Monday, October 09, 2006

Potential Weaknesses of Expository Preaching

In the comments section of the previous post, Will asked, “Are you going to do a follow up on the dangers of expository preaching?" Sure. I would argue that some of the greatest potential weaknesses of expository preaching include:

1. The tendency to turn the sermon into a "running commentary" without any unifying theme. Expository preaching can easily get “lost in the details” of the text unless a preacher is diligently attentive to the overarching themes of larger portions of the surrounding text.

2. The tendency to treat any given text in isolation from the rest of the Bible. Christian preaching must always include the sweep of redemptive history, particularly the fall (sin, fallen condition focus, law) and redemption (Christ, justification and sanctification). When a preacher neglects the law/gospel contrast in justification and the gospel/law continuum in sanctification, moralism or antinomianism inevitably results.

3. The tendency to neglect application. Among men who value Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic and who have learned how to conduct diagrammatical analysis and tracings of the logical flow, there is sometimes a tendency to preach the language and exegesis without applying the meaning of the text to the souls and every day lives of the parishioners. This is a great mistake and fails to recognize the application-oriented character of the sermons recorded in the New Testament.

4. The tendency to adopt a highly intellectual and anti-emotional approach to the pulpit ministry. But biblical preaching comes from whole men and is addressed to whole men. It does not neglecting the intellect, will, or affections.

Other thoughts?

Friday, October 06, 2006

The Value of Expository Preaching

Why should we preach expositionally though whole books at a time?

1. Preaching expositional sermons forces us to deal with everything the Bible has to say. Some passages of Scripture are hard to understand and some are hard to believe. But, if we preach through whole books at a time, then we have no choice but to deal with the difficult texts, and wrestle with their meaning, and application, even if their meaning and application are difficult or uncomfortable to us.

2. Preaching through whole books at a time guards against misinterpreting the Bible because it forces us to deal with every verse of the Bible in its own context. It would be easy to rip a verse out of context and make it say what we want it to say. But it is much more difficult to misinterpret the Bible if its words and phrases are studied in the context of the message of the book in which they are found.

3. Expository preaching keeps us away from hobby horses, or favorite themes. It would be easy to find a few encouraging things in Scripture and restrict our preaching to those items. But if we study through whole books at a time, then we get exactly the balance that God thinks is appropriate, perfectly and proportionately emphasizing God’s character, judgment, grace, the cross, the call to faith and repentance, how to live as Christians, the church, heaven and hell, etc.

4. Preaching through whole books allows the Holy Spirit, who wrote Scripture, to set the agenda every Sunday. In this way, we can study and apply what God said in the order in which God said it. The expository preacher cannot come to church with his own agenda. Rather, he comes with God’s agenda and nothing more. That is beneficial both to the preacher and to the congregation. The role of the preacher is not that of a chef, but of a waiter, who simply serves the food that God has prepared for His people.

5. We should preach through whole books at a time because every word of the Bible is true. If every word were not true, then we might pick and choose among texts of Scripture, choosing to preach and study what we believe is true, while leaving the rest.

6. Expositional preaching allows us to think God’s thoughts after him. If we work through entire books, then we are enabled to follow God’s own train of thought and logical argument as it moves through a book. The Bible is the mind of God revealed, and if we would know God’s mind, we must know what this book says in the order in which it says it.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Communion and Fellowship

1 Corinthians 11:17-22

The Lord’s Supper is partly about the unity and fellowship of God’s people. The people Paul was writing this letter to were anything but unified. They were divided over all kinds of issues. Throughout the letter of 1 Corinthians, we see that they were divided into factions, with some following Apollos and others following Paul. They were divided on important doctrines, with some affirming the resurrection and others denying it. They were divided over the kinds of foods they should eat and days to observe, with some thinking that those things are what true religion is about. In this passage, we see that they were divided socially, between the rich and the poor. Verse 19 says that there were “factions among you.” Rather than observing the Lord’s Supper as it was intended, as a ceremonial memorial meal, they were treating it as a time to fill their hungry bellies, like an ordinary meal of the day. The rich brought their food from home and ate all of it, without sharing it with the poor. Verses 21-22 say, “For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal. One goes hungry, another gets drunk. What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing?”

They made two mistakes. First, they were treating the Lord’s Supper like it was one of the ordinary meals of the day, when it was supposed to be an ordinance for the purpose of remembering Christ and what He had done. Second, they turned the meaning of the Lord’s Supper on its head. The Lord’s Supper was designed to depict the unity and fellowship of God’s people. Instead, at the Corinthian church, it was a symbol of their division.

Have you ever thought about the Lord’s Supper in terms of unity and fellowship? Think about it. It is a corporate meal. Meals are times when people come together, not just to eat, but to enjoy one another’s company and share one another’s experiences. If you eat a meal with someone, it’s usually because there is already some kind of personal connection there. So, when we the church eat the Lord’s Supper together, it’s a symbol of our unity in Christ and of our common fellowship in the gospel. What should that unity and fellowship look like practically? It means that when you come in the door of a church, you feel loved by the love of Christ in others. It means others go out of their way to speak to you and to know you, and that you go out of your way to speak to them, to ask how they’re doing. It also means opening our homes to one another, and sharing our belongings with one another (cf. Acts 2:42-47). That’s unity and fellowship.

But, it’s even more than that. It’s unity and fellowship around the gospel of Christ. That means talking about Christ with one another, sharing our experiences in Christ and love for Christ with one another, talking about what we’ve learned from Scripture during the week, and the ways that we’ve found Christ precious this week. It means sharing our struggles in the faith with one another and bearing one another’s burdens, as we walk the walk of faith together, encouraging one another to persevere in Christ. Unity and fellowship means helping one another when you’re in trouble. Unity and fellowship in Christ means knowing about the hardships in the lives of others and finding ways to serve them. It means cooking meals for people when their loved ones die, and letting them know how much you care about them. One example in my own life of how someone once ministered to me and my family is that a couple of years ago when we had that ice storm, a church member went out of his way to check on us. His job was to deliver newspapers early in the morning; so, he was already out in the bad weather in his 4x4 with snow treads, and he gave us a call. He asked us if there was anything we needed him to do for us, to go to the grocery store, or to run an errand. He did it because of his love for Christ and love for us in Christ. He wanted to show the love of Christ to us in a tangible way.

Those are just a few examples of Christian unity and fellowship in Christ. There could be many more. Perhaps you have your own stories about how God’s people have served you and loved you. The Lord’s Supper is a time to remember that, and to think about how you can continue to serve the Lord by loving and serving His people.

Reasons to Study History

1. History is the unfolding of God’s providence. So, the one who studies history is a student of God’s own mind as it has unfolded in each successive generation. In that sense, the study of history ought to be an act of worship that beholds God’s intention to preserve the seed of the woman from the seed of the serpent, both in terms of the preservation of biblical ideas, and of a visible people.

2. History holds the wisdom of ages past. The theologian who studies church history is able to appropriate the wisdom of the some of the greatest teachers who have ever graced the church. It is nothing but unbridled hubris for a theologian to undertake the study of Scripture and theology without consulting the gifted teachers of the past. Theologians who place their distinctive ideas and theological formulas on the level of historically accepted consensus risk making shipwreck on the same errors and heresies against which the earlier generations had to contend.

3. It gives its students a healthy sense of skepticism about things "novel." A person familiar with the history of ideas is in a position to see that there is nothing new under the sun. There may be new combinations of ideas and different ways of arriving at them and employing them, but the ideas heralded as “new” are really nothing new at all, and they carry with them the same power and baggage as they always have.

4. It provides a sense of context for contemporary ideas. The historian gains a sense of the way that contemporary ideas and beliefs are rooted in the past. Knowing the history of contemporary ideas allows us to see how they have been beneficial historically, but it can also shine light on unwelcome influences that may need to be purged, as well as warn against potential abuses of those ideas.

Can you think of any others?