Our Philosophy of Preaching
This issue of The Column is the second half of a two-part examination of MacArthur Blvd’s philosophy of preaching. In part one, we defined text-driven preaching and explained the theology upon which it was built. In part two, we examine alternatives to text-driven preaching and look at why this topic is important for all Christians to consider.
What are the alternatives to text-driven preaching?
After reading part one, you may be wondering what other philosophies of preaching a churchgoer may encounter. Listed here are three alternatives to text-driven preaching. While some preachers may consciously choose one of these three alternatives over a text-driven approach, more often a preacher will resort to one of these philosophies without even realizing it.
Topical sermons are driven by a particular topic the preacher wants to address (e.g. Heaven, relationships, financial stewardship, etc.). At its best, topical preaching will survey what the totality of what Scripture says on a particular topic, examining individual passages within the context they were written. At its worst, the preacher’s own thoughts about a particular topic are preached and various biblical verses are used, often out of context, to proof-text his own ideas.
It should be noted that there are occasions within the life of a church when pastors may discern that a topical sermon series is needed. Topical sermon series, when done well and in a proper dosage, can be very helpful in addressing specific issues that arise within the life of a church. Even when pastors are preaching topically, they must work hard to allow God’s word to drive each sermon rather than using God’s word to validate their own preconceived ideas. God’s word must be used to shape the content that is being taught about a particular topic rather than being used as a launching pad from which the preacher engages in personal sermonettes.
A text-centered sermon is grounded within a single biblical text, and each point of the sermon is derived from the text, but the main idea of the sermon does not reflect the main idea of the text. For example, a preacher may walk through Ephesians 5:22-33 verse-by-verse and identify five keys to a healthy marriage, with each point coming directly from the passage, and yet still miss the overall point Paul is attempting to make within the passage (i.e. marriage exists to display the relationship between Christ and His Church). Many would even consider this type of sermon to be expositional since it walked through each verse of the passage sequentially. However, rather than being a text-driven sermon, this type of sermon is merely text-centered since the main point of the passage failed to drive the main point of the sermon.
A third alternative to text-driven preaching may be called, “Informational Preaching.” These are sermons that have as their goal merely to convey accurate information. For this type of preaching, orthodoxy and depth are the determining factors for whether or not the message was successful. The mindset for this type of preaching is that the preacher’s job is merely to present the facts, allowing the people to do with them what they will.
What is wrong with this philosophy? It mistakenly believes that the goal of preaching is information rather than transformation. Is orthodox teaching and accurate information essential for faithful preaching? Of course! However, information is a means to an end, rather than being the ultimate goal. We don’t want people merely to leave the sermon smarter; we want them to leave looking more like Jesus. Therefore, biblical application and exhortation are essential to biblical preaching. The preacher’s responsibility is not only to present the truths of the passage, but it is also to demonstrate how the text applies to the peoples’ lives and to call them to respond with obedience.
Oftentimes, those who engage in informational preaching consider application and a call to respond the job of the Holy Spirit only rather than the preacher. A text-driven preacher, however, understands that the Spirit of God works through the proclamation of a biblical preacher to call people to respond to God’s word. A text-driven sermon has transformation as its goal and always includes a call to respond to the word of God.
Why does this matter to me?
Possessing a philosophy of preaching is important not only for preachers themselves, but for anyone who listens to preaching. Here are two reasons every church member should think carefully about a philosophy of preaching.
1. You need to sit under good preaching.
A regular diet of God’s word is required for the spiritual growth of you and your family. One of the primary ways God wants us to receive the word is through preaching within the local church. The challenge that Christians face in 21st century America is that there is an endless array of preachers to choose from, and not every preacher allows God’s word to drive his preaching ministry. As a result, Christians must exercise discretion when determining the preaching they will sit under. If Christians do not have a thoughtful philosophy of preaching, then they are likely to choose preachers based upon more superficial, stylistic factors. Whether a person is attracted to styles that are trendy and conversational or to styles that are traditional and formal, the way we evaluate preaching should be based on a philosophy of preaching that runs deeper than stylistic concerns. Christians should seek out good preaching with a discerning mind, refusing to be ultimately swayed by stylistic preferences, and commit themselves to sit under those who genuinely preach the word.
2. You need to be a ‘text-driven listener.’
Your philosophy of preaching will shape how you listen to preaching. For example, if you embrace a topical preaching philosophy—thinking that good preaching is the ability to address the practical topics you deal with each day— then you will likely listen to preaching the same way you listen to a self-help book. You will begin to listen to preaching merely for how-to advice on various topics rather than listening for the substance of the text being preached. Rather than let God’s word set the agenda, determining how you should live, you will subconsciously be setting the agenda yourself, determining what is important advice to hold onto within the sermon.
For those who embrace an informational preaching philosophy, you will approach a sermon no differently than you approach a seminar at a university. Your goal in listening will be merely to gain new knowledge rather than to be transformed into Christ-likeness. You will listen with your mind engaged, but not your heart.
Being a text-driven listener, however, means that you are listening for the central meaning of the passage, receiving it as God’s word, and aligning your life under its direction. It means rather than coming to the sermon with your own agenda and set of expectations, you come with a posture of humility, allowing the text to set the agenda, being ready to submit to what it says.
Whether you realize it or not, the way you think about preaching will greatly influence the way you listen to preaching. Therefore, make sure you have thought carefully and biblically about preaching.