This article came to mind that I wrote 1 1/2 ago 7 Reasons I Think Pastors Should Preach Through the Bible. Now I’ve been exposed to all kinds of preaching. But the past several years I’ve been fortunate to be part of churches where the pastors thought preaching through books was really important. Here are my reasons;
1) It connects the narrative to the whole meta-narrative of Scripture.
2) It anchors the congregation in one theme of thought for an extended period of time.
3) It treats the Bible as it should be treated as the revelation of God and not a self-help manual for living.
4) It teaches people how to approach Scripture on their own.
5) It keeps the pastor from focusing on pet agendas.
6) It keeps the pastor grounded in their task to connect people to God’s word in ways that are interesting.
7) It confronts everyone with hard truths.
But here’s the thing about preaching through books of the Bible, it takes skill and training. This is something that is learned in seminary, how to preach faithful to the text in ways that reach your audience. Now that’s not a commentary on whether women should preach or not, so don’t go there. I’m often amazed when I hear pastors/preachers deride seminary as unnecessary as if they have actually been exposed to what seminary teaches. And yet just this training alone in preaching methodology is worth the price of admission for any pastor that dares to get in front of people and take responsibility for teaching them God’s truth.
Al Mohler posted an article recently, Falling on Deaf Ears? that talk about reducing the Bible into little niblets to capture people’s attention. Citing Mark Galli he says
Indeed, in many churches there is very little reading of the Bible in worship, and sermons are marked by attention to the congregation’s concerns, not by an adequate attention to the biblical text. The exposition of the Bible has given way to the concerns, real or perceived, of the listeners. The authority of the Bible is swallowed up in the imposed authority of congregational concerns.
I think he is right. Somehow, modern day preaching has capitulated to a minimalist approach that doesn’t want to overburden people. In the name of cultural relevance, the core of the text gets replaced with good principles and cute stories. But the tragedy of withholding the text, is that starving people are deprived of nourishing food they need. The art of preaching is not diminishing the text for fear of being boring or making sure that sermons are entertaining enough, but rather taking a substantial portion of the text and presenting it in an interesting way that compels repentance and worship.
Now I know, I can’t based all of Christianity on my experience, but I have found that such training does make a difference (although it is no guarantee as I have heard some wretched sermons from seminary grads). I can tell the difference in a sermon from one who has been trained and who has not. It’s not that pastors should not present large portions of text to their congregation, but the pastor unskilled and untrained in good methodology will most likely not do justice to the text.
Paul’s charge to Timothy is the same to pastors today, “preach the Word”. The word is not some sliced up Bible verses to focus on whatever principle is thought that people need to make their lives better. Rather, it is grounding them in the reality of who their life belongs to. Preaching the word means preaching Christ and connecting whatever book or theme found in Scripture to him because he is the central theme of Scripture.
On that note, I really enjoyed this article on theological preaching from Tony Carter on The Front Porch. He notes the significance of preaching theology aka, preaching the word and contrasts it to the opposite. He writes;
The bane of the pulpit today, and not only in African-American churches, is “a-theological” preaching. What I mean by “a-theological” preaching is this: weekly proclamation that is weakly presented because it is void of theological content. A-theological preaching tells you what God will do for you, but fails to tell you who God is. A-theological preaching tells you what God did for the preacher, but fails to clearly tell you what God has done in the finished work of Jesus Christ. A-theological preaching is driven by the emotion and personal reflections of the preacher and fueled by similar mundane sentiments from the congregation.
Amen! Theological preaching is found in preaching the text, explaining it and giving good food to a hungry congregation rather than throwing out disconnected morsels, which ultimately will not satisfy.
A couple of good books on the topic.