A Bible Scholar’s Guide to Preaching: First Things

Preach Concept Watercolor and Ink PaintingDare I try to talk about the art of preaching when I am not a full-time preacher? I wondered about this before deciding to start a blog series on preaching. Perhaps it does seem a bit audacious. But what else are blogs for? My hope is simply to talk about my approach to preaching, and offer some tips on resources from a Bible scholar. Also, I have been preaching at area churches more and more as I settle down in Portland and connect with local pastors. And—my students tell me my lectures are “preachy” (that’s a compliment, right?)

Before diving into whats and hows in later posts, we should begin with important first things.

What IS preaching?

When we look at the New Testament, “preaching” is all about publicly announcing and communicating to others the good news of Jesus Christ. Preaching isn’t about teaching doctrine per se, nor about Bible study per se. It is “gospel-ing”—an announcement that expects a response with one’s words, heart, and life. [see Acts 10:42]

For me, there are two fundamentals that must be there for preaching to take place:

-Scripture-centered communication (that’s why I recommend using a lectionary)

-Jesus-centered communication (this does not preclude the Holy Spirit, but the preacher prays for and invites the Holy Spirit to point to Jesus and change lives)

The Attitude and Mindset of the Preacher?

Sometimes we just ease into a habit of weekly preaching and we might lose sight of why we preach. Is it to relay information? It is more than that. Is it to entertain? No. Is it to teach life skills? No. Is it to help people with self-actualization? No. Some of these things might happen in a sermon, but they are not the core.

I find Paul’s words here evocative and captures the heart of preaching (even if Paul wasn’t necessarily thinking about sermons):

Let the Word of Christ dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God. (Col 3:16, NET)

Preaching is about inviting Christ to dwell within the people of God and do His ministry there, and Christians do this through preaching/teaching, singing, and prayer (among other things). Preaching is not about lessons and information, it is ultimately about Jesus present among His people to bless, challenge, and transform (I got this from Bonhoeffer, by the way).

This point is very important, because I hear a lot of sermons that are either overly explanatory (e.g., a Bible commentary), or political (“like these ideas, and hate these other ideas”), or vapidly non-religious (“this is how to become a better leader in twelve easy steps”). Preaching is about JesusNow, if you preach from the OT, for example, it can be a bit trickier, and we don’t just want to slap Jesus onto the end of every OT sermon. Conceptually, though, every sermon (OT or NT) should be given from a Christian perspective about what the triune God has done, is doing, and will do in the world. Put another way, a good OT sermon should still inspire people to turn to Jesus (even if Jesus is not explicitly talked about in the sermon).

That’s my take on the concept of preaching, what do you think? Leave a comment.

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7 thoughts on “A Bible Scholar’s Guide to Preaching: First Things

  1. Disclaimer: I like expository preaching. That having been said, what bothers me the most about theology of preaching discussions is the misuse of 2 Tim 3:16. When Paul commanded Timothy to “preach the word” he did not mean “preach expository sermons on Sunday morning.” Paul never refers to the Old Testament as ὁ λόγος; he uses the term αἱ γραφαί to refer to his Bible. ὁ λόγος in Paul’s use is roughly equivalent to το κηρύγμα. And for that matter, Paul seems to use κηρύσσω to mean announcing the kerugma to non-believers rather than speech in the church. So, I think there’s incongruity between the way Paul used the words he did in 2 Tim 3:16 and the way that we use the English words which commonly translate them. And such translational incongruities are the root of all kinds of applicational evil. One example: when the pastor (or whoever) gets up to bring a message to the church for their corporate gathering, I don’t think that it has to be an expository sermon. Now, more often than not, sure, I can hardly think of something better to talk about than Scripture! But if a pastor wants to talk to his congregation about the importance, say, of welcoming refugees—well, I think that’d probably be just great, even if he doesn’t pick some text as his starting point. I think it’s totally fine to have the starting/main point of a message be some topical point of practical living out of our faith rather than a specific text. And the thing is: such a message would still be bathed in, founded upon, and interwoven with Scripture! My guess is that Paul would approve of and indeed was accustomed to such in-church messages. But let me finish where I started: I love expository preaching, and it’s the sort of preaching I do almost exclusively. But neither 2 Tim 3:16 nor, I think, any other text prescribes it exclusively.

    1. Thanks, Kevin. I agree with the overall gist of what you are saying here. I also don’t think expository preaching was exactly what Paul had in mind, but I also think Paul never imagined a cookie cutter 30-minute sermon in a cookie cutter “service” every week. I am not against topical preaching, but I DO think whatever “gospelling” Paul expected to go on regularly should be constantly referential towards Scripture.

  2. I also do expository preaching. It find it meaningful where I do justice to the Scripture portion. Christ centered sermons are must. Thanks for the note, prof.

  3. The entire thesis that preaching consists in an abstract monologue delivered to passive listeners, seems an insult to the Body of Christ whose members possess wisdom, experience, knowledge, love and spiritual gifts. If our weekly “great preaching” has led to our current spiritual decline and societal disbelief. then why would we want to keep on doing it? Could you recommend something better?

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