Preaching–what is it?

Things have been slow here at Two Tasks lately. I was in Virginia leading meetings for the Graduate & Faculty Ministries Blue Ridge Team. Our time together seemed to be fruitful and I enjoyed it. Prepping for the meetings, however, drew my attention away from writing– I am glad to be back at it this morning.

I have been thinking about preaching these days–what it is and what it isn’t.

There was a time in my life where ‘higher’ forms of preaching were appealing to me. Sermons that were rhetorical, literary, and sophisticated seemed to be the hallmark of what it meant to be an intelligent Christian. Names like Philips Brooks or John Claypool, Thomas Long or Fred Craddock were at the front of my mind. A sermon had to do something unique or surprising with a text or else it would simply be deemed banal.

It certainly seems that the older I get the less I am impressed with the icons of preaching that are held up in many seminary classrooms today.

I prefer a plain, text-centered style of preaching. Expository preaching is often underwhelming for professional intellectuals. A friend (and university professor) remarked on hearing Tim Keller preach at Wake Forest: “I’m not sure what all the fuss is about–he read the Bible and then said what it meant.” Exactly. That’s my idea of preaching–exegesis, interpretation, and application.

In my morning prayers a few moments ago I read from Nehemiah.

Ezra opened the book. All the people could see him because he was standing above them, and as he opened it, the people all stood up….[The Levites] read from the Book of the Law of God, making it clear and giving the meaning so that the people understood what was being read.

It seems to me that the purpose of preaching is to make clear the meaning of the Word of God so that both believers (as well as those who are not yet Christian) in the congregation encounter it and are able to respond to it.

A text-centered method seems to model how to read and interpret the Bible in community. This is lacking in other forms of preaching where a text is read and the preacher then launches into 30 minutes of theologizing.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing bad about inserting stories or poems or even visual images into the sermon. The chief purpose of these insertions ought to be to make clear the Word of God–that’s the sermon’s purpose.


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