Perhaps the greatest battle during the modern age surrounds the content of preaching. I fear that many congregations and pulpit committees do not understand what type of preaching they need. Most of the general rules for popular preachers include a vibrant personality, good jokes, and personal illustrations. However, the content needed includes solid explanation of the biblical text. The major difference is whether the preacher brings the idea to the text looking for support or comes to the text looking to reveal God’s truth. Although this may be oversimplified, a text driven preacher will allow God’s work to speak for itself. This type preaching is what the congregation needs whether they desire it or not. This preaching may or may not result in increased numbers but it certainly should result in spiritual growth and the Gospel being presented.
The scriptural foundation for text driven preaching flows logically from 2 Tim 3:16-4:2. This portion of Scripture does cross a natural paragraph division which has been divided as a new chapter. However, I believe that chapter four provides the application of the theological doctrine presented in 2 Tim 3:16-17. Let us look at the text and then, I will expound the meaning:
16 All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; 17 that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work. 4:1, I solemnly charge [you] in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: 2 preach the word; be ready in season [and] out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction.
Without going into a detailed exegetical study, let me draw some implications that I believe naturally link these verses together. 2 Tim 3:16 is the verse used to establish the inerrancy of Scripture. Scripture is God breathed. Since God cannot tell a lie and Scripture is God’s word to us, then Scripture can be trusted fully.
For our purposes is it important to notice what this verse says after that point, “for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness.” After Paul has established the principle of the inerrancy of Scripture and that Scripture may be used for these reasons in preparing man for every good work, Paul then solemnly charges Timothy to “preach the word.” But notice what comes after “preach the word”–reprove, rebuke, exhort, and instruct. The end of 2 Tim 4:2 should immediately bring to mind the words of 2 Tim 3:16 as the application of the theological truth.
Let me explain it a different way. When you present theological truth as a preacher, then most texts provide clues on the proper application to the listener’s life. For example if the theological truth is salvation by grace through faith, the application is that the listener should place faith and trust in Jesus Christ to be saved. If the theological truth is be holy as God is holy, the application is avoid sinning and live a life consecrated to God and specific examples may be given. Here Paul gives a theological truth, “Scripture is God breathed and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction and for training in righteousness.” The application of that truth is to “preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort and instruct.”
Thus, text driven preaching should be linked to the inerrancy of Scripture. If you believe that God’s Word is inerrant and able to equip a man for every good work, then what more do you have to add to it that God has not said? Do you believe that you can say it better than God did? Do you not believe that God’s Word is sufficient? Preaching which focuses on topics that the preacher brings to the Bible or felt needs, or a preconceived notion which a preacher attempts to find a verse to support indicates that the preacher in practice does not believe God’s Word is sufficient. In addition, it does not take seriously the fact that only “God’s Word will not return void.” John MacArthur has gone even further than I have by giving fifteen consequences of what he calls “Plexiglas Preaching.”
Some have made the objection that text driven preaching is boring or that it does not make application to the listener. This objection is not with the method, but with the preacher. No preacher of the Gospel should be boring, nor should the preacher of the Gospel fail to apply the text to the lives of the listener. These claims throw the baby out with the bathwater. Proper text driven preaching demands that the preacher communicates, engages, and makes application to the listener. Thus, such claims find no merit against the proper method of preaching; however, valid they may be against certain individual preachers. In fact, the objection itself indicates that the entertainment driven, consumer mentality has pervaded our expectation.
If text driven preaching is the proper methodology, then the content should come from elaborating on a given passage of Scripture. The proper method does not mean coming to the text with an idea and looking for support. It means going to the text with a blank mind and learning what the text says, looking at the structure of the text, then expounding or explaining what the text says to the listeners from the pulpit. This also means preaching the whole counsel of God–the parts that are popular and the parts that are not popular. It means preaching on controversial issues, speaking prophetically to culture, encouraging the saint, challenging the sinner, and most of all glorify God. An example of this type transformation can be read here. For an example of man that I believes sets a great example of this, click here.
While nothing is wrong with using creative illustrations which fit the sermon, and some use of video clips enhance without overshadowing or sidetracking the congregation from the message, the preacher must make sure the explanation of the text drives the sermon. Once a preacher begins sculpting a sermon around the illustration or video clip, then the entertainment has taken an improper role in sermon preparation. The explanation of the text…the text itself must maintain priority. The tendency in ministry will be to emulate the more creative communicators, but the mandate for ministry is to “preach the word.” This is why I believe in text driven preaching.