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Archive for the ‘Preaching’ Category

In two weeks I will enter my last semester at Criswell College. During this last semester I will be studying Preaching the Old Testament. I usually try to get a head up on things before the semester begins, so I have begun reading on the topic.

I have just finished a book that is not required for the course I am going to take (but probably should be) entitled, Preaching the Whole Bible as Christian Scripture by one of my favorite authors, Graeme Goldsworthy.

This is easily the best book on preaching I have every read. I enjoyed Bryan Chapell’s book and John Stott’s book very much, but the difference in approach is what makes the cake for me.

Instead of approaching preaching and sermon preparation in a scientific manner, we should approach it in a revelation-oriented, gospel-centered manner. The difference between a book like Chapell’s Christ-Centered Preaching or Jerry Vines’ Power in the Pulpit and Goldsworthy’s book is the former focuses on the professional sermon preparation process, while the latter focuses on correct interpretation and application. It may be that in most preaching books the cart is in front of the horse.

When we begin to teach men how to preach the gospel we want them to be able to interpret the Bible before they preach it, don’t we?

I am with Goldsworthy when he laments the fact that hermenuetics has been placed on the backburner during sermon preparation. His goal is to provide a way for the preacher, no matter how well-educated, to be able to prepare sermons and sermon series that exalt Christ and his gospel and also place each text preached in its biblical-historical context. This is a great combination and the beginning of keeping teachers and preachers from ignoring the Old Testament and its riches in their ministries.

Overall, the book is excellent and should be on the shelf with Chapell, Stott, Piper, Spurgeon and Robinson. These books complement each other and will bring a balanced and gospel-centered approach to preaching.

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In the first part of this study we discussed the three parts of a Christian sermon, the message, the response, and the exhortation. I alluded to the apostolic sermons in the book of Acts as the obvious solution to our problems in preaching. (To review click here.)

 

To provide a basis for this point I would like to review Peter’s sermon in Acts 2 as the outline for our preaching.

 

Many of you remember this famous story where the Holy Spirit comes upon the believers at Pentacost and flaming tongues rest on the heads of men as they speak in “other tongues.” This evangelistic gift reaches out to many Jews from “every nation under heaven” as they hear the tongue-speakers speaking in their own native languages. People all around them were amazed and asking, “What does this mean?” But, as always when something extraordinary happens, many began to mock and call them drunkards.

This is the backdrop for the first post-resurrection sermon.

1. The Message

Peter’s words begin with the explanation of this strange event. He explains that this is the fulfillment of the prophet Joel’s words that the day of the Lord has come and uses that explanation to reinforce the impact of the gospel.

This is Peter’s message:

  1. You crucified and killed Jesus.
  2. God raised him from the dead.
  3. Jesus has poured out his Spirit.
  4. Jesus is now Lord and Christ.

2. The Response

This message, the gospel, was so powerful that Peter did not need an altar call. The men came to the apostles and asked, “What should we do?” Their response was one of acceptance and humility. This response leads to Peter’s exhortation.

3. The Exhortation

“Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” Peter’s exhortation is what our exhortation should be every time we preach – “Repent from your sins and come to Jesus! He is the Son of God and no other.”

“And with many other words he continued to exhort them, saying, ‘Save yourself from this crooked generation.”

This model of preaching should be applied to our messages. In preparing our messages we should ask these questions:

  1. Where is the gospel in my message?
  2. How do I want my people to respond?
  3. What do I want my people to do?

These are the questions that will transform moralistic lessons into gospel-centered exhortations that your people will remember.

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 Typically, homileticians and those learning from them see preaching as a science or a mysterious code that must be cracked in order to communicate clearly what their people need to hear. “How can we preach in a way that is clear, concise, and contemporary?” is the question they ask in their alliterating minds. This isn’t necessarily the wrong question to ask, but is asked wrongly.

The majority of pastors, Sunday School teachers, and others who do any teaching from the Bible, are asking questions without first questioning where they are coming from. Consequently, most of the questions are beginning with the audience rather than the gospel. This leads to an imbalanced and ineffective sermon. We will soon get to that imbalanced part, but they are ineffective simply because they do not tap into the power source that is the gospel. There is no gospel transformation if you remove the gospel; what you create in people is self-transformation or deadly religion.

The solution to this problem is obvious from the New Testament sermons recorded in Acts. But, since we are dealing with very scientific and programmatic preachers and laypersons I think it might help to lay out a simple, and admittedly oversimplified, outline for sermon preparation that leads to gospel proclamation.

Now would be the perfect time to criticize and tear apart the old forms and practices of preaching, but I will leave that for someone else on another day. My purpose here is to try to be proactive instead of retroactive.

1. The Message

Preparing a sermon must firstly begin with an affirmation of the message that is to be preached. As Christian preachers we make our only message the gospel. Without the gospel we do not have Christian preaching but some sort of pyschological pep-talk with no real power to change lives.

The gospel is the message we preach. In my understanding of Scripture and its unity and theology I am forever convinced that the gospel is in every text of the Bible. With that assumption I believe and practice that in every sermon the gospel must be present. If you are preaching Obadiah or Leviticus 15 or 1 Corinthians 11, we must preach the gospel. This is the message that has brought, is bringing, and will bring us into the Kingdom of God. Why preach anything else?

When we leave the gospel behind in favor of personal, applicational talks we make the Bible into something it is not. The Bible is not primarily instruction; it is news. It is a message about Jesus and what he has done for us. The common misconception among American evangelicals is that we come to the Bible asking the question, “What am I supposed to do?” instead of asking the Father, “Please make me like him.” Speaking about topics like marriage, self-image, parenting, and taking a stand for what is right, without the gospel only supports this erroneous presupposition. We must preach the gospel!

I do understand that sometimes the desire to preach towards certain topics and issues, like the ones listed above, comes from pure motives. But this does not remove the damaging effects of depriving the hungry from the food of the gospel. If you want your people to change and you want God to move in your community preach the gospel.

When preparing your sermon begin with the message, which is the gospel. When you open to your text to begin your study ask yourself, “Where is the gospel?” and I promise you will be blessed.

2. The Response

The message you preach will require a response. The response is either ‘yes’ or ‘no’; it is either, “I believe” or, “That’s not for me.” Too many times when the gospel is preached pastors do not confront the consequences for both responses. We must talk about them in our sermons and display the glorious riches that are ours in Christ and the waiting condemnation given to those who do not believe.

This part of your sermon will be probably be the shortest, but the most crucial. The absence of this section will allow two things, 1) easy believism and 2) unbelievers will not be warned of the coming judgment.

3. The Exhortation

This part of a sermon could be called “application” or may even include “illustrations” but I prefer to call it exhortation because the word encompasses all that you are trying to do in your sermons: to call people to the gospel. The solution is the same for the sinner and the saint and we as preachers are called to proclaim the truth that will set them free from bondage.

This time for exhortation will also satisfy your desire to be relevant and simple. It also answers the question, “What am I supposed to do?” Your exhortation will always include a call to repentance and a call to faith. Again, these are for both the sinner and the saint. Your exhortation can also include timely illustrations and specific applications as long as they are anchored in and saturated by the gospel.

I believe that this simple outline for preaching will enable preachers to preach the gospel more frequently and with more power. That will lead to a people who are transformed by the gospel and compelled to proclaim that same gospel to their neighbors, community, and world.

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