A Biblical Theology of Preaching (Part 2)

Part 1 of A Biblical Theology of Preaching examined the biblical foundations of preaching. These foundations included: God speaks, God’s Word continues, and God’s Word is essential and effective. This post (appropriately, but not creatively call “Part 2”) focuses on application of those foundations to the practice of preaching.

Joe preaching

Dr. Joseph Greene preaching at a men’s retreat.

 

Preaching Built on Biblical Foundations

God speaks and his word must continue to be promulgated because it is essential for effectively redeeming the world to him. These foundational tenets give birth to a more developed theology of preaching when the whole canon is considered. Preachers of the gospel of Jesus Christ have additional blessings and responsibilities which are based on the aforementioned foundations.

       Preaching must be Biblically Consistent/Based

Both testaments contain warnings to accurately proclaim the word of God.  In Deut 13:1-5 even a prophet who performs signs is to be killed if he councils against following the given commandments of the Lord.  The Bible assumes a given body of revelation that future revelation must agree with / fulfill.

The NT writers rejected teaching that was not consistent with the revealed gospel of Jesus Christ.  Perhaps the strongest condemnation comes from the apostle Paul in Gal 1:6-9.  In verse 9 Paul condemns anything contrary to the given gospel, “As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to what you received, he is to be accursed!”  Any teaching inconsistent with the received word of Jesus or his Apostles is rejected in the NT writings (Mat 7:15; 24:11; Rom 16:17; 2 Thes 3:6; 1 Tim 1:3-7; 6:3; Rev 22:18-19).

This same standard for preaching the word of God consistent with apostolic teaching applies today.  While the Bible commands the preacher to “rightly divide the word of truth” (1 Tim 2:15), it does not prescribe the exact method of accomplishing biblical consistency. The exegetical method of preaching would seem the best at accomplishing biblical consistency despite the Bible’s silence on the exegetical method. [1]

The exegetical method’s goal is to proclaim a message consistent with a biblical author’s meaning. Walter Kaiser elaborates, “Exegesis will seek to identify the single truth-intention of individual phrases, clauses, and sentences as they make up the thought of paragraphs, sections, and ultimately, entire books.”[2]  Consistency with apostolic teaching, therefore, is the goal of the exegetical method and fulfills the biblical demands to adhere to the apostolic teaching.  Although other methods of preaching may produce consistency with biblical teaching, their starting point is not authorial intention but currently understood meaning. Meaning as it is understood by the reader varies from context to context and may not agree with the meaning the author originally intended (through whom God gave his word).  The meaning of the text may become twisted and, in severe cases, reflect another gospel.

Exegesis seeks to accurately deliver what the church has received in the canonical texts.  This goal mirrors Paul’s preaching of the gospel, “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve” (1 Cor 15:3-5).  Exegetical preaching is proclaiming the word of the Lord consistent with the delivered and recorded apostolic message.

Some may object that the Bible does not reflect such a slavish adherence to the written word of the Lord, but instead exhibits openness to “fresh” revelations.  I would argue that the Bible exhibits an openness to revelations and prophecies of a particular nature but in terms of the gospel and eternal truths that are binding for the entire church – biblical consistency is demanded.  In addition to the aforementioned scriptures, 2 Peter 3: 15-18 is informative as to how the apostolic church saw the necessity of biblical consistency.  It reads, “and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation; just as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given him, wrote to you, as also in all his letters, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which the untaught and unstable distort, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures, to their own destruction.  You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, be on your guard so that you are not carried away by the error of unprincipled men and fall from your own steadfastness, but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” This passage warns against distorting scripture and encourages a guarded stance in understanding what a scriptural author (in this case Paul) intended. Such a stance encourages one to spiritually grow in grace.  I believe that exegetical preaching is the best way to meet the biblical injunction to be consistent with the apostolic gospel and teaching.

Preaching Must be Christ-Centered

If preaching must be biblically consistent/based than that preaching must necessarily be Christ-centered.  As quoted above, 1 Cor 15: 1-8 is a summary crux of the word of the Lord that the apostle Paul preached.  The death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus is described as “the gospel which I preached to you” (1 Cor 15:1) and “as of first importance” (1 Cor 15:3).   At Pentecost (Acts 2), Peter also preached the centrality of the death and resurrection of Jesus and how it fulfilled previous revelation.  Repentance and belief/baptism in Jesus’ name unlocked the promises of God.  NT preaching is consistently Christ-centered because God has spoken, revealed and acted in Jesus in a way that supersedes (Heb 1:1-2) and fulfills all previous words, deeds, and revelations.

A biblical theology of preaching must therefore be Christ-centered since biblical theology ultimately relates every passage in its own context to the wider biblical context and assumes the progressive nature of God’s word.  Nonetheless, Walter Kaiser gives an appropriate warning that balances Christ-centered and exegetical concerns in preaching.  He warns against the canonical understanding usurping the place of the author, but then, “After we have finished our exegetical work of establishing what, indeed, the author of the paragraph or text under consideration was trying to say, then we must go on to set this teaching in its total Biblical context by way of gathering together what God has continued to say on the topic.”[3]  These observations are especially relevant to the preaching of the OT, which must still be related to the full revelation of Christ.[4]  Chapell gives a helpful analogy in understanding biblical theology’s relationship to God’s progressive revelation throughout salvation history.  Using an acorn and an oak, Chapell notes, “We must relate even seed-form aspects of the text to the mature message they signal, or for which they prepare us . . . You do not explain what an acorn is . . . if you do not relate it to an oak tree.”[5]  Likewise, a full understanding of God’s word requires relating that revelation to the incarnate Word – Jesus Christ.

Preaching is Spirit Empowered

Although the effectiveness of God’s word is a foundational concept, the NT preacher is given addition assurances through the Holy Spirit.  God’s word was given by his Spirit and the Spirit continues to move the message. Concerning the Holy Spirit’s active role in promulgating the gospel in Acts, F.F. Bruce comments, “In one way or another, Acts describes the gospel as making its way through the world under the constant direction of the Holy Spirit. . . The future belongs to the Spirit, and thanks to him the gospel cannot be stopped.”[6]  Christian preachers must not merely confess that God’s word is effective, but that God’s Spirit continues to drive this effectiveness.

The Spirit’s empowerment to proclaim the word of God can be traced to the prophets (Is 48:16; Eze 2:2-4; 11;5; Joel 2:28; Mic 3:8; Zec 7:12).  The Holy Spirit was not only empowering the spoken word of God, but the NT writers also credit the Holy Spirit with the written word (Acts 4:25; 28:25; Heb 3:7; 10:15; 2 Pet 1:20-21).

Jesus, quoting Isaiah 61, claimed the Spirit’s empowerment for his preaching ministry (Luke 4: 17-20).  Jesus then passed this spiritual empowerment to his disciples (Luke 24: 49; Acts 1:8).  The Gospel of John also describes the Spirit’s role in not only bringing to mind the word of God, but convicting the hearers’ hearts with it (John 16:8-15).

The true preaching of God’s word, therefore, finds its origins in the Spirit-inspired scriptures and finds its effectiveness in the Spirit’s empowerment.  For this reason, Chapell’s observation about the effectiveness of the God’s word is appropriate, “the Word preached rather than the preaching of the Word accomplishes heaven’s purposes.”[7] This effectiveness is not based on the preacher’s eloquence (1 Cor 2:4) but the power of God’s word and the work of the Spirit.

Preaching Requires Response

“Never preach a sermon that the Devil could agree with.” – Dr. Walker, Southern Baptist Seminary.  This quote emphasizes the need to preach the biblical word of God in the way that it was intended – not to convey information but to call for response. When the word of the Lord is preached, a lack of response is condemned (Jer 19:15; Hos 4:10; Zec 1:4; Mat 10:14).  Conversely, biblical preaching calls for an active response.  Both John the Baptist and Jesus called people to repent (Mat 3:2; Mark 1:15).  Peter followed suit in his Pentecost sermon saying, “Repent and each of you baptized in the name of the Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins,” (Acts 2:38a).

Response to the word of the God is assumed with “belief” (Gen 15:6; Jonah 3:5; Acts 16:14; 18:8; 19:18-19) because belief is more than agreement to facts (James 2:19).  Responding to the gospel brings salvation and blessing (Luke 11:28; Rom 1:16; 10:10; James 1:25; Rev 1:3).  The biblical authors often wrote with an intention to persuade (John 20:31) and through exegesis the preacher can discern the author’s intention.  In preaching the text, a similar response is often applicable to contemporary hearers, with obvious contextualization.[8]

PREACHING TODAY

A biblical theology of preaching considers preaching as necessary, effective, and requiring response.  How tragic it would be if one were content with understanding the theology of preaching without applying that understanding to the practice of preaching.  If in the NT the “primary means by which the church grew was through the preaching of the gospel,” then certainly preaching must be practiced (not simply studied) in the church today.[9]  A biblical theology of preaching, therefore, calls for modern-day preachers to respond in several ways.

Following a biblical theology of preaching is difficult apart from adopting the biblical foundations and worldview of the scriptures.  If one doesn’t believe that God speaks, that his word was meant to continue, or that it is necessary and has an effectiveness greater than human ability – then the words preached may change but the heart behind them will remain unconvinced and double-minded.  The biblical foundations for preaching cannot simply inform preaching as it appears in the Bible, they must inform the modern preacher’s practice as well.

In the Bible we have the message and witness of the apostles and our preaching must be consistent with the word of God, or “the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints” (Jude 3).   That faith is that the word of God was ultimately and supremely revealed in the words and work of Jesus Christ.  All preaching therefore, must relate to Christ if it is to reflect the full word of God and be consistent with God’s full revelation. The best way to ensure this consistency is application of solid exegesis to the scriptures, seeking authorial intent.  This exegesis cannot remain on the level of academic knowledge but must be re-preached in a way that calls for response among contemporary hearers.  The Holy Spirit, who inspired the scriptural authors in the first place, will see that God’s word continues to spread throughout the world.  He will empower preachers and use the word of God to convict the hearers.

End Notes

[1] Peter Adam, Speaking God’s Words (Vancouver: Regent, 1996), 128.

[2] Walter Kaiser, Toward an Exegetical Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2000), 47.

[3] Kaiser, Exegetical Theology, 83.

[4] As several OT Biblical theologians themselves urge: Bruce Waltke, An Old Testament Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2007), 48. Eugene Merril, Everlasting Dominion: A Theology of the Old Testament (Nashville: Broadman, 2006), 3-4.

[5] Brian Chapell, Christ-Centered Preaching (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1994), 269-270.

[6] F.F. Bruce, “The Holy Spirit in the Acts of the Apostles”  Interpretation 27 (April 1973): 166-183.

[7] Chapell, Christ-Centered Preaching, 19.

[8] For instance, an OT text calling for abandonment of wooden idol worship is rarely directly applicable in an American context whereas abandoning worship of status, relationships, and/or career would contain the same principle the author probably wanted to convey.

[9] Graeme Goldsworthy, Preaching the Whole Bible as Christian Scripture (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000), 32-24.

One thought on “A Biblical Theology of Preaching (Part 2)

  1. Dr. Green,

    Great info. I just started an online course on Preaching today. This was helpful as it reinforced what I started reading and learning today.
    Thanks
    Jim

    Like

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