by Bob Payne
One of the greatest and most sobering privileges in my life has been preaching the Word of God. Through the years I have done my best to bring biblical balance into my studies and my preaching. In the past few years, as I have talked to preachers and evangelists and have read various articles written by fundamentalists, I have become increasingly concerned that modern preaching (and sermon preparation) is becoming increasingly imbalanced. I see two unbiblical extremes in modern fundamentalism.
POOR PREPARATION, AND SHALLOW PREACHING
I have to admit that I don’t “get out much.” Most weeks I am in the pulpit of Emmanuel Baptist Church. However, on occasion I have had the opportunity to hear another pastor preach when I have been on vacation. At times it is a delight, and at other times it is disturbing. During one of those “disturbing” messages, I clearly recall the preacher’s completely taking a passage out of context and then using it as a springboard to communicate what he wanted to say. Clearly, this man spent very little time preparing before he entered the pulpit. Sadly, I am afraid this type of preaching goes on week after week in fundamental churches all across North America.
The call to preach is also the call to prepare before a man preaches. Although each man has a different skill level when it comes to sermon preparation, every preacher has the responsibility to use the skills that he has to diligently prepare for messages. The man in the pulpit needs to take pains to study the passages that he will be preaching each week using sound hermeneutical principles in order to proclaim God’s word, not man’s. Poor preparation leads to shallow, inaccurate preaching, and a flock that has a tendency to be “carried about with every wind of doctrine” (Eph. 4:14). There is no place for laziness in the ministry if the preacher is to show himself “approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.”
DILIGENT PREPARATION AND POOR HERMENEUTICS
There are other preachers whose problem is not laziness but hermeneutics. They do diligently prepare for messages. They are never accused of having shallow sermons. The problem with these men is not lack of study but faulty interpretation. These well-meaning men have fallen into at least four errors of Biblical interpretation:
1. The priority of grammar and exegesis over the total hermeneutical process. Although grammar and exegesis are vital to a proper interpretation of the Word of God, it must be remembered that they are only a part of the entire hermeneutical process. Doing a micro-analysis of a text without considering the context is folly. Jettisoning one’s systematic theology (which is based upon the broad context of the Bible’s teaching about a particular doctrine) is also equally foolish.
2. Human reasoning overrides biblical teaching. Some Bible expositors have developed a “cerebral” approach to the scriptures. Much less time is spent on the text, and much more time is spent on logical extrapolations from the text. In the end, the product is similar to those who do little to prepare for messages. “What God says” is replaced with “what I think.” This approach to the Word of God exalts man and leads to arrogance.
3. An excessive dependence on historical theology and interpretation. The focus of Bible interpretation needs to be on the text. Although many things can be learned from a historical study of a text or of a theological point in the text, the rightness or wrongness of an interpretation is not ultimately determined by who taught it or how long ago they lived. It is not true that if a teaching is old enough and the theologian teaching it is respected enough, the interpretation must be correct. Historical theology and interpretation should only be a minor part of the process of accurate Bible interpretation.
4. A tendency to read back what is true in the present dispensation into previous dispensations. Progressive revelation must always be considered as we study the Word of God. A failure to do so might easily lead to a misinterpretation and misapplication of the Word of God. What is normative in our dispensation of grace is not always something that was normative in former dispensations.
People today are thirsty for the unadulterated Word of God.
Modern preaching is in want of both diligent preparation and accurate interpretation. Those of us who preach and teach the Bible desperately need this biblical balance. By bringing this into our ministries, we will be a blessing to those under our preaching and will glorify the God whom we serve.
by Bob Payne