This unique type of preaching is the interpretation and communication of a text of Scripture driven by the substance, structure, and spirit of the text. It's not the presentation of a sermon, but the re-presentation of a text of a Scripture. For those who don’t feel trained for text-driven preaching, whose preaching template is tired and predictable, or need a preaching restart, Preaching for the Rest of Us provides a compelling reason and method for preaching texts of Scripture.
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A Theology of Text-Driven Preaching
There is no shortage of good arguments for preaching in an expository, text-driven way. Perhaps the most significant argument stems from the nature of the Word itself. If we believe Scripture contains the very words of God and that both God and what He speaks are perfect, then anything we do that hinders our presenting Scripture is a tragedy. While the nature of the Word is the primary factor that compels expositional preaching, the nature of the preacher's call and the nature of the church also lend support to this methodology. These three arguments for text-driven preaching may be summarized as follows:
1. The Nature of the Word: We are called to preach Christ, and Christ is revealed in the Word.
2. The Nature of the Call: Preaching the text is working out our own call to ministry by crucifying our personal agendas so others might live, and thus living according to Christ's example.
3. The Nature of the Church: The Word of God sanctifies the church.
After we deal with these three axioms, we will deal with the nature of text-driven preaching.
The Nature of the Word: We Are Called to Preach Christ, and Christ Is Revealed in the Word
Nothing is clearer from the biblical witness than that the apostles were consumed with preaching Christ. He, and He alone, was their message. Notice in a few sample texts how simple the apostles' message was:
[Peter and John] were teaching the people andproclaiming in Jesus the resurrection of the dead. (Acts 4:1–2)
Every day in the temple, and in various homes, they continued teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Messiah. (Acts 5:42)
Some of them ... began speaking to the Greeks also, proclaiming the good news about the Lord Jesus. (Acts 11:20)
"This Jesus I am proclaiming to you is the Messiah." (Acts 17:3)
"But we preach Christ ..." (1 Cor 1:23)
"For we are not proclaiming ourselves but Jesus Christ as Lord." (2 Cor 4:5)
"God ... was pleased to reveal his Son in me,so that I could preach him ..." (Gal 1:16)
Luke references the preaching of Christ interchangeably with the preaching of the Word (see Acts 8:4; 13:3). To the biblical authors, preaching Christ meant preaching the message of His death, burial, and resurrection, and all it implies. To say we "preach Jesus" implies both proclamation and explanation. We are proclaiming Christ and saying about Him what God has said about Him.
The first preachers were making a massive theological claim when they preached that Jesus was "the Messiah," or, the Christ (Acts 5:42). The significance of this cannot be overstated. We must remember that for hundreds of years, the Jews had been looking for their promised Messiah. They expected a warrior like David to liberate them from bondage, to restore Israel to the kingdom it once was. Yet Scripture spoke of a suffering Messiah (Isa 52:13–53:12). Paul made this clear in 1 Cor 15:1–4:
Now I want to make clear for you, brothers and sisters, the gospel I preached to you, which you received, on which you have taken your stand and by which you are being saved, if you hold to the message I preached to you — unless you believed in vain. For I passed on to you as most important what I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.
Paul's point here was that Christ's actions had been prophesied in the Old Testament. Therefore, Paul argued, Jesus must be the Christ because His life fit the prophesied pattern. We also see in Acts 5:42 and 17:3 that the first Christians were Jews trying to make this connection as they preached. Jesus was, and is, the Christ.
The passage just referenced in 1 Corinthians, in addition to announcing Jesus as Messiah, also functions in another way: it interprets Old Testament texts. Since Paul believed the Old Testament revelation of Christ validated the New Testament appearance of Christ, he did what Jesus had done during His time on earth: he opened the Old Testament and explained its teaching about Christ.
We have an odd tendency to reverse this in our preaching. We stick to the New Testament and disregard the majority of our Bibles. Often, the reasoning for such a practice is that the Old Testament is strange and foreign, separated from us by years and continents and history. However, did you ever stop to think that when the apostles were "preaching Jesus" they were interpreting the Old Testament?
We can't love Jesus without a practical love of God's Word. Additionally, we won't be able to fully appreciate the New Testament until we understand the Old Testament. The Bible is God's chosen means to help us comprehend Christ, and Christ is the One who helps us understand the Bible. These two ideas are crucial if we are to preach in a way that honors Him.
Scripture Reveals Christ
It is clear the New Testament is about Christ. The first four books reveal His actions, the book of Acts reveals the work of His church immediately after His ascension, the Epistles outline how He leads His church, and the New Testament concludes with Christ revealed.
However, the New Testament is not merely about Christ; Christ inspired it (2 Tim 3:16) and prepared His disciples to receive it. In John 16:12, Jesus said to His disciples, "I still have many things to tell you, but you can't bear them now." What were these things He would later say? They were the books of Romans through Revelation: the rest of the New Testament. The Scriptures that were not spoken directly from the mouth of Jesus during His earthly ministry are still His words. The New Testament is the early church working out Christ's teaching.
In John 16, Jesus made another remarkable statement. He said that by the authority of Christ, the Holy Spirit would reveal truth to the church: "When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth. For he will not speak on his own, but he will speak whatever he hears. He will also declare to you what is to come. He will glorify me, because he will take from what is mine and declare it to you" (vv. 13–14).
Here we learn that Jesus is the mind behind the New Testament. And since He ascended to heaven before the New Testament was written, the Holy Spirit revealed these things and, in so doing, glorified Jesus. The Bible is Jesus teaching us about Jesus. Every time we open the pages of Scripture and read, the Holy Spirit speaks to us what Jesus would tell us if He were physically with us. Scripture is a living Word, which exhales the very presence of Christ. It gives glory to Christ. Christ is the Word, and there is no knowledge of Him without the inscripturated Word.
Remarkably, preaching is an act that involves the entire Trinity. As we explain the Word of God, the Holy Spirit draws attention to Jesus, who always gives glory to the Father. This realization is breathtaking in its simplicity and electrifying in its reality. Imagine it: a triune God, working through a preacher who is redeemed by His blood and conformed to the image of His Son, delivering His Word to bring Himself glory. You might want to stop here and praise Him. This reality is hardly comprehensible.
Ultimately, the New Testament is inspired by Christ, it is given to us through Christ, and it is written to draw attention to Christ as He is glorified in us.
But preaching Christ from the New Testament is the easier part of our task, because Christ's name is literally written all over the 27 books. It may seem a bit surprising, especially for a twenty-first-century Christian, that the entirety of the Old Testament is about Him as well.
Scripture Reveals Christ in the Old Testament
To say that we can see Christ in the Old Testament is not to suggest Jesus is embedded either physically or figuratively in every Old Testament narrative, law, poem, and prophecy. The Old Testament is, instead, a narrative that meanders through time and continents, pointing always toward its climax: the New Testament's revelation of Jesus, the Messiah, who redeems His bride and defeats His enemies. The Old Testament is a prelude to a Person. It leads us to the fulfillment of God's promises in Christ.
Consider Luke 24:27. When walking with two of His disciples, Jesus began with "Moses, and all the Prophets," and He "interpreted for them the things concerning himself in all the Scriptures." This is a remarkable passage because those disciples saw for the first time the hermeneutic of God. God did not just tweak their thoughts. He taught them a whole new way to read the Old Testament. It was — and is — to be understood as an introduction. A prelude. A book intended to whet the appetite for things yet to come.
When Jesus explained to those disciples how to read the Old Testament, it revolutionized the way His followers thought. We see the result of their expositional study of the Old Testament in the very first Christian sermon, when Peter stood up and explained Jesus from three Old Testament texts: Joel 2, Psalm 16, and Psalm 110. We can only assume that after hearing Jesus explain Himself from the Old Testament, the disciples' newfound hermeneutic gave them a new way of preaching. They had personally experienced Him but were still preaching Christ from the Old Testament!
The point is clear: All Scripture has a storyline we might call "salvation history." Salvation history has its apex in the incarnation, death, and resurrection of Christ and its consummation in the book of Revelation when God makes all things right.
As we read the Bible, Jesus, the Word incarnate, teaches us about Himself. If we skip around the Bible, gleaning snippets of truth here and there without ever grasping the big picture, we will never understand what Jesus wants us to know about Himself. This truth is both scary and tragic.
One rebuttal to an expositional method of preaching may come from a preacher who says he "just preaches Jesus" rather than delving into the nuances of specific Scripture passages. But how do we know who Jesus is apart from Scripture? If we do not know Scripture, then we really do not know Jesus — if you do not know the Word of God, you cannot know the God of the Word. We must not mistake a call to healthy simplicity for a misguided call to simplemindedness. If someone is proclaiming Christ without explaining Scripture, then where are they getting their picture of Christ? The vision of Christ that is presented must be reinvented from a source besides Scripture. In other words, if we don't learn who Christ is from Scripture, where else will we learn who Christ is? Aberrant theology grows when a pulpit is not seeding the Word. On the other hand, explaining Scripture is the God-ordained means to produce spiritual fruit (Matt 13:23).
To preach Jesus without preaching Scripture is to preach a Jesus we do not know. If Scripture is the means God chose to reveal Himself, then the message of Christ is only significant if it is tethered to the Scriptures. To say that we love Jesus but not the Bible is an exercise in self-delusion. If it were not for Scripture, we would never know that Jesus:
is the great Shepherd over His sheep (Heb 13:20)
hates when people twist Scripture (Luke 16:16–17)
brings a truth that will divide families (Luke 12:49–53)
seeks sinners (Luke 15–16)
asks complete allegiance from His followers (Luke 9:23–27, 57–62)
wants to spend time with us (Luke 10:38–41)
calls us to pray boldly (Luke 11:5–13)
Without the Scriptures, you cannot understand who Christ is in the meaningful way God intended.
We are called to preach the message of Christ. To do so, we must understand what that message is. Not one person has ever become a Christian without hearing the Word of God — for how can they believe in Him of whom they have not heard (see Rom 10:14)? Beyond this, there is no meaningful growth in Christ without Scripture, for it is the very Word of God. Preaching that facilitates godly growth is preaching that takes care to explain Scripture. We preach the Bible because the Bible reveals Christ.
The Nature of the Call: Christ Calls Us to Die So Others Might Live
Preachers often struggle with self-perception. Are we to be like Billy Graham, calling masses to immediate response? Are we to be psychologists, working people through their personal problems? Are we simply to be communicators, trying to get ideas into our congregants' minds? Are we to be personifications of trendiness to show that God is relevant?
The internal struggle for pastoral identity has more to do with theology than it does cultural shifts. Consider how the apostle Paul described his identity as a preacher in 2 Cor 4:7–12:
Now we have this treasure in clay jars, so that this extraordinary power may be from God and not from us. We are afflicted in every way but not crushed; we are perplexed but not in despair; we are persecuted but not abandoned; we are struck down but not destroyed. We always carry the death of Jesus in our body, so that the life of Jesus may also be displayed in our body. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus's sake, so that Jesus's life may also be displayed in our mortal flesh. So then, death is at work in us, but life in you.
Paul's ambition was the Corinthians' spiritual health. To effect their growth he knew he must die to his own agenda and extend Christ to them. Knowing that preaching is dying to self so others might live curtails a preacher's inclination to please people or seek self-fulfillment. Many preachers' perpetual image management may be direr than it appears on the surface. We suspect it belies an insecurity that actually repels the unredeemed.
Christ died for us. We die for the people. This is our identity without reservation or hesitation. There is no unexposed corner to which we can retreat. Our will is lost in Christ's. The preacher of Christ is nothing but a tool that Christ uses to bring about His plans. We cannot save people, but we can labor — and suffer — for their sanctification. So, we surrender our wills to the One who surrendered His life to the Father. Through His death, people live. Through His suffering, congregations heal.
When we surrender our lives to the One who surrendered His life for us, we join Him in death and suffering — death to selfish ambition and the suffering that accompanies that path. Christ's death wasn't painless; it was a crucifixion. Neither will the preacher's death to self be painless. The crucified preacher is the template by which all preaching should be measured. Some may use the pulpit as a place to illustrate what great preachers they are, to work out personal angst, to push a political agenda, or simply to vent. However, to use the pulpit in such a way is to treat it as a platform. But it's not a platform. It's a cross. Therefore, the best metaphor for preaching the gospel is the gospel itself: We are dead to self and raised to life in Christ, preaching a message of death to life in Christ so others might live.
Preaching can be a platform to dispense advice, a venue to help people with marital or financial problems, or an activity to arouse public opinion or engage the culture. While sermons can be used to do these things, if these things become their purpose, we have missed the function of the pulpit: to dispense the Word of God. Using the pulpit for these activities alone demonstrates a misunderstanding of how God's Word functions in the life of the believer and the church. Therefore, we must next explain how the Word is to function in the life of the church.
The Nature of the Church: The Word of God Sanctifies the Believer
Water is powerful. A docile lake or a peaceful ocean may seem tranquil and harmless, but if we unleash a dam or allow a river to run over its banks, we witness the raw power of water. The Word of God is equally powerful — a mighty, rushing river. Though, like water, it appears tranquil at times, we are tempted to view the Word as a book that is kind and gentle. Approaching it as little more than a self-help manual is to overlook its raw, unfathomable power.
Our ambition is not to dip into the Word and sprinkle people with doses of truth. Rather, we want to unleash the dam by fully immersing people in the Word of God. One reason we preach Scripture is because God designed it to be the means by which He sanctifies His people. Let's briefly look at three truths about the Word of God.
1. The function of the Word of God in the lives of believers is to conform them to Christ's image. In John 15:1–3, Jesus tells His disciples, "I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. Every branch in me that does not produce fruit he removes, and he prunes every branch that produces fruit so that it will produce more fruit. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you."
2. Here we see a unique function of the words of Christ: they perform a verbal pruning. Hearing and obeying the words of Christ requires acknowledging where we fall short of God's expectations and allowing Him to cut out harmful behaviors and attitudes. When we preach, we should be preaching Scripture, because Scripture alone has power to shape a person into the image of Christ and make him or her more effective at producing spiritual fruit.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Preaching for the Rest of Us"
Copyright © 2018 Robby Gallaty and Steven Smith.
Excerpted by permission of B&H Publishing Group.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Preface: Leading a Text-Driven Life,
Chapter 1 A Theology of Text-Driven Preaching,
Chapter 2 What Is Text-Driven Preaching?,
Chapter 3 The Frame of the Text: Understanding the Internal Structure,
Chapter 4 Exegesis of the Text,
Chapter 5 The External Frame: Understanding the Text's Place in Scripture,
Chapter 6 Translation,
Chapter 7 Explanation,
Chapter 8 Exhortation,
Chapter 9 Conclusions,
Chapter 10 Introductions,
Chapter 11 Thoughts on Delivery,
Chapter 12 Calling for Response,
1. Sermon Analysis Tool,
2. Recommended Next Steps,
4. Discussion Questions,