Contours of a Great Commission Resurgence, Part 18: The Crisis in 21st Century Preaching: A Mandate for Biblical Exposition, Part F

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.

The Crisis in 21st Century Preaching: A Mandate for Biblical Exposition, Part F

Martyn Lloyd-Jones understood well what God anointed preaching is:

What is preaching? Logic on fire! Eloquent reason! Are these contradictions? Of course they are not. . . . A theology which does not take fire, I maintain, is a defective theology; or at least the man’s understanding of it is defective. Preaching is theology coming through a man who is on fire . . . I say again that a man who speaks about these things dispassionately has no right whatsoever to be in a pulpit; and should never be allowed to enter one (Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Preaching and Preachers, 97).

Any theology that does not compel you to plead with men to be reconciled with God is not a theology worth having. Any preaching that does expect the living and powerful Word of God to produce results and usher in conversions is preaching that should be retired to the graveyard where it rightfully belongs. “On one occasion a young student of Spurgeon came to the great preacher complaining that he wasn’t seeing conversions through his preaching. Spurgeon inquired, ‘Surely you don’t expect conversions every time you preach, do you?’ The young man replied, ‘Well, I suppose not.’ Spurgeon then said, ‘That’s precisely why you are not having them'” (Roy J. Fish, Giving a Good Invitation, 221).

William Willimon, former Dean of the chapel at Duke University, said some years ago, “today’s conservatives sound like yesterday’s liberals.” In a fascinating article entitled “Been there, preached that,” (Leadership, Fall 1995), Willimon sounds a prophetic warning to evangelicals that they might not be seduced by the sirens of modernity and follow the tragic path of insignificance which mainline denominations have trod.

I’m a mainline-liberal-Protestant-Methodist-type Christian. I know we are soft on Scripture. Norman Vincent Peale has exercised a more powerful effect on our Preaching than St. Paul. . . . I know we play fast and loose with Scripture. But I’ve always had this fantasy that somewhere, like in Texas, there were preachers who preached it all, Genesis to Revelation without blinking an eye. . . . I took great comfort in knowing that, even while I preached a pitifully compromised, “Pealed” – down gospel, that somewhere, good ole Bible-believing preachers were offering their congregations the unadulterated Word, straight up. Do you know how disillusioning it has been for me to realize that many of these self-proclaimed biblical preachers now sound more like liberal mainliners than liberal mainliners? At the very time those of us in the mainline, oldline, sidelined were repenting of our pop psychological pap and rediscovering the joy of disciplined biblical preaching, these “biblical preachers” were becoming “user friendly” and “inclusive,” taking their homiletical cues from the “felt needs” of us “boomers” and “busters” rather than the excruciating demands of the Bible.

I know why they do this . . . it all starts with American Christians wanting to be helpful to the present order, to be relevant (as the present order defines relevance). We so want to be invited to lunch at the White House or at least be interviewed on “Good Morning America.” So we adjust our language to the demands of the market, begin with the world and its current infatuations rather than the Word and its peculiar judgments on our infatuations. If you listen to much of our preaching, you get the impression that Jesus was some sort of itinerant therapist who, for free, traveled about helping people feel better. Ever since Fosdick, we mainline liberals have been bad about this. Start with some human problem like depression; then rummage the Bible for a relevant answer. Last fall, as I was preparing in my office for the Sunday service, the telephone rang. “Who’s preaching in Duke Chapel today?” Asked a nasal, Yankee-sounding voice. I cleared my throat and answered, “Reverend Doctor William Willimon.” “Who’s that?” asked the voice. “The Dean of the Chapel,” I answered in a sonorous tone. “I hope he won’t be preaching politics. I’ve had a rough week and I need to hear about God. My Baptist church is so eaten up with politics, I’ve got to hear a sermon!” When you have to come to a Methodist for a biblical sermon, that’s pitiful.

Walt Kaiser would concur with Willimon:

It is no secret that Christ’s Church is not as all in good health in many places of the world. She has been languishing because she has been fed, as the current line has it, “junk food;” all kinds of artificial preservatives and all sorts of unnatural substitutes have been served up to her. As a result, theological and Biblical malnutrition has afflicted the very generation that has taken such giant steps to make sure its physical health is not damaged by using foods or products that are carcinogenic or otherwise harmful to their bodies. Simultaneously, a worldwide spiritual famine resulting from the absence of any genuine publication of the Word of God continues to run wild and almost unabated in most quarters of the Church (Kaiser, Toward an Exegetical Theology, 7-8).

Luther, in a different day to be sure, saw the church in a similar condition. However he did not despair, for he saw, as we must see, the antidote that will cure the patient. In his “A Treatise on Christian Liberty” he throws down the gauntlet and gives us final words to guide us and inspire us:

Let us then consider it certain and conclusively established that the soul can do without all things except the Word of God, and that where this is not there is no help for the soul in anything else whatever. But if it has the Word it is rich and lacks nothing, since this Word is the Word of life, of truth, of light, of peace, of righteousness, of salvation, of joy, of liberty, of wisdom, of power, of grace, of glory, and of every blessing beyond our power to estimate (Martin Luther, “A Treatise on Christian Liberty” in Three Treatises, 23).

Preaching the Word of God for the glory of our Savior and the good of His saints: this is an absolutely essential component for a true and lasting Great Commission Resurgence.

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. rpg mobi