Preaching in the Church -- continued
In my previous post, I examined a good portion of a sermon given by Dr. Steve Lawson at the Shepherds Conference, as live-blogged by Tim Challies. I dealt with some of what I consider to be misapplications of Nehemiah 8 with relation to the modern practice of preaching. Some very interesting discussion took place in the comments of that post, and I encourage you to read the post and all the comments, if you haven't done so already.
Today, I want to touch briefly on the remainder of Dr. Lawson's points in preparation for moving on to a more general discussion of preaching and teaching. I apologize that it's taking as long as it is to get through this. Lately, I've been spending time interacting with Steve Camp on his blog with regard to the Reformed doctrine of the "active" and "passive" obedience of Jesus Christ vis-à-vis the righteousness that is imputed to us. It's been an interesting discussion, and I must commend Steve for his graciousness in dealing with my "nitpicking"! The whole discussion reminds me of a post I wrote last August called "Whisper Down the Lane" Theology about our tendency as believers to believe what a "trusted source" tells us about Scripture, rather than searching the Scriptures ourselves. And in a way, it relates to this topic of preaching.
There were some comments in the discussion on the last post with regard to "pew-sitters". Those of you who know me, and who have been reading here, probably understand that I am very passionately against "passive Christians". I do understand that there are some who sit under a pastor's teaching who do diligently check the Word for themselves. It can happen, and I don't want to give the impression that I don't think it ever does happen. However, and this is the point that I feel cannot be emphasized enough, we cannot overlook the fact that the very nature of our institutionalized "church" experience fosters passivity. Diligent Berean searching continues to be the exception, rather than the rule. Additionally, with a rather disturbing predictability, most who discover something in their Berean searching that causes them to question the doctrine being taught are treated badly as a result.
We do not see in the New Testament a pattern of "passive" listening and accepting. We see, rather, a pattern of active participation by the members of the Body and instructions to that effect. Certainly, we should respect those who are elders (by definition, those who have earned that respect by their diligent faithfulness to the Word and to the Lord) and their words should carry more weight with us. But I can find no evidence in the New Testament where believers were exhorted to receive without question the teachings that were being presented. Why else would the Bereans be spoken of so positively?
So, having said all that, to wrap up my response to Dr. Lawson's sermon, I will pick up where I left off. Last time, I shared the three major points of Dr. Lawson's sermon, and dealt with the first one and part of the second. The second point (characteristics of biblical preaching), had five subpoints, of which I dealt with three. Picking up, then, with the fourth point, I will use the same format as last time, where Tim Challies' words are in italics, and my response is in plain text.
- A God-exalting thrust: Ezra blessed the Lord and there was an unveiling of the Word of God. We are to be exaltational expositors. Ezra blessed the Lord and the people cried out "Amen!" bowing low before God. Expositional preaching should be elevating God and lowering man. The more you lower God and raise man, you are trivializing the grace of God. But when God is put in His rightful place, you are magnifying the grace of God.
This point has much more weight with regard to the entire Christian life than just to preaching. Paul tells us in Colossians 3:17, "And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him." Anything that we do, anything that we say, should be with the intent of God being glorified. I love the words of John the Baptist when he said about Jesus, "He must become greater; I must become less." Should this not be the focus of every believer?
- An [sic] precise explanation: Until you have given the true meaning of the text, you have not given the text. Christianity is concerned primarily with the mind, not with feelings or relationships, as important as those may be. It is all about truth - God’s objective revelation interpreted rationally. A pastor explains the text and gives the author’s intent for that text. He explains the text, exhorts with it, and moves on to the next text.
I don't know if Dr. Lawson gave any support for his statement that "Christianity is concerned primarily with the mind, not with feelings or relationships" when he presented this sermon, but none is given here. I have to say that I'm not sure I agree with this statement. Jesus told us that the greatest commandment was to love God with all our heart, soul, and mind. I'm not sure that one can extract from that commandment that any of those is of greater importance than the others. Much is said in the New Testament about relationships as they relate to Christianity. (For example, what does it mean to be "in Christ", if not to be in a relationship with Him? See John 15:1-17.) Christianity is not merely an intellectual exercise. To imply that there is a divide between our minds and our relationships is a bit difficult to defend, in my opinion.
Again, however, that point being put aside, we have here the emphasis on "the pastor" being the one to explain the text, give the author's intent, etc. As I pointed out in the last post, Ezra was not actually the one explaining the text anyway. It was a group of thirteen other men who explained what Ezra read aloud. That may seem like a nitpick, but I think it's a significant point that we should not overlook.
There also is a bit of danger in the term "true meaning". I may be overshooting here, but this gives an impression to me that we can't read the text for what it says, but rather have to make sure we find the "true meaning" behind the text. Now to be fair, I don't believe that Dr. Lawson is here encouraging a liberal interpretation of Scripture that reads everything as metaphoric and allegorical. But we have the subtle implication, once again, that the pastor will be able to share the "true meaning" with the passive laity, who must come to the pastor (see my comments in the last post about the idea of crying out "Bring me the book", which I have since found out was the title of this sermon by Dr. Lawson) and ask for the interpretation.
With that, I will end my critique of Dr. Lawson's sermon. I mentioned in the comments of the last post that I had emailed Dr. Lawson and given him the opportunity to correct my understanding or submit a rebuttal. As of the writing of this post, I have not received anything from Dr. Lawson in reply. However, if he does reply, I will be sure and post his response publicly so that it can get just as much visibility as my critique.
I must say, however, that this is not anything personal against Dr. Lawson. Frankly, I don't even know Dr. Lawson. I've never heard him preach, and here I'm only going on what Tim Challies chose to type as he listened. But the topic itself was one which I was already addressing, and this gave a rather straightforward way of presenting the rationalization that is commonly given for "biblical preaching" in our churches today.
Next time, I hope to get further into the distinction between various words translated as "preach" and explore some theories with regard to the difference between preaching and teaching. But for now, I toss it back to you, my dear readers. What are your thoughts?
Until next time,