“Be well instructed in theology, and do not regard the sneers of those who rail at it because they are ignorant of it. Many preachers are not theologians, and hence the mistakes which they make. It cannot do any hurt to the most lively evangelist to be also a sound theologian, and it may often be the means of saving him from gross blunders. Nowadays, we hear men tear a single sentence of Scripture from its connection, and cry, ‘Eureka! Eureka!’ as if they had found a new truth; and yet they have not discovered a diamond, but only a piece of broken glass. Had they been able to compare spiritual things with spiritual, had they understood the analogy of the faith, and had they been acquainted with the holy learning of the great Bible students of past ages, they would not have been quite so fast in vaunting their marvelous knowledge.
“Let us be thoroughly well acquainted with the great doctrines of the Word of God, and let us be mighty in expounding the Scriptures. I am sure that no preaching will last so long, or build up the church so well, as the expository. To renounce altogether the hortatory [giving exhortation] discourse for the expository, would be running to a preposterous extreme; but I cannot too earnestly assure you that, if your ministries are to be lastingly useful, you must be expositors. For this purpose, you must understand the Word yourselves, and be able so to comment upon it that the people may be built up by the Word. Be masters of your Bibles, brethren; whatever others works you have not searched, be at home with the writings of the prophets and apostles. ‘Let the word of God dwell in you richly.’”
— Charles H. Spurgeon, An All Round Ministry (c. 1870s)
“It is easy for a preacher to be bold when he is in his own pulpit, among friends. But when there are manifestly hostile people breathing out fire, as Stephen was soon to find out, a bold preacher takes great risk. That is why Martin Luther said that in every generation there will be the threat of the gospel going into eclipse. Every time the gospel is proclaimed, clearly and boldly, opposition arises and conflict comes. A minister has never mounted a pulpit anywhere in the world who has not been absolutely aware of how dangerous it is to be bold. So when preachers are fearful, they have to come back to this text and look at the way the Apostles, without respect for their lives or their worldly goods, would say like Luther, “Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also,” and then preach with boldness” (R.C. Sproul, Acts, St. Andrews Commentary—in commenting on Acts 2:14-41).
Alistair Begg in his small book Preaching for God’s Glory outlines a number of caricatures of true preaching. He begins this section:
If churches or their pastors begin to think of the place from which messages are delivered to the congregation as a stage, it is inevitable that caricatures of the preacher will emerge to take the true preacher’s place. Sadly, this is precisely what has happened. In our day the expositor of Scripture has been eclipsed by a variety of sad substitutions.
Here they are, complete with paraphrases of what these entail:
- The cheerleader. The preacher’s task is to “pump them up.” He has a need to be liked or accepted, and aims to be positively inspirational. “A good Sunday for him is one where his people laugh a lot, are affirmed and affirming, and go away more self-assured than when they arrived. . . . A quest for wholeness has replaces a concern for holiness.”
- The conjurer. Where the preacher does not want to do the hard work of studying, but rather conjures up his own meaning to the text and fails to discover and look to what the biblical author/Holy Spirit intended by the text.
- The storyteller. Everyone loves a good story more than exposition of the Bible. Thus, they find themselves working on telling a good story rather than working on understanding the Word of God better. While Jesus did use stories (parables), Begg notes that this “does not grant the contemporary preacher the license to tell stories devoid of heavenly meaning that are of no earthly use!”
- The entertainer. This is where the special preacher is not a worshiper with the throng, but is in the green room backstage ready to come on when it’s time. While this is not entirely bad or sinful, this format risks a disconnect between the worshipers seeking to be entertained and the speaker wishing to entertain. Both are worshiping and both have a job to do.
- The systematizer. This is the preacher who “views the text of Scripture as merely the backdrop for a doctrinal lecture. . . The systematizer’s theological framework is so pronounced that it predominates the exposition.” The risk is a lack of passion. Scripture rules the framework, not vice versa.
- The psychologist: Preachers preach on tips on how to raise your children, dealing with impatience, or purchasing flowers for your wife. All of this can be done (and sadly is done) without reference to Scripture, causing listeners to be malnourished. Why? They need a banquet of the Word of God!
- The naked preacher: In an effort to be authentic, the preacher shares all of his faults and foibles, warts and wrinkles to the congregation. The risk is that it becomes an exercise in the pastor being “real” or “relevant”—and ultimately about the one preaching rather than about the One on whom we should be preaching—Jesus Christ and His redemptive work.
Begg goes on to say that there are those who are the “politician,” “end-times guru” or “hobby horse rider.” We have a job to do and an announcement to convey—the Good News of God’s work through the cross and empty tomb of Jesus Christ. Let’s be careful not to get off track.
Any other caricatures you can think of?
God’s plan for pure churches comes from God’s written, holy, and inscripturated Word. This collection of books we have in this Bible is a library of truth. Sixty-six books, written over a span of approximately 1,500 years by forty different authors, comprise what we call the Bible, the Holy Bible, the Scriptures, and appropriately the Word of God. A.W. Pink was right when he began one of his books, “Christianity is the religion of a Book. Christianity is based upon the impregnable rock of Holy Scripture. The starting point of all doctrinal discussion must be the Bible. Upon the foundation of the Divine inspiration of the Bible stands or falls the entire edifice of Christian truth.”[i]
However, some question whether these 66 books are truly authoritative. Why those books? Other books attributed to some of Jesus’ disciples were floating around. In Trinidad, I became acquainted with some Rastafarians. I read about them in preparation for helping a church in Trinidad plant a church, and noticed they held to some Christian roots. Yet, in reading Dennis Forsythe’s authoritative work on Rastafarianism, quotes a number of “Christian” scholars who claim that Christ was a mystic. [ii] Christ sought to reveal the spiritual mysteries of knowledge to just a select few—tipping his hand to a clear Gnostic tradition![iii]
Yet, God sought to reveal His truth to all who would hear and hear clearly, not through self-awareness as a starting point, but with God as a starting point making His Word clear to all who believe. Paul wrote to the Corinthians:
11For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. 12Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. 13And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual. (1 Cor 2:11-13)
B.B. Warfield noted:
Any book or body of books which were given to the Church by the apostles as law must always remain of divine authority in the Church. That the apostles thus gave the Church the whole Old Testament, which they had themselves received from their fathers as God’s word written, admits of no doubt, and is not doubted. That they gradually added to this body of old law an additional body of new law is equally patent. In part this is determined directly by their own extant testimony.[iv]
In Titus 1:2, we see an interesting phrase that Paul used in his opening to Titus: “. . . in hope of eternal life, which God, who never lies, promised before the ages began. . .” The emphasized portion is translated from the word (apsuedes) which means, “free from falsehood, without lie.” Therefore, not only does God choose not to lie, he cannot lie. [v] Given that this is God’s nature, we trust that what He says from that nature will be truthful in every part. Paul sought to give Titus both general instructions, but also instruction that addressed issues in his specific context.
In his letter to Timothy, Paul wrote, “All Scripture is breathed out by God.” The word ‘breathed out’ is qeo,pneustoj (theopneustos)—God inspired/breathed out His Word. And as God stands, so does His Word stand. The word for this principal is ‘infallible,” which, as the root implies, means that the Word cannot fall. This truth fueled the Reformation, whose fire was lit by Martin Luther’s hymn A Mighty Fortress is our God. Take note of the last stanza:
That word above all earthly powers, no thanks to them, abideth;
The Spirit and the gifts are ours through Him Who with us sideth:
Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also;
The body they may kill: God’s truth abideth still,
His kingdom is forever.[vi]
At times, this truth is put to severe scrutiny. French atheist Voltaire (1694-1778) boasted, “One hundred years from my day there will not be a Bible in the earth except one that is looked upon by an antiquarian curiosity seeker.” Yet, not twenty years after his death, the Geneva Bible Society bought his house for printing the Bible, and later became the headquarters for the British and Foreign Bible Societies, which stored and distributed Bibles throughout Europe.[vii] Truly the Psalmist was correct when he wrote, “Forever, O LORD, your word is firmly fixed in the heavens” (Psalm 119:89).
We must not forget Emperor Diocletian who in A.D. 300 ordered an edict seeking the removal of all Christians from every government position, and ordered the Christians’ houses of worship and their Bibles burned. Some Christians refused to turn over their copy of the Scriptures and were thus tortured and condemned to death.[viii] He declared extincto nomene Christianorum (Latin for “the name of Christians will be extinguished”). Yet, in A.D. 313, Emperor Constantine replaced the pagan symbols with the symbol of the cross, and as a result the Empire gave protected status to Christians. Even with the various viewpoints as to whether this ultimately helped or hurt Christianity, the point is clear: God would not permit his Word to be extinguished!
Paul also reminded Titus of God’s truthfulness for a very practical reason. In his specific ministry context, he struggled with false teachers infecting the church. In Titus 1:10-14, Paul warned Titus of the nature of the deceivers:
10For there are many who are insubordinate, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision party. 11They must be silenced, since they are upsetting whole families by teaching for shameful gain what they ought not to teach. 12 One of the Cretans, a prophet of their own, said, "Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons." 13This testimony is true. Therefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith, 14 not devoting themselves to Jewish myths and the commands of people who turn away from the truth.
We must see that his ministry context was on the isle of Crete, the very place whose inhabitant were described by one of their own prophets as “liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons” (v. 12). Paul described those coming into the church as “insubordinate, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision party” (v. 10). Titus needed to understand the culture to whom he ministered, but he also needed to recognize how diametrically opposite God is to the unbelievers on Crete. Yes, they may lie, but God “never lies.” He His holy—deception is not in his nature. Christians can trust every word He breathes out!
[i]Arthur W. Pink, The Divine Inspiration of the Bible (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1976), 5.
[ii]See Dennis Forsythe, Rastafari: Healing of the Nations (New York: One Drop Books, 1999), 11-43.
[iii]For more information on Gnosticism, see Matt Slick, Gnosticism, accessed 7 Jan 2010, available at http://www.carm.org/gnosticism [on-line]; Internet. Here is a small definition: “The word "gnosticism" comes from the Greek word "gnosis" which means "knowledge." There were many groups that were Gnostic and it isn’t possible to easily describe the nuances of each variant of Gnostic doctrines. However, generally speaking, Gnosticism taught that salvation is achieved through special knowledge (gnosis). This knowledge usually dealt with the individual’s relationship to the transcendent Being.” Salvation starts with a personal self-knowledge, differing this from orthodox Christianity which stays that salvation begins with the Lord (Jonah 2:9; Eph 2:8-10) and that man does not have the equipment due to the fall to pursue God on their own (Romans 3:10-12).
[iv]B.B. Warfield, The Authority & Inspiration of the Scriptures, ed. Shane Rosenthal. Accessed on 6 January 2010; available at http://homepage.mac.com/shanerosenthal/reformationink/bbwauthority.htm [on-line]; Internet.
[v]The Scripture reference is from the ESV as it is throughout, but it is the opinion of the author that this translation should be stronger. Other translations such as the KJV and the NAS translate this as “God who cannot lie.” While the end result is the same (God is and remains full of truth), the ESV’s translation implies that God never lies, but could if he wanted to. An example would be, “John never goes into the dirty movies.” Yet, that is a far cry from, “John cannot go into the movies.” One is about choice, the other deals with their moral and ethical nature. According to the Greek, not only did God choose not to lie, it is a moral impossibility for him.
[vi]Martin Luther, A Mighty Fortress is our God, 1529; translated from German to English by Frederic H. Hedge, 1853.
[vii]Michael C. Bere, Bible Doctrines for Today, ed. B. Horton (Pensacola, FL: A Beka, 1996), 23.
[viii]Justo Gonzalez, The Story of Christianity: The Early Church to the Present Day (Peabody, MA: Prince Press, 2001), 104.
Whereas conventional wisdom in most evangelical circles dictates that pastors would do well to avoid the hard texts, my contention is that pastors should never shy away from this. While the Joel Osteens and the Robert Schullers of the world will shy away from such dealings , I believe that many in our pews are just wanting a pastor who will deal directly with what the Bible says and address the issue at hand.
A case in point: the past two Sundays, I have preached on two rather “hard texts”: one dealing with the role of women in the church, the other on the necessity of giving. After each of those sermons, one of my deacons came out and said, “Man, I thought you’d be black and blue right now — you really laid it out there.” But the reaction couldn’t have been different. By the grace and glory of God, I received thank you’s for being willing to tackle such issues and helping to make things clear.
Why should we preach the hard texts as well as the other types to our people?
- Those texts are in the Scriptures! Obvious, yes. But I have had well-meaning ministers tell me that just because it is in the Bible does not necessarily mean it will be appropriate to preach on. This is why I make the case for expositional preaching: if forces you to deal with a text that your flesh may tempt you to avoid.
- For all the talk about our people despising authority, I believe they are looking for solid ground on which to stand. We all are. All this noise about postmodernism winning the day is far too premature. It may be prevalent, but it hasn’t won anything. If anything, our culture feels more in the dark than ever because many people’s spiritual journey is leading them down some deadends. Preachers must never forget the supernatural transformational power of the Scriptures that are breathed out by the Spirit of God himself! Never give up preaching! The world may deem it folly, but to those who are being saved it is the power of God (1 Corinthians 1:18).
- People, especially Christians, long to be dealt with honestly. Many in my generation are becoming angry at the church for their failure to teach them the things of the faith. They praise God for churches sharing the gospel with them and showing them Jesus, but afterwards they become afraid of being too doctrinal (read: divisive) and therefore they do not “grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18).
- People feel patronized when pastors fail to deal with a text or issue. When pastors avoid these texts, they are in so many words telling their people, “You really can’t handle this right now.” Yet, pastors who stay with their churches and invest their time in their people can take them along slowly and help them step-by-step. Young pastors especially need to remember that you don’t need to tell them everything you know (or think you know) in one sermon. Pour yourself out into your people and teach them with patience (1 Timothy 4:13-16).
What do you think?
After ten years in music ministry, God redirected my ministry calling from music ministry to the pastorate. I quickly became convinced of expositional preaching through the preaching ministry of John MacArthur. I appreciated his passion for the text of Scripture and his desire to remain firmly grounded in the text because it carried the authority of God himself. Since those early days of ministry, I find myself continually influenced by God-exalting, Bible-based preachers whom God has used to shape and mold my preaching model and method.
Over the past year, God has brought a number of preaching books to my attention that will continue to shape my thinking for years to come. Christ-Centered Preaching by Bryan Chapell and Spirit-Empowered Preaching by Arturo G. Azurdia, III, helped shape my understanding of the historical-redemptive nature of the Scriptures. One of the most liberating lessons I continue to learn is how Christ is central in both the Old Testament and the New Testament. Paul, who had only the Scriptures of the Old Testament, noted that he would preach nothing “except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Cor 2:2). Jesus’ encounter with the two disciples on the Emmaus Road in Luke 24 when Jesus told them:
And he said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself (Luke 24:25-27, ESV).
Jesus tells these two disciples that even from the Old Testament he could demonstrate the gospel. Chapell shows contemporary expositors how this Christocentric understanding of the Scriptures works:
Christ-centered preaching rightly understood does not seek to discover where Christ is mentioned in every text but to disclose where every text stands in relation to Christ. … The goal of the preacher is not to find novel ways of identifying Christ in every text (or naming Jesus in every sermon) but to show how each text manifests God’s grace in order to prepare and enable his people to embrace the hope provided by Christ. 
Azurdia instills this mindset further when he declares, “It must be recognized with equal verve … that every other portion of sacred scripture reinforces this redemptive superstructure. The Bible is a record of the redemption of the people of God by His Son, Jesus Christ.”
First, preaching is the highest calling any human could receive from God. Dr. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones (1919-1981) in his book Preaching and Preachers:
The work of preaching is the highest and the greatest and the most glorious calling to which anyone can ever be called. If you want something in addition to that I would say without hesitation that the most urgent need in the Christian church today is true preaching; and as it is the greatest and most urgent need in the Church; it is obviously the great need of the world also. 
After looking over the different models embraced by higher academia and by the liberal churches, they consider preaching as outdated and outmoded. Those who hold to this mindset prefer communicators rather than preachers. Yet, God does not call communicators, he calls Spirit-filled preachers committed to the Spirit-inspired Word to do the Spirit-ordained work of illuminating fallen hearts to salvation and sanctification. Preaching is proclamation — proclamation of an offensive, scandalous, and gracious Gospel. First Corinthians 1:18-21 says:
For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.  For it is written,
“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”
 Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?  For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe (1 Cor 1:18-21, ESV).
This passage runs counter to the philosophy of the New Homiletic because we see no desire for Paul to tailor the message for the culture primarily. When the first appeal of the New Homiletic is to that of the listener rather than to the fidelity of the Gospel as found in Scripture that was inspired by the Spirit, this is not being faithful to the intentions of our Savior.
Secondly, expository preaching is preferred and mandated because its sermons are crafted around the theme of the text of Scripture. Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY, notes:
Authentic expository preaching is marked by three distinct marks or characteristics: authority, reverence, and centrality. Expository preaching is authoritative because it stands upon the very authority of the Bible as the word of God. Such preaching requires and reinforces a sense of reverent expectation on the part of God’s people. Finally, expository preaching demands the central place in Christian worship and is respected as the event through which the living God speaks to his people. 
Those three words of authority, reverence, and centrality run counter to not only our culture but moreover to our churches who insist on mirroring the culture in order to maintain relevance. David Allen rightly observes, “the Enlightenment modernity distrusted authority. Radical postmodernity dismantles authority.” I appreciate Mohler’s observations concerning expository preaching. Why would those submerged in a culture who reject authority and, as a result, are filled with uncertainty be willing to join a body of believers who share that same uncertainty. By preaching uncompromisingly from the Word of God, seekers find propositional, deductive anchors to help them stay the course in that sea of uncertainty that is our culture.
Third, expository preaching must take a central role not only in the corporate worship of Jesus Christ but also in the entire life and ministry of the churches. A God-centered, Christ-exalting, text-based direction in the pulpit will translate into a direction that bleeds into every area of the church. The New Homileticians may believe in theory this understanding; however, their practice is quite different. Lowry in his usual candor believes that deductive preachers have their method backwards:
Although texts on systematic theology generally deal with doctrines of God and Christ first, and then move on to the question of the human condition, sin, etc., it is my experience that in the practice of ministry, and particularly in our preaching role, the process is reversed. 
This quote from Lowry shows the base from where he constructs his method: his “experience … in practice of ministry.” Lowry, along with many others who share his philosophy of ministry, is a gifted storyteller. In 1990, Lowry preached a compelling and gripping sermon on Mark 5:1-20, leading the listener on a journey in which he felt a part of the narrative. Yet, our biblical theology drives our life and ministry. God writes the Scriptures: they begin with God, show we are created by God, and may only find redemption and forgiveness through God. By reversing the process, as Lowry contends, the preacher elevates man to the primary focus of life and ministry by virtue of the direction he sets in the pulpit.
Along with this third understanding, a fourth naturally follows: an expository preacher must not only love the Scriptures but also love the sheep whom he shepherds. This balance keeps the expository preachers from the slippery slope of scholarly lectures by helping them remain on the solid footing of pastoral ministry. When the Apostle Paul bode farewell to the elders of the Ephesian church, he gives the rationale for his expositional preaching ministry among them:
And when they came to him, he said to them: “You yourselves know how I lived among you the whole time from the first day that I set foot in Asia, serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials that happened to me through the plots of the Jews; how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you in public and from house to house, testifying both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. . . . Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all of you, for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:18-21, 26-27, ESV).
Paul lived among them, served them humbly, endured trials with them, and preached the Word to them both in corporate worship and in their homes.
 Bryan Chapell, Christ-Centered Preaching (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic Books, 2005), 279.
 Arturo G. Azurdia, III, Spirit-Empowered Preaching (Ross-shire, Great Britain: Christian Focus Publications, 1998), 52.
 D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones. Preaching and Preachers (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1971), 9.
 R. Albert Mohler, Jr. Expository Preaching and the Recovery of Christian Worship. Downloaded 20 November 2007. Accessed at http://www.albertmohler.com/commentary_read.php?cdate=2005-08-09 : Internet.
 Allen, David L. A Tale of Two Roads: Homiletic and Biblical Authority. Preaching 18, no. 2 (2002): 27
 Lowry. 39.
 Ibid. 39.
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