Monday, February 22, 2010

What is Biblical Preaching?

In conservative Christian circles it is typically popular and desirable to say, "My church really believes in biblical preaching/teaching" or, "my Pastor is really committed to biblical preaching". Like so many other fine sounding acclamations it depends on what is meant by "biblical preaching". And unfortunately, I am persuaded that many Christians don't know what true biblical preaching really is. Many THINK their churches or Pastors are pursuing biblical teaching and preaching when in fact they are not.

Often in the course of defining something it is helpful to first define what it is NOT. I think such is the case here. 1) Biblical teaching/preaching is not simply teaching or preaching about a topic that is also covered by the Bible. One can cover the topic of adultery for instance in a very UNbiblical fashion - both in message and method! 2) Biblical teaching/preaching is not simply teaching or preaching in which a biblical passage is referenced or read. It is quite common that someone references or reads a biblical passage and then proceeds to teach or preach something quite different than what the biblical passage communicated. This might happen for instance when someone reads Romans 1:18-32 and then departs on a message about the social evils of homosexuality. OR, some might preach about how that passage doesn't refer to homosexuality at all and thus homosexuality is OK! Neither message would be truly biblical as far as it relates to the main message of Romans 1:18-32. 3) Biblical teaching/preaching is not simply teaching or preaching a specific biblical text EVEN if that teaching or preaching explains that specific text properly. How can this be? Let's use 1 John 4:8 for example. Someone can preach that passage and explain the wonders of the truth that God is love...and that's what the passage says! But John wrote five complete chapters worth of doctrine in the letter we call 1 John. If we take 1 John 4:8 out of the context of the entire letter of 1 John and/or out of the larger context of the whole Bible, we will communicate an unbiblical message. Of course one could argue that in such a case 1 John 4:8 was not properly interpreted...and one would be right!

So if someone can teach or preach about biblical topics, teach or preach about Bible passages, even teach or preach so as to "correctly" explain a specific biblical passage but STILL not be teaching or preaching biblically...what does it mean to be truly biblical in regards to teaching and preaching? First, note how subtle this can be and difficult to discern. This absolutely calls for the discernment of the Spirit and for God's people to be diligent when reading/listening to teaching or preaching that purports to be biblical. Properly reading and listening to the word of God or to the teaching and preaching of the word is a worship and spiritual experience. We must pray for discernment and enlightenment so that we are edified and not deceived. As scripture itself teaches, " not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God..." (1 John 4:1). Secondly, biblical teaching and preaching must be FAITHFUL to the original meaning and intent of the specific biblical text. I will unpack this last sentence in two parts. 1) To be truly biblical, teaching and preaching must be faithful to the ORIGINAL meaning and intent. This is critical. Evangelical Christians believe scripture is the fully and verbally inspired, infallible word of God. If so, then the very words as they were originally communicated had an intended meaning at that time. It may be somewhat difficult for us today to get back to that original meaning but it is absolutely imperative that we do because that is when and how God spoke! God is NOT speaking in the same way now through other writers or preachers. He spoke finally and ultimately through His Son Jesus Christ (Heb 1:1-2) and the New Testament scriptures, being the direct witness to the Son, are included in that final speaking. So we must honor God's speaking, His word, by being faithful to the original meaning and intent of His very words. 2) To be truly biblical, teaching and preaching must be the specific biblical text. Although true biblical teaching or preaching can be topical it must also be exegetical or expository. Both "exegetical" and "expository" basically mean that the teaching or preaching is explanatory in nature. The PURPOSE of true biblical teaching and preaching is to EXPLAIN the meaning of the biblical text. Therefore to qualify as truly biblical, teaching and preaching MUST explain the original meaning and intent of the biblical text.

An example may help to clarify the difference. I already stated that if one were to read or reference Romans 1:18-32 and then proceed to teach and preach about how homosexuality was harmful to society (or not) it would not be biblical. I said that because Romans 1:18-32 most certainly does condemn homosexuality but it does NOT speak to the social harm derived from homosexuality. Perhaps the reference to "received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion" is a reference to some consequence that is social in nature and certainly all the wicked behaviors have social consequences but the point of the passage is not the social consequences. The one preacher who embarks on a sermon condemning homosexuality and denouncing its ill effects on society is not explaining the text and not being faithful to its original meaning and intent. The other preacher who embarks on a sermon trying to explain how this passage really doesn't condemn homosexuality completely misses the original meaning and intent as well and thus is also not biblical. Is one preacher "better" than the other in this example? Yes! At least the one preacher gets it right that Romans 1:18-32 condemns homosexuality and there certainly are terrible social consequences from it. However, his sermon is not biblical in the truest sense because he is using a passage to support his sermon about the social ills of homosexuality and that is NOT what Romans 1:18-32 is really about.

So what is Romans 1:18-32 about? I do not wish to take the enormous time and space to fully explain Romans 1:18-32 and support my interpretation. So I will give a brief summation and defense. In a nutshell Romans 1:18-32 explains how all of mankind is guilty of robbing God of His glory and is therefore rightfully under His wrath. The passage functions for Paul as a foundation or defense for his assertions in Romans 1:16-17. Therefore it plays a HUGE role in properly understanding the gospel and God's purposes in devising a plan of salvation in the manner that He did. It really isn't about homosexuality or any other specific sin. Sin and individual sins are expressions of human beings refusing to acknowledge God and give Him glory. God's glory is the truth they suppress (Rom 1:18b) because the truth is plain (1:19) being clearly seen through creation (1:20) so they have no excuse (1:20b) for not glorifying Him and thanking Him (1:21).  Homosexuality and all sin has tremendous and terrible consequences for society for sure.  It would not be inappropriate to point this out in a biblical sermon as long as it is done in the setting of and consistent with the actual meaning of the biblical text.

Properly interpreting and preaching Romans 1:18-32 makes a HUGE difference in how we understand and see things. Primarily it helps us to see that it really is all about Him! Living for God's glory is the goal. When we don't, we are sinning and rightfully under His wrath. It also enables us to understand the correct meaning of Romans 3:23. "All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" doesn't primarily mean we fail to stack up to God's perfect moral standard - although that is certainly true. In the context of Paul's thought in Romans (as first explained in 1:18-32) it means that we do not and cannot live in such a way as to properly glorify God. We don't give Him the credit or thanks due Him. Instead, we suppress the truth of His glory through our thoughts, words, and deeds.  We try to rob God of His glory and THAT is a vile and wicked rebellion that deserves His holy wrath.

So, if one is going to teach and preach biblically it must be faithful and true to the original meaning and intent that God communicated through the writer. And here is the wonderful, mysterious, and beautiful thing: Preachers need not worry about contemporary relevance, seeker sensitivities, techniques such as humor and multi-media, IF they trust God's word in Romans 1:16. For God's word, and the Gospel in particular, truly is the power of God unto salvation. Preachers, programs, and techniques have no power to save. Preach the season and out!  Trust God for the results...and He will be glorified!

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