A polite rejoinder for the preaching guru

youre-joking-rightWhat does a small-time pastor think when he hears that a big-time pastor has denigrated the practice of expository preaching?¹ I’m glad you asked.

Let’s break it down.

  1. Guys that preach verse-by-verse through books of the Bible– that is just cheating. I assume the cheating remark is somewhat tongue-in-cheek. As in “guys that preach verse-by-verse through books of the Bible write their sermons by cut-and-paste.” Give him the benefit of the doubt & move on.
  2. It’s cheating because that would be easy. This might seem counter-intuitive but expository preaching is actually harder than topical preaching. Topical preaching grants the preacher far more flexibility in selecting topics, creating his points, and finding Scripture to match. In contrast, the expository preacher is greatly constrained by the very Scripture he hopes to unleash. He must say what the text says (in its words & its intent) even as he tries to communicate it in a way that captures the hearts & minds of the people. Try doing that with Christ’s genealogy in Matthew 1 or the Melchizedek passage in Hebrews 7!
  3. That isn’t how you grow people. His confidence notwithstanding, this claim can only exist in a historical vacuum. Chrysostom? Calvin? Lloyd-Jones? Surely topical preachers don’t have the corner on Christian growth. What about Piper or Keller or Dever? But I digress. If you view expository preaching as little more than an academic exercise–read a verse, reference a Hebrew or Greek word, review various verb tenses–I suppose you’re right. It’s hard to grow people when you’re boring them to death (I speak from experience). But as D. A. Carson points out here, systematically preaching through Scripture shows your people how to read their Bibles and it gives them the chance to hear all that God has to say. Sounds like catalysts for growth.
  4. No one in the Scripture modeled that. There’s not one example of that. At best this is an argument from silence. Scripture is neither a sermon manual nor a sermon archive. How could anyone make such a claim? In fact, we do have examples of verse-by-verse preaching. Ezra & Co. preached through the Law (Neh 8:1-8). The author of Hebrews expounded the latter half of Psalm 95 (Heb 3:7-4:11). More examples could be offered but two is enough to make the point, especially when we’re told that none exist.

Walter Kaiser is credited with saying “I preach a topical sermon once every five years – then repent of it immediately!” May the Lord grant us more repentance.


 

¹verse-by-verse preaching isn’t necessarily expository preaching (and vice versa). But preaching “verse-by-verse through books of the Bible” often describes expository preaching which is what I think is happening here.

Tangential thought (or, when my brother-in-law beat Al Mohler to the punch)

Lending my voice to the Duck Dynasty controversy would be something like offering a whisper to a windstorm. If you’re (un)fortunate enough to have real winter where you live and you’re just now emerging from a blackout and you want to know what all the shouting is about you can bring yourself up to speed here. On the other hand, if you’re (un)fortunate enough to be without real winter or blackouts you can sample some mature Christian responses to the fallout here, here, here, and here.

Since I have nothing original to offer how about a tangent instead? This morning I was thinking about the stark contrast between Phil Robertson’s declaration concerning sin & homosexuality and the mealy-mouthed statements we sometimes hear from an array of popular pastors (assuming they even speak of such things). By now every Christian in the public spotlight should expect to be solicited for statements regarding sexual morality. Like it or not it’s a major battle front for the American church today. So assuming media savvy preachers have a modicum of forethought what explains for some of their lackluster answers?

Enter Al Mohler’s post on the Duck Dynasty flak. Nearing the conclusion he writes:

So the controversy over Duck Dynasty sends a clear signal to anyone who has anything to risk in public life: Say nothing about the sinfulness of homosexual acts or risk sure and certain destruction by the revolutionaries of the new morality. You have been warned.

Could risk aversion explain why a man who makes his living speaking God’s words offers less clarity on a matter of biblical morality than a man who makes his living by quacking? Set aside the uncouth comments, the camo, and the grooming habits (or lack thereof). Maybe the key difference between Phil Robertson and the media mogul pastor is that Phil doesn’t need positive press to keep the business (i.e. Duck Commander) running. After all, if the media doesn’t help you make bank it’s unlikely they can break your bank. The prime time pastor on the other hand may have significant capital tied up in the market of public opinion. Should the media turn on him the costs would be too great to bear.

Too cynical? Maybe the aversion to risk is fueled by misguided altruism–a desire to protect staff, a ministry platform, or connections that you can leverage for the greater good. My brother-in-law made this very point about a year ago and now that Mohler has seconded the notion I guess I should give it more consideration.

Positive press can be a blessing and a curse–especially when a Christian leader thinks he needs it.

 

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