “winning arguments and impressing an audience by rhetorical display rather than content” (Witherington, 103-104).

Why not? What’s the problem with that kind of preaching? It’s found in the reason Paul gives at the end of v. 17: “lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.”

Leon Morris explains that preaching “with words of eloquent wisdom”

would draw people to the preacher. It would nullify the cross of Christ. The faithful preaching of the cross leads people to put their trust, not in any human device, but in what God has done in Christ. A reliance on rhetoric would cause trust in men, the very opposite of what the preaching of the cross is meant to effect. (1 Corinthians, 48)

Or in the words of David Garland,

The problem with this style is that it earns the preacher the crowd’s golden opinions. Consequently, Paul is not defending his apostolic power in spite of his speaking deficiencies but attempting to undercut one of the values that has contributed to their divisions: the thirst for honor. Eloquence that elevates the status of the preacher cancels the power of the cross. (56)

Paul bent over backwards, as it were, even in his rhetoric, to point people away from himself and toward the cross and thereby foster unity within the body of Christ.

Perhaps we should do some self-assesssment in order to bring ourselves more in line with Paul’s cross-centered philosophy and practice of preaching:

  1. Does my preaching draw more attention to me than to Christ?
  2. Am I more concerned about how I preach than what I preach?
  3. Am I preaching to secure the approval of Christ or the approval of my listeners?
  4. Am I preaching in such a way that it encourages people to follow me or to follow Christ?
  5. Does my preaching encourage unity within the body of Christ or disunity?

Questions: What does preaching “with words of eloquent wisdom” look like today? What can we as preachers do to avoid emptying the cross of Christ of its power?

One thing I wrestle with as a homiletics teacher is how to instill fervency or passion in my students as they preach.

I have discovered that I can encourage it and try to exemplify it, but in the end fervency comes from deep down in the soul. There is no simple formula or procedure to follow. Genuine fervency cannot be manufactured or worked up. It flows out of belief and conviction that what I’m saying is absolutely true and must be embraced. It comes from knowing that there is significance and weight to what I’m saying. It comes from knowing that I speak for someone who has absolute authority.

The apostle Paul wrote in 1 Thessalonians 2:9,

For you remember, brothers, our labor and toil: we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, while we proclaimed to you the gospel of God.

Leon Morris points out that the verb translated “proclaimed” here underscores the divine origin and character of the message.

The verb preached (ekēryxamen) denotes the action of a herald, who, of course, said what was given him to say. His work was to pass on a message, not to produce some high-flown oration elaborately adorned with ear-tickling phraseology, nor even to give a simple message to meet the need as he saw it. The fact that this is a favourite way of referring to the activity of the Christian preacher in the New Testament puts stress on the divine nature of the message. (1 and 2 Thessalonians: An Introduction and Commentary, 59)

So what does this mean for us as preachers?

The gospel preacher is not at liberty to substitute his view of the need of the moment for the God-given message of the cross. This is underlined by the reference to the gospel of God, an expression we have met in verses 2, 8 . . . . This deep-seated certainty that he was entrusted with a message of divine, not human, origin gave a note of urgency and conviction to all that Paul did and said. The conviction that the gospel is of God is an important factor in fervent and effectual preaching, whether in the apostolic age or any other. (ibid., emphasis mine)

Here are a few takeaways as we think about our message and manner of communication:

  1. When we think of ourselves as “preachers,” we ought to be reminded of our obligation to herald God’s message and not our own.
  2. Fervency and power in preaching come from being absolutely convinced that the gospel is of divine origin.

Question: What are some other factors that contribute to fervency in preaching?

Preaching is more than regurgitating your favorite exegetical commentary, recasting the sermons of your favorite preachers, or reshaping notes from one of your favorite seminary classes. It is bringing the transforming truths of the gospel of Jesus Christ from a passage that has been properly understood, cogently and practically applied, and delivered with the engaging tenderness and passion of a person who has been broken and restored by the very truths he now stands to communicate. You simply cannot do this without proper preparation, meditation, confession, and worship.

~ Paul Tripp

Preaching Is More than Regurgitation

It must never be forgotten, that there is but one mode of preaching that God has promised to bless: “when all our sermons . . . are made to set forth and magnify Christ the Lord.” – Charles Bridges, The Christian Ministry

The One Mode of Preaching God Promises to Bless

Have you ever taken the time to write down your personal philosophy of preaching? It’s an extremely revealing and clarifying exercise.

Here’s what I did. I sat down and tried to answer questions like “What do I believe most deeply about the nature and practice of preaching?” “What do I want to embody in my own preaching?” and “What am I most passionate about conveying to the next generation of preachers?”

Here’s what surfaced for me after some reflection.

  1. Preaching should be biblical. The Bible should be given prominence in our preaching. That means the sum and substance of our preaching must come from the Bible because the Bible comes from God, and any messenger of God is obligated to speak the speech of God.
  2. Preaching should be contextualSince no text exists without a context, it is imperative that any text read, quoted, referenced, or explained in a sermon be employed in a manner that is consistent with its historical, cultural, theological, and literary context.
  3. Preaching should be expositional. I use the word “expositional” here to refer to the elucidation of Scripture not to a particular form of sermon. Preachers should endeavor to unfold the meaning of Scripture through explanation that is careful, clear, and engaging.
  4. Preaching should be doxologicalThe chief end of preaching is the glory of God. The preacher should seek to convey the glory of God both in the manner in which he preaches and in the message itself. Preaching should exhibit a healthy and balanced interplay of doxology, theology, and morality.
  5. Preaching should be evangelicalThe gospel should be presented as the basis for eternal life and for the Christian life. It is for unbelievers and believers alike. Any ethical imperative should be rooted in a gospel indicative.
  6. Preaching should be ChristocentricalPreaching the word necessarily means preaching “the Word”–Jesus. Each sermon should endeavor to some extent and in some way to show how the text or topic relates to the Centerpiece of redemptive history.
  7. Preaching should be pastoralThe church is the flock of God. The preacher must feed it truth in a gentle, loving way and with genuine concern for its spiritual growth and long-term stability.
  8. Preaching should be incarnationalNeed it be said again?–preaching is “truth through personality.” Though hard to quantify, the preacher’s personal life and character as well as the listener’s perception of him play an extremely important part in the drama of preaching.
  9. Preaching should be spiritual. Preaching is designed to be a spiritual enterprise–a Spirit-taught, Spirit-empowered man preaching from the Spirit-inspired scriptures to Spirit-enlightened listeners.
  10. Preaching should be transformational. Preaching should go after the heart not just the head. The ultimate purpose of preaching is not to impart information but to effect transformation into the likeness of Jesus to the glory of God.

These 10 are in no way exhaustive. However, I think they capture the heart of my heart about preaching. At some point I would like to expand on each one in a separate post. But for now they serve as an outline of what I hold to most dearly.

If you haven’t gone through this exercise yet, I would encourage you to give it a try. Our philosophy of preaching informs and directs our practice of preaching. So what core beliefs govern what you do when you preach God’s Word?

Questions: Have you developed your own philosophy of preaching? Feel free to include it (or link to it) in the comments. Do you have any suggestions for improving mine? Is there anything I’m overlooking? Any need for clarification? 

Preaching magazine once interviewed John MacArthur and asked him the following question:

You’ve commented that one of the things you have to work at so hard is to get your own presuppositions out of the message. How do you do that and yet allow the divinely inspired personality of the preacher to still have its place?

MacArthur responds,

I think the answer to that is you get yourself out of the interpretation; you don’t get yourself out of the proclamation. I want to be out of the interpretation and in the proclamation. There’s a clear line there for me. . . .

I think the challenge in the interpretation process is to get yourself out of it, and that is where the scholarship comes in, that is where you hard work comes in.

That’s why I read probably twelve to fifteen commentaries on every passage that I preach on. I really do want to be fair with it. That’s the challenge, and once I get into the proclamation, then that’s just me. I hope that people don’t ever think that you are up there trying to present your opinion. (emphasis mine)

Question: How does a preacher keep his presuppositions out of the message? Is that even possible or profitable? How would you have answered Preaching magazine’s question?

When an expositor studies his Bible, the Holy Spirit probes the preacher’s life. As a man prepares sermons, God prepares the man. As the expositor masters a passage, he will discover that the truth of that passage in the hand of the Spirit masters him.

~ Haddon Robinson

Forming and Being Formed

Obviously as a preacher of the gospel I am concerned about the what of preaching–my message. But I must not stop there. I cannot content myself with simply asking “What am I going to say?” I must also examine the why of preaching–my motives. “Why am I going to say what I’m going to say in the way I’m going to say it?”

When is the last time we stopped to ask ourselves questions like . . .

  1. What ambition is driving me forward in my sermon preparation?
  2. What is the consuming passion governing the form and content of my message?
  3. What is my ultimate goal and purpose in delivering this message?
  4. What would bring me the greatest pleasure as a result of preaching this sermon?

Recently I read J. I. Packer’s little book called Weakness Is the Way. In one section Packer examines Paul’s motivations for ministry. In other words, “what drives [Paul] in the risky, hazardous, and often pain-laden service of Jesus Christ that has become his life’s work” (30)?

In one chapter of his second letter to the Corinthians Paul reveals his threefold motivation for ministry. Here they are in Packer’s words.

1. “Paul wants to give constant pleasure to Christ.”

In 2 Corinthians 5:9 he writes, “So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please [Christ].”

Packer notes that this is a “demanding occupation”:

It requires sustained love to Jesus, expressed in adoration of him for all that he is in himself and thanksgiving to him for all that he has done. . . . It requires sustained obedience to all his commands, up to the limits of our understanding of them. It requires constant watchfulness against temptations to self-indulgence, and constant battling against sloth, laziness, and indifference to spiritual issues. It requires respectful and caring treatment of all others as persons created to bear the image of God, and self-denial at all points where self-absorption would conflict with and damp down active neighbor-love. It requires daily holiness, from morning to night, a daily quest for opportunities to bear witness to Christ, and daily prayer for the furthering of Christ’s kingdom and the blessing of needy people. (31-32)

2. “Paul wants to be found fully faithful to Christ on judgment day.”

In 2 Corinthians 5:10-11 Paul writes,

For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil. Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others.

Packer writes,

Knowing that he and his colleagues, like every other Christian, must one day give account to God for the way they have served the Savior since their conversion, and being thoroughly solemnized in his heart by awe in face of this responsibility, he with them invests himself wholeheartedly in their God-appointed evangelistic ministry. (36)

3. “Paul is controlled, claimed, driven, directed, set going, and kept going by the love of Christ.”

Paul writes in 5:14

For the love of Christ controls us.

This is the “final, climactic motive of Paul and of his teaching.” (37)


Here’s what became clear to me after considering Paul’s motives for ministry: my motives as a preacher must be as Christ-centered as my message. Not only is it necessary to preach with Christ as my central message, it is also critical to preach with Christ as my central motive.  I preach Christ because of Christ–because I want to give him pleasure, because I want to be faithful to him, and because of his great love for me.


My gracious Master and my God,
Assist me to proclaim,
To spread through all the earth abroad
The honors of Thy name.

– Charles Wesley

A Prayer for Preachers

In this video interview with David Platt, Mark Dever argues that

if you’re going to have a healthy church you begin by letting it be calibrated by God and God’s revelation of himself, and that’s the Word.

And why is that? Why must the Word be at the center of church life? Because

apart from God speaking to us, we would just be lost in darkness. We’d be on our own way.

That’s why expository preaching is the first mark of a healthy church. Because it’s the Word that does the work.

Any preacher knows that by experience. Dever relates that Sinclair Ferguson once preached a sermon and didn’t feel very good about it. Later someone remarked about how powerfully God had used that message in another person’s life. Ferguson responded by saying, “That man heard a better sermon than I preached.”

I think I feel that way nearly every time I preach. I find myself having to fall back on the bedrock conviction that God is at work to accomplish his purposes through his Word. And that’s why I keep preaching it no matter how inadequately I do it.