Archive for the ‘dialogue preaching’ Category

The Primacy of the Pulpit (pt 3)

Similarity No. 2: The Primacy of the Pulpit


Flowing out of their common recognition of biblical authority is a second striking similarity, namely, their strict commitment to the primacy of biblical preaching. Though both men have faced demands on many fronts, they, nevertheless, are, first and foremost, preachers of the Word. In their ministries, the public exposition of Scripture occupied the central place. For both men, the pulpit was the principle means by which they exerted their greatest influence.

High Calling to a Sacred Task

By all accounts, the Westminster pulpit was central to every aspect of the spiritual life of the church. Accordingly, Lloyd-Jones maintained that preaching is the loftiest task to which anyone could commit himself. He writes, “The work of preaching is the highest and the greatest and the most glorious calling to which anyone can ever be called.”   What is more, Lloyd-Jones insists: “The most urgent need in the Christian church today is true preaching; and as it is the greatest and the most urgent need in the church, it is obviously the greatest need of the world also.”   Nothing, he maintained, must ever supplant the primacy of the pulpit in the church.

Lloyd-Jones came to this conviction early as a brilliant young physician. He came to the sobering realization that he was merely assisting the physical healing of people who would return to godless living and suffer eternal destruction. He lamented, “We spend most of our time rendering people fit to go back to their sin.”  Of his patients, he realized: “A man with a healthy body and a diseased soul is all right for sixty years or so and then he has to face an eternity of hell.”  Once converted, Lloyd-Jones came to see that only the Word of God can bring about what ultimately matters, the healing of eternal souls. With this conviction, he was being drawn to the ministry of preaching: “The primary task of the Church and of the Christian minister is the preaching of the Word of God.”  Everything in the church, he believed, should be shaped and influenced by the pulpit.

Substantiating this claim, Lloyd-Jones pointed to the earthly ministries of Jesus Christ: “In the life and ministry of our Lord Himself, you have this clear indication of the primacy of preaching and of teaching.”  In addition, he understood that Christ assigned this same priority to His apostles. When these men were “filled with the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost,” he notes, they immediately “began to preach.”   As other needs arose in the early church, Lloyd-Jones paraphrased Peter’s assertion, stating: “We are here to preach this Word, this is the first thing, ‘We will give ourselves continually to prayer and the ministry of the Word.’”   By this statement, he maintained that preaching, empowered by prayer, is job number one in the church. He states that these “priorities are laid down once and forever…and we must not allow anything to deflect us from this.”   No other ministry or church activity must ever supplant the primacy of the pulpit.

In Season and Out of Season

Standing shoulder to shoulder with Lloyd-Jones, MacArthur has voiced this same conviction: “The church’s most important function is to proclaim the Word of God in an understandable, direct, and authoritative way.”  Assigning the pulpit this proper place, MacArthur declares: “Preaching the Word must be the very heart of our ministry philosophy.”  Resisting present day trends, he emphatically states: “In corporate worship, the preaching of the Word should take first place.”  Therefore, MacArthur maintains: “Preaching is an irreplaceable aspect of all corporate worship. In fact, the whole church service should revolve around the ministry of the Word. Everything else is either preparatory to, or a response to, the exposition of Scripture.”  At Grace Church, the centrality of the Word preached is an irrefutable core value.

MacArthur is indefatigable in this fundamental commitment: “Preaching is the non-negotiable heart of the church’s ministry. This fact does not change because public opinion changes.”  MacArthur states that this biblically-assigned priority in non-negotiable: “Some people today argue that the church could draw more ‘unchurched’ people by featuring drama and music instead of preaching. But Paul’s instructions to Timothy were clear. He was to preach the Word whether preaching was popular or not—‘in season and out of season.’”  Thus, MacArthur sounds this clarion warning: “A ‘church’ where the Word of God is not regularly and faithfully preached is no true church.”  Only where the Scripture is rightly expounded, he believes, does a true church meet.

Unswayed by contemporary trends, MacArthur states, “Many things have come along to try and supplant preaching. And unfortunately, most people just let it  appen. If you open your newspaper and look at the church page, instead of reading about men preaching the Word of God, you read about musical phantasmagorias, movies, and all sorts of other things going on.” He staunchly insists, “They must never supplant the preaching of the Word. A holy man, who is gifted to preach by the Spirit of God and prepared in the Word of God, has no equal in a power presentation of the truth. That is the pattern of Scripture.”   Such a fundamental commitment to preaching lies at the heart of every great preacher.  Bottomline, MacArthur concludes: “Preaching is to be the priority.”

Journal Article written by Dr. Steven Lawson (used with permission).




Similarity No. 1: The Authority of Scripture

The similarities between Lloyd-Jones and MacArthur begin with their unwavering commitment to the authority of Scripture. Both these pulpit stalwarts have strongly affirmed the sovereignty of Scripture over the life of the church and every individual. For both men, the Bible is, indisputably, the inspired, inerrant, and infallible Word of the living God, fully sufficient to accomplish God’s purposes upon the earth. Herein lies the underlying genius for their powerful expositions.

The Sovereignty of Scripture

With unshakable certainty, Lloyd-Jones asserts that “the Scriptures are a divine product breathed out by God.” He maintains, “They were produced by the creative breath of the almighty God.” “It is not merely that the thoughts are inspired, not merely the idea,” Lloyd-Jones contends, “but the actual record, down to the particular words.”  Regarding the divine inspiration of Scripture, he states, “The Holy Spirit has thus overruled and controlled and guided these men, even in the particular words, in such a way as to prevent any error, and above all to produce the result that was originally intended by God.”  With deep conviction, Lloyd-Jones insisted that the Bible is the very breath of God, and that it speaks with perfect accuracy and divine authority.

To this point, Lloyd-Jones affirms: “This subject of authority is indeed the great theme of the Bible itself. The Bible presents itself to us as an authoritative book.” The Doctor adds, “The authority of the Scriptures is not a matter to be defended, so much as to be asserted…it is the preaching and exposition of the Bible that really establish its truth and authority.”  “The Scriptures themselves claim that authority”, Lloyd-Jones asserts. “They come to us as the Word of God…You cannot read the Old Testament without feeling that everywhere there is the assumption that this is the Word of God.” He further notes, “Our Lord Himself fully accepted that position. How often does He say, ‘It is written’! And He directs men to that as the final authority. He meets the attack of Satan by quoting Scripture.”  Only when the Scripture is held to be supremely authoritative can the preacher wield the sword of the Spirit with power.

Regarding the Old Testament, Lloyd-Jones writes: “To the Lord Jesus Christ, the Old Testament was the Word of God; it was Scripture; it was something absolutely unique and apart; it had authority which nothing else has ever possessed nor can possess.”  Similarly, this distinguished preacher recognizes this same authority in the New Testament: “The authority of the apostles undergirds and underlies the authority of the Gospels and the Epistles, the Book of Acts, indeed the whole of the New Testament. And we either accept that or we do not. It is the only authority: it is the final authority.”  To be sure, Scripture is the highest authority and final word in the Westminster pulpit, the undisputed arbitrator in all matters.

Absolute Authority

Assuming this same stance, MacArthur likewise affirms the absolute authority of Scripture. This noted expositor believes that this fundamental truth is rooted and grounded in the verbal, plenary inspiration of the Bible: “All Scripture, is God’s inerrant Word. He writes, God divinely superintended the accurate recording of His divinely breather truth by His divinely chosen men.”   MacArthur believes that divine inerrancy is inseparably connected with biblical authority: “Those God-given, humanly-recorded words became God’s written Word, inerrant and authoritative as originally given.”   He further asserts, “If the Bible is infallible and inerrant, it must be the final word—the highest standard of authority.”  Consequently, MacArthur argues that “the truth of Scripture…has the full weight of God’s own authority behind it.”  Because the Bible is divinely inspired, it is divinely authoritative, a truth that mandates biblical preaching.

“If the Bible is true,” MacArthur insists, “then it is also authoritative. As divinely revealed truth, it carries the full weight of God’s own authority. If you claim to believe the Bible at all, you ultimately must bow to its authority.”  To this end, he states: “Preaching the Bible establishes the authority of God over the mind and the soul. When we preach the Word of God, our people understand who has sovereignty over their souls—it is God alone who reigns over their thoughts and their actions.”  The Bible, MacArthur notes, “is not a book of suggestions. Its divine mandates are authoritative and binding. Those who treat it lightly place themselves in eternal peril. Those who take it seriously find eternal blessing.” Consequently, “The Bible claims complete authority over our lives.” This is to say, Scripture possesses supreme authority over every part of every life.

Such biblical authority, Old notes, breeds great confidence in MacArthur as he preaches: “What he seems to have is a witness to true authority. He recognizes in Scripture the Word of God, and when he preaches, it is Scripture that one hears.” He adds: “Surely one of the greatest strengths of MacArthur’s preaching ministry is his complete confidence in the text.”  Therefore, MacArthur’s approach to the biblical text must surely be defined by his complete reliance upon its unrivalled authority. Old further stresses: “This basic assumption that the text of Scripture is reliable is part of the foundation of his effectiveness as an interpreter.”

Unquestionably, MacArthur’s firm commitment to the absolute authority of Scripture emboldens his preaching. In this, both Lloyd-Jones and MacArthur speak with one voice.

Journal Article written by Dr. Steven Lawson (used with permission).



Our Tone in Preaching

In one of John Piper’s finest sermons on preaching he said this,  “God did not ordain the cross of Christ or create the lake of fire to communicate the insignificance of belittling his glory.  The death of the Son of God and the damnation of unrepentant human beings are the LOUDEST SHOUTS under heaven that God is infinitely holy, and sin is infinitely offensive, and wrath is infinitely just, and grace is infinitely precious, and our brief life—and the life of every person—leads to everlasting joy OR everlasting suffering

If our preaching does not carry the weight of these things to our people what will?  Veggie Tales?  Radio? Television? Discussion groups? Emergent conversations?

God planned for his Son to be crucified (Rev 13:8, 2 Tim 1:9) and for hell to be terrible (Matt 25:41) so that we would have the clearest witness to what is at stake when we preach.   What gives preaching its seriousness is that the mantle of the preacher is soaked with the blood of Jesus and singed with the fires of hell.  That is the mantle that turns mere talkers into preachers…”

Brother’s in Christ “PREACH the Word” tomorrow!

Is expository preaching against discussion?

We have been discussing the role of dialogue within the context of the sermon. Craddock has argued that the preacher should inductively lead a person to make their own conclusions about the text as it applies to their life. In essence, he argues that this brings the hearer into a form of dialogue with the preacher even though actual dialogue may not take place.

Pagitt has taken this a step further and seeks to “re-imagine” the sermon as a discussion rather than a declaration. The sermon in this case does not rest on exegesis but on group formulation although Pagitt attempts to claim otherwise (Preaching Re-Imagined, 54; 185-89). The representative works of progressional dialogue and inductive preaching are so full of straw argumentation that one would think that folks who regularly hear good expository preaching are never allowed to discuss the sermon. One could get the idea that questions about an expository sermon are forbidden and always considered out of order unless one embraces a postmodern rationale that says the best direction is no direction.

While discussion is excellent even essential at the right time, we should still remember that preaching is a “live” event in which the Word of God is to be heralded (2 Tim. 4:2) not discussed. Additionally, an argument could be made that the moment of the preaching event itself is the defining moment and everything else (application, discussion, etc.) is simply part of the necessary ongoing response. Jonathan Edwards made statements along these lines when he wrote, “The main benefit that is obtained by preaching is by the 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” (Works of Jonathan Edwards, 4:397).

So how can we positively dialogue “around” an expository

  1. Have a plan: The reason why some may balk at the idea of sermon discussion is because we’ve all been in groups where the level of involvement never gets past the narcissistic “what this means to me” style of dialogue. Have purpose and intentionality when forming discussion groups. There should always be a knowledgeable facilitator who can bring out the best and help move things along.
  2. Create Discussion times: There can be discussion/application groups that meet for Sunday School or at other times in homes. We encourage our church members to invite visitors and fellow believers into their homes on Sunday nights for fellowship and discussion around the Word. One of our families makes it publicly known that there is always lunch available at their house for anyone who wants to come on Sunday afternoon (and there’s always someone there). We have some family in our home most Sunday nights.
  3. Know Your Congregation: A good sermon will raise questions and provoke natural discussions. Pastors should make themselves available and not hide away from their congregations. One way I do this is to meet with the men of my church over lunch once a week where anything can be asked or questioned.
  4. Cultivate Sermon Accountability: Meet with people who will speak honestly about your sermons and genuinely help you become more effective. All of my elders do this and I also have fellow pastors in other churches who challenge me. Video yourself once in a while and force yourself to watch it (you will learn a lot).
  5. Pay attention to the craft of sermon construction: An expository sermon does not mean that there should be no mystery or “a ha” moment of discovery. Inductive homileticians like to point out that there is no discovery or building of anticipation in expository sermons. There’s no reason why this has to be the case. Work hard on transitions and “plot development” especially when preaching narrative (which is the majority of Scripture). Maybe we can develop this more in a later post.

Any thoughts?




“Can we talk?”

Thanks to Caleb who in his post yesterday pointed out the growing trend among preachers to deliver talks rather than sermons. A question I would like our readers to consider is “how did we get to this point?”.

Doug Pagitt in his book Preaching Re-Imagined would have us believe that “In reality preaching as speaching [Pagitt’s code word for expository preaching] is quite new. In fact, it is the creation of Enlightenment Christianity” (pg. 60). Actual historians of preaching might disagree with Pagitt’s revisionist claims. Peruse any major work on the history of preaching (e.g., Hughes Old, E. C. Dargan, O. C. Edwards) and one will see that “progressional dialogue” is the new kid on the block without a biblical leg to stand on. In his Life and Practice in the Early Church:A Documentary Reader, Steve McKinion notes that in the early church “it was the role of the preacher to explain its meaning to them” (73).

In more recent times it was Harry Emerson Fosdick who led the masses away from expository preaching when he asked:

“Who seriously supposes that, as a matter of fact, one in a hundred of the congregations cares, to start with, what Moses, Isaiah, Paul, or John meant in those special verses, or came to church deeply concerned about it? Nobody else who talks in public so assumes that the vital interests of the people are located in the meaning of words spoken two thousand years ago.”

Forty years later, Fred B. Craddock promoted the idea of “inductive preaching” in his book As One Without Authority.He argued that “The scriptures, against their own will, intention, and warning, became the ‘paper pope,’ with the result that the present was sacrificed, immediacy in preaching was lost, and congregations became accustomed to being sacrificed weekly on the altar of ‘sacred history'” (33).

Today, Doug Pagitt has picked up where Fosdick and Craddock left off. He “re-imagines” preaching and the church as a place where the only authority is the individual which under further analysis seems a bit ironic. Pagitt’s post-foundationalism is in part a reaction to the “individualism” that he has perceived as a weakness of modern evangelicalism. However, Pagitt’s desire for “progressional dialogue” exalts the new hermeneutic and its emphasis on the authority of the reader to new levels. In progressional dialogue, the Bible is just another member of the community (Preaching Re-Imagined, 195-97).

Fosdick, Craddock and Pagitt all have something in common, they share an obvious disdain for what has historically been known as biblical preaching. They erect the worst of straw men and then paint with the broadest brush in their kit. However we should not conclude that this is a mere squabble about definitions. I would agree with Richard Holland who concluded that “Preaching re-Imagined is really preaching re-defined. We are using the same word–preaching–but have different dictionaries to define it. Preaching should find its source and parameters in the pages of Holy Scripture. It should expose the hearers to the Scripture, explain the Scripture, and exhort them to live according to the Scripture.”

Addendum: I would highly recommend our readers examine Richard Holland’s excellent article “Progressional Dialogue & Preaching: Are they the Same? (TMSJ 17/2 (Fall 2006) 207-222 [Here is a PDF copy].

Isn’t a 45 minute sermon overkill?

Some people wonder why many churches commit almost half of the public worship service to the individual proclamation of the Word of God? ‘Shouldn’t we allow more time for the entire community to speak’ they ask? Certain Evangelicals have suggested that preaching itself is outdated and should be replaced by more modern alternatives. Dr. R. Albert Mohler was recently asked the following question: “Must the sermon be a monologue? If not, should it be?” (This quote was first recorded from nine marks ministries Make sure you check out the monthly newsletter they put out. In future posts i will talk about why many people today prefer dialogue teaching over preaching.

Dr. Mohler’s response to the question (must the sermon by a monologue) is very insightful. “The very shape of this question is interesting. In the first place, I would not consider the public proclamation of God’s Word to be best characterized as monologue. It is one voice speaking, but this voice is not speaking on behalf of himself, but as the one charged with proclaiming and teaching the Word of God. At the same time, there does not seem to be a biblical warrant for a more dialogical form of preaching. If anything, the biblical model appears to assign the preaching responsibility to an individual who dares to speak on behalf of God by presenting and applying God’s Word.

I think of a text like Nehemiah 8:1-8. In that setting, Ezra and his colleagues “read from the book, from the Law of God, clearly, and they gave the sense, so that the people understood their reading.” Earlier in this text, we are told that “the ears of all the people were attentive to the Book of the Law.” Those preaching spoke with authority. At the same time, it would not be appropriate to suggest that these hearers were passive. They were active recipients of the preached Word. They were “attentive.”

In the same way, a church congregation is not to sit passively in the pew merely observing the preaching of the Word. To the contrary, the congregation should be actively involved in the disciplines of hearing, receiving, and responding to God’s Word as it’s preached by the one who is invested with those responsibilities and gifts.

A similar approach is evident in the New Testament. When Paul instructs Timothy about his preaching responsibilities, nothing in the text suggests that Timothy will be involved in a dialectical enterprise with the congregation. Instead, Paul charges Timothy with the sacred and solemn responsibility to preach the Word “in season and out of season.” If anything, he warns Timothy against taking the response of his hearers into too much consideration. This can hardly be described as a dialogue.

As I see it, the push for a more dialogical form of preaching is a redefinition of preaching as described in the Scriptures. This shift seems to go hand-in-hand with larger cultural movements against the idea of teaching authority and the very idea of an authoritative Word. The last thing modern evangelicalism needs is the substitution of congregational “dialogue” for biblical preaching. This plays into all of our modern temptations and, in the end, threatens to remove the authoritative Word from our midst.”

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