Archive for August, 2006

What about Application?

Expository Thoughts “senior” contributor, Jerry Wragg, made his debut here on the new site with a comment that might have been missed so I will re-post it here in its entirety. On a side note we have cracked through the walls of obscurity and made it on to the blog role of fire in the “exceptional” category no less (Thanks Phil, the check is in the mail). Following is Jerry’s comment:

I’ve been pondering the prevailing ideas about preaching, and have concluded that one of the dominant reasons so many sermons focus on moralistic “practicalities” is because of entrenched misguidance about application in preaching. Here’s how I believe it has come about: It seems we have systematically trained this generation to believe that behavioral changes themselves are equal to whole life change. Said another way, we’ve come to think that new actions equal new spirituality. It is right to say that all true preaching exhorts the will of the hearer and calls for life change, but what does this really mean and how is it accomplished? Many books and articles on the subject make the case that the difference between boring exegetical sermons and powerful expositions is “practical application”. Are they correct? I believe this assertion is only partially on target. Preaching for life change is the duty of all shepherds charged with feeding the flock. However, just how true life change occurs cannot be reduced to making general (or even specific) suggestions as to how one might “practice” the principles of the sermon. What’s the missing piece? I believe the problem arises from not understanding the importance of preaching the implications of a text before we suggest practical life changes. By “implications”, I mean every way in which the scriptures confront and expose wrong thinking, errant convictions, unholy motivations, and idolatrous affections. It is not enough to explain the meaning of the ancient text in its context…assume contemporary parallels…outline some principles…and offer circumstantial “ways to apply” the principles. The Bible is clear that life transformation occurs when the mind is renewed! Preaching should first renovate the hearers reasoning, confront their humanistic worldview, cement new theological convictions, bring sinful motivations under the captivity of Christ, and smash all idols of the heart. By the time a sermon has traversed these crucial “implications”, first for the original hearers and then for today, practical life changes will become much clearer as the Spirit “applies” the surgical word, renewing the heart and mind.What about application? Should preachers include practical ways of changing one’s life? Application should involve two kinds of material: (1) The preachers own life changes which have resulted from new convictions, fresh theological depth, and corrected thinking; (2) General suggestions for practical change that naturally and universally rise from the implications of the text. Congregations should be cautioned, however, that such suggestions are limited and mere behavioral changes without mind renewal will lead to superficiality, weakness, and hypocrisy. They should be encouraged to walk by faith, think deeply about the implications by meditating on sound biblical truth, and never become dependent upon someone else’s practical suggestions. Where the universal practice of a principle is obvious, change your life…but the Spirit may desire other specific changes in your personal life that others cannot see and wouldn’t themselves be helped by applying to their lives. A few thoughts…

Preaching and Biblical Theology

Biblical theology in the Vosian tradition seems to be all the rage these days. Preachers-authors like Mark Dever, Graeme Goldsworthy and Sidney Griedanus are seeking to apply biblical theology to the task of preaching. There is more than one take on this, especially as it impacts preaching. Thomas Schreiner of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary has offered his thoughts in a recent journal article entitled “Preaching and Biblical Theology.” Any thoughts?

Exegetical Reflections

It’s not often that a man is gifted with great skill and wisdom in biblical languages, theology, and pastoral vigilance. My friend Randy McKinion is such a man. He is now blogging at “Exegetical Reflections” which I’m sure will make a great contribution to the cause of expository preaching from a pastoral academician who deeply cares about biblical preaching. Be sure to bookmark his blog!

What’s so special about preaching?

An excellent ministry that many on this side of the pond may not be familiar with is The Proclamation Trust. They have now made available in print David Jackman’s recent lecture entitled “What’s so special about preaching?” (A PDF version is available here).

Driscoll on Preaching

Interesting “Reflections on Preaching” from Mark Driscoll (See here, and scroll through the pages at the bottom).

Expository Preaching a Myth?

Leadership Journal’s “Out of Ur” blog recently ran a series of articles by Pastor David Fitch called “The Myth of Expository Preaching & the Commodification of the Word.” I found his series to be provocative and unusual. It was provocative because he forced me to think about the very heart of what I do which is expository preaching. It was unusual in that he sent a warning shot over the bow that expository preaching might be dead, even if such was not his intention. In fact he goes to some lengths to say that such is not the case but he never convinced me. His series certainly resonated with a few preachers (here, here, and here) but in the end I think he failed to deal with what expository preaching actually is or offer any constructive advice to preachers struggling with some of the issues he raises.

There is an obvious frustration resident in his tone that so much preaching falls flat and never connects with “where the people are.” Only a blind preacher would deny that such an estimation is accurate in many ways. I too have seen my share of stale sermons that never seem to go anywhere, say anything, or call for change. There have been Sundays where I was ready to resign, disgusted not with “performance” but with my handling and communication of God’s Word. However I don’t think this is a problem of method or message but one of messenger. The method of expository preaching is sound and fits most naturally with the message of Scripture. It takes into account the style, genre, and most importantly the authorial intent of the author. Contrary to some of the comments left at “Out of Ur”, expository preaching is not a myopic form of preaching that ignores the various forms of the text. There have been many misrepresentations of expository preaching and Fitch has not helped this problem by taking aim at expository preaching.

He begins with an overbold statement in the first article that begins his journey of deconstructing what he thinks is expository preaching and in the process rendering it all but a useless exploit (and yes I believe “deconstruction” is the right term to use since Fitch later pays due homage by placing a coin in the hat for Derrida). He states,

“There is a myth surrounding expository preaching among North American evangelicals. It goes like this: if the preacher follows the text more closely in his preaching, both he/she and the congregation will stay true to the Word of God. No other agendas or human wisdom will slither into the preaching. Implied is, if the preacher but applies the exegetical historical-critical skills learned in seminary and studies the text in its original language, (s)he can arrive at the meaning of the text all by him/herself. This is the mythology I believe is behind expository preaching in the evangelical world.”

My first thought is that it would have proved more constructive if Fitch worked within the framework of any number of standard definitions of expository preaching rather than resorting to improbable generalities (see his opening sentence). It might have made a good blog series to interact with some of the published definitions of expository preaching but that is not my main concern here.

Two initial observations are in order at this point as to why I think so much confusion exists about the nature of expository preaching as exemplified in the author’s post. First, if one abandons the doctrine of inerrancy then biblical expository preaching is impossible. Without inerrancy one is left with an unsure text delivered through an unsure messenger resulting in an unsure audience. All arguments aside, this is exactly where Fitch leaves us. Such a notion does not sit well with postmodern preachers but that’s where their best philosophizing has left many in the broader emerging movement. I don’t know the author’s view of inerrancy but this issue seems to be amiss in all the conversations about textualization and what Fitch derisively calls “commodification.” We’ll return to this point later. Second, if the hermeneutical task is rooted in subjectivity then expository preaching will result in confusion and the morass of problems that Fitch so rightly points out. It becomes clear that the author’s problem is not with “expository preaching” but with an understanding of hermeneutics. For example, consider his second paragraph:

“Why do I label this a mythology? Well first of all, the historical-critical method in the hands of individuals has not yielded a singular meaning as “intended by the author” in over 100 years. Instead what we have is thousands of commentaries on the Bible that present numerous unresolved options for interpreting practically every verse in the Bible. Historical-critical exegesis hasn’t generated more unity over Scripture; it has generated less.”

Again, I point out that Fitch’s problem is not with expository preaching per se but with how his own form of deconstructionism (or even reader-response understanding) does not gel with what he views as historical-critical methods. Reading Fitch one is left with the impression that expository preaching is not only a myth but it is a useless task of subjective rambling. The author knows this and tries to head-off such criticism with:

“What I have said above is a pretty heavy indictment. Some might imply that I don’t believe preaching is any longer possible in the postmodern worlds. But nothing could be further from the truth. Others might argue the same problem plagues topical preaching. There are those who respond to all of this by dismissing the role of traditional preaching altogether. And some respond with attempts to democratize preaching.”

Fitch will try to unravel the knot he has tied in parts one and two which we will examine in subsequent posts. Pointing forward he says, “I will discuss how we can reshape and restore the proclamation of the gospel in the church gathering amid postmodernity.” He has his work cut out as he has led the reader down a trail of subjectivity without a map or a compass. One may be tempted to lose heart at this point and give up the journey. However, I would echo the words of John Frame that “Despite the limitations of human language, God is able to use human language to tell us clearly and accurately who he is and what he has done” (Salvation Belongs to the Lord, 13). The sovereign Lord accomplishes this through earthen vessels faithfully preaching His inerrant Word. This is not only a possible task but one that the Lord Himself has blessed.

Your first homework assignment

Before I post a series of responses to David Fitch’s posts on “The Myth of Expository Preaching” I think it would behoove everyone to read his series so as to anticipate the almost certain criticism from his defenders that 1) we have not read him, 2) we are taking him out of context, 3) we should have called his house first, 4) his is not actually an article but a “conversation” or 5) we’re just a bunch of idiots for which there is no hope. I anticipate some of this as I have observed it in the comment section of the said articles. However I’m crazy enough to actually disagree with an emergent preacher type who thinks expository preaching ain’t all it’s cracked-up to be. So before we get started, you have some reading to do.

“The Myth of Expository Preaching: Part One”

“The Myth of Expository Preaching: Part Two”

“The Myth of Expository Preaching: Part Three”

A new home and a new series

Welcome to our new home. We hope to get everything up and running soon which might take a few days. We are toying with a new look and a few features that are mostly hidden but ones that will help Expository Thoughts run more smoothly.

On deck is a series in which we will interact with David Fitch’s series on “The Myth of Expository Preaching”. Stay Tuned.

Note: The categories to the right should prove useful as they are archives of all our past articles topically arranged. On a downside, when I switched over everything to the new address, it posted all the old articles with my name on it rather than the various names of our contributors. If anyone knows how to fix this let me know.

Should people take notes during the sermon?

Questioning tradition a bit at this point, I would like to pose a question which I am certainly not the first to ask. Other men from history are looking over my shoulder asking the same question and they have far more credibility and longevity than I do (e.g., Jonathan Edwards, Martyn Lloyd-Jones). Should we encourage our people to take notes during the sermon? Let me state at the outset that I do not think it a major issue either way. I would say that most expository preaching lends itself toward people taking notes as it is informational as well as exhortive preaching (as it should be). In our church, our men meet in weekly groups where they discuss last week’s sermon and seek to plunge the depths of application. The basis for their meetings is their notes from the last sermon. So personally speaking, I have seen the tremendous advantages of individuals taking notes while I preach.

However, in our media-driven age there is still an uncomfortable disconnect with modern forms of communication and the very old biblical task of public preaching. Ours is a generation driven by gobs of information and statistics which we have at a ready click (e.g., Google, Wikipedia) even if we’re not sure how such information should be processed. In fact, we have more bits of information at our disposal than ever before and yet we have few thinkers who are able to process this mass of media without the aid of a computerized algorithms. I believe such information age characteristics of knowledge accumulation have made their way into the congregations of churches that regularly dish out expository sermons. One response to such excess would be to scrap the expository sermon all together in favor of something lighter and more user-friendly but we can’t do this since 1) expository preaching is a biblical mandate 2) you would be wasting years of Greek and Hebrew study if you do something else and 3) you would reduce your ministry to scratching itching ears…just to name a few. Ridding ourselves of the method (i.e., expository) is not an option. So let’s hear some dissenting voices on taking notes before we decide what to do.

The first to truly emphasize such a point was Jonathan Edwards. George Marsden recounts Edwards saying, “The main benefit that is obtained by preaching is by impression made upon the mind in the time of it, and not by the effect that arises afterwards by a remembrance of what was delivered” (quoted in The Salvation of Souls, eds. Richard Bailey and Gregory Wills, 11). In a similar manner Martyn Lloyd-Jones followed Edwards noting, “The first and primary object of preaching is not only to give information. It is, as Edwards says, to produce an impression. It is the impression at the time that matters, even more than what you can remember subsequently….It is not primarily to impart information; and while you are writing your notes you may be missing something of the impact of the Spirit.”

So there are valid points to be made all around. Do you think Edwards and Jones made valid observations or do you think this is where they might have strayed in regards to application? What do we learn from both sides of the spectrum? Let us know what you think.

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