Contours of a Great Commission Resurgence, Part 16: The Crisis in 21st Century Preaching: A Mandate for Biblical Exposition, Part D

Contours of a Great Commission Resurgence is a series of articles by faculty of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary that seeks to offer some definitions of what constitutes a GCR, why we believe the SBC is in need of such a movement, and what such a movement might look like in SBC life. The series will address biblical, theological, historical and practical issues related to a GCR with the hope that God will use our finite and flawed efforts for His glory and the good of the people called Southern Baptist.

A Mandate for Biblical Exposition, Part D

4. Pulpit proclamation must affirm that the historical-grammatical-theological interpretation will best discover both the truth of the text and the theology of the text.

The modern evangelical church faces a serious danger. It is the danger of being swallowed whole by shallow and sloppy theology. If we will teach our people solid biblical theology rooted in biblical exposition, extreme theological agendas from any direction will be easily recognized and quickly set aside.

It is our conviction that biblical theology is prior to systematic theology, but that biblical theology must always proceed to systematic theology. The hesitancy on the part of some students of the Bible to follow through on this latter point is unwise and unacceptable. Allowing the priority of biblical/exegetical theology will result in a more faithful and honest interpretation, but it will also demand more tension in one’s theological system.

Walter Kaiser reminds us that, “the discipline of Biblical theology must be a twin of exegesis. Exegetical theology will remain incomplete and virtually barren in its results, as far as the church is concerned, without a proper input of “informing theology” (Kaiser, Toward and Exegetical Theology, 139).

Doctrinal/theological preaching is noticeably absent in the modern pulpit. Theological and biblical illiteracy is the heavy price being paid. As the preacher exegetes both his text and audience, he should be sensitive to the theological truths contained in and supported by the text. He must endeavor to develop a strategy that will allow him to convey these truths in a clear, winsome and relevant manner. A faithful minister of the Word will bombard every text with a series of questions that many preachers of the Holy Scripture never ask, questions that will inspire and equip a congregation to become competent systematic theologians.

  1. What does this text say about the Bible (and the doctrine of Revelation)?
  2. What does this text say about God (also Creation, angelology)?
  3. What does this text say about humanity (and sin, our falleness)?
  4. What does this text say about Jesus Christ (His person and work)?
  5. What does this text say about the Holy Spirit?
  6. What does this text say about Salvation?
  7. What does this text say about the Church?
  8. What does this text say about Last Things?

Now, we need to be honest and forthright at this point. It is impossible to preach without preaching some type of theology or doctrine. However, an unhealthy allegiance to a particular tradition of theology may give you a nice, tight, clean theological system, but it will also lead you to squeeze and twist certain texts of Scripture in order to force them into your theological mold, grid or ghetto! We believe a better way is to let your exegesis drive your theology. Let your theological system be shaped by Scripture and not the reverse. You will most certainly have more tension, more mystery, but your will be more true to the text of Holy Scripture, and you will embrace and cultivate a more healthy and balanced theology.

In this context, we would encourage every preacher to always ask of every text three questions, and to ask them in this order, 1) What does this text say about God? 2) What does this text say about fallen humanity? 3) How does this text point to Christ and His person and work? This three-fold inquiry appropriates the insight of Bryan Chappell and his “Fallen Condition Focus” (FCF). It also will guide us in having a Theocentric/Christocentric homiletic and theology. It will make sure that the real hero of the Bible is always on display: the Lord Jesus Christ. It will serve as an effective vaccine to the psychological, therapeutic, feel-good or mystical/personalistic diseases that have infected the Church. It will keep Jesus preeminent and the gospel front and center.

Warren Wiersbe has sounded a much needed warning in this area,

I don’t think the average church member realizes the extent of the theological erosion that’s taken place on the American exegetical scene since World War II, but the changes I’ve witnesses in Christian broadcasting and publishing make it very real to me. Radio programs that once majored in practical Bible teaching are now given over to man-centered interviews (“talk” radio is a popular thing) and man-centered music that sounds so much like what the world presents, you wonder if your radio is tuned to a Christian station. In so much of today’s ministry “feeling good” has replaced being good, and ‘happiness’ has replaced holiness (Wiersbe, Be Myself, 301).

Donald Bloesch adds,

[T]he church that does not take theology seriously is unwittingly encouraging understandings of the faith that are warped or unbalanced (Bloesch, Crumbling Foundations: Death And Rebirth In An Age Of Upheaval, 107).

A steady diet of exegetical theology fleshed out in expository preaching is a certain cure for the spiritual anemia that afflicts too many of our churches.