The Bones of Biblical Preaching (Guest Post)
Accuracy in preaching has never been more important than it is today. In the 800s, it mattered less if preachers thought the Bible taught the earth was the center of the universe. Everyone believed that. In the 1400s, it mattered less if preachers taught a flat earth. People believed their clergy more than university professors.
Today when we misinterpret Scripture or assert knowledge of God or his will that the Bible doesn’t teach, repercussions can be serious. A few years ago, I had the chance to witness to a young man who left the faith years earlier. He was a strip club bouncer. Knowing that I was a pastor, he asked me a number of Bible questions. My answers shocked him, because I was able to show him that the Bible didn’t teach much of the well-intentioned legalism that he grew up with. No fancy interpretations were necessary. No in-depth analysis was needed. Only the most well accepted, but neglected, principles of biblical interpretation.
What Does It Mean to Preach with Biblical Authority?
Preaching with biblical authority means that our sermons accurately proclaim and apply the timeless theological message of their biblical preaching texts. It has little to do with whether the sermon is verse-by-verse, topical, or otherwise. It is often called “expository preaching” or “biblical preaching.” The benefit of preaching with biblical authority is significant: it renders our message God’s message.
Preaching with biblical authority is rooted in the historic Christian belief that God is so different than us that the only reliable way to have knowledge of God or his will is through Scripture. Applied to the sermon, it’s the idea that unless the message we preach and the applications we give derive from the message of our preaching text(s), there is a good chance we’ve misrepresented God.
Preaching and Hermeneutics
Preaching with biblical authority has one fundamental problem: it requires preachers. That’s you and me. Keith Mathison once observed that no one “asserts that a Bible can enter a pulpit and preach itself. No one asserts that a Bible can read itself. Scripture cannot be interpreted or preached apart from some human agency.” Since preaching with biblical authority is an activity more than a belief, it requires more than a theoretical commitment. It must be put into practice. Despite his profound admiration for us preachers, Haddon Robinson admits that preaching with biblical authority “has suffered severely in the pulpits of those claiming to be its friends.”
To preach with biblical authority we must use sound hermeneutics. Hermeneutics is the thoughtful process of discovering what a biblical text was designed to teach those it was originally written to so that we can faithfully apply it to our lives today. It recognizes that careful thought is necessary to interpret and apply the Bible. Hermeneutics is necessary to overcome the temptation to too hastily equate our thoughts with God’s thoughts. When we preach without giving much thought to hermeneutics, we relegate the Bible to the status of a tool, a tool for us preachers to carry out our agenda—which always seems noble to us.
Keith A. Mathison, The Shape of Sola Scriptura (Moscow, ID: Canon, 2001), 259.
Haddon Robinson, Biblical Preaching: The Development and Delivery of Expository Messages, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2001), 21.