Thursday, June 15, 2006

Rhetoric and reality- applauding vs. applying

I am currently deriving much benefit and pleasure (not mutually exclusive categories by any means!) from reading essays by C. S. Lewis collected in On Stories and Other Essays on Literature. I hope to write several things arising from reflections on this book. Here though I want to focus on a line from Lewis found in a transcript of a conversation held between him and two author friends. Along the way Lewis brought up the point that a certain person demanded ‘moral earnestness’ but Lewis himself preferred ‘morality.’ He explained:
“I’d sooner live among people who don’t cheat at cards than among people who are earnest about not cheating at cards.”
His response brought appropriate laughter. Indeed we know of situations where people substitute earnestness for something for actually doing that thing. What good is it to say you really care about being honest if in fact you are not honest.

This point, ready for many helpful applications, reminded me of a phenomenon I observed at the SBC. There was great earnestness about ‘expository preaching.’ Quite often expository preaching was extolled and encouraged; and each time such statements were met with enthusiastic applause. However, we rarely if ever saw any example of expository preaching actually being done. I fear we are those who are earnest about expository preaching but not those who are actually doing it. I for one would certainly rather have a pastor who preaches expositionaly than one who was simply earnest about it.

Brothers, it will not do simply to extol expository preaching. We must actually do it. Taking up a certain verse, even verses in order though a book does not itself insure expositional preaching. We must approach a text asking what the text itself (as written by the author) intends to say and we must then apply that message to our people. We simply may not take texts to say what we desire to say- no matter how orthodox the statements we desire to make. Truly expositional preaching is rooted in the idea that in Scripture God speaks inerrantly. Thus, what matters is what the text itself says. Who cares what sort of creative thing you might be able to come up with! It is practical nonsense to extol inerrancy and then ignore what a passage says in context for what you want it to say. Inerrancy becomes irrelevant when the message is more dependent on the preacher’s ideas than the text itself- for the preacher himself is not inerrant! No, we must preach the text and not creative concoctions, dreams, rhetorical flourishes or anything else. Let us not merely be earnest about expository preaching but let us do it.

For more on true expositional preaching see especially this interview with Phillip Jensen, and these other articles from 9 Marks Ministries.


Adam said...

I know what you mean, Dr. Van Neste.

Why do you think an earnest pastor can preach about expository preaching without actually preaching expositorily (spellcheck?)?

Do you think that sometimes a pastor may believe that his folk needs to hear a certain message, and he unconsciously convinces himself that a tangent "point" actually follows from the text?

Ryan Hill said...

Dr. Van Neste,

Just to clarify, would you still call it expository preaching if a pastor were to survey what the Scriptures teach about a particular theme, like what a systematic theology book does? For instance, if a pastor wanted to teach about God's mercy and didn't focus on a particular text but highlighted different texts throughout the Scripture that teach about or show God's mercy, would you still consider this appropriate to do from the pulpit on Sunday morning or at the Pastor's Conference of the SBC or in a chapel service at Union?

Thanks for all the great posts!

Shep Shepherd said...

Dr. Van Neste,

I am thoroughly enjoying your Old Testament Survey class. I also understand the purpose & necessity of true exegesis of Scripture. I have a few questions though, and maybe I only misunderstood you.

1) Are you saying that expository preaching is the only way to preach that does give proper respect to Scripture? Or just the best way?

2) What about systematic defenses of doctrine? For example, if I were to write a piece on the five points of Calvinism, I would need more than just one passage to suficiently defend my position. I could just give one passage, but people would not accept it because it would seem like I could only find one part of Scripture to support my idea. Can we not teach expositorily from several passages in one sermon/lecture/lesson, just to prove a point that we know comes from all of those passages?

I agree, pastors should not necessarily start out with an idea and then go out to find and twist some Scriptures to support it. You are definately right about that. I've heard pastors teach from certain passages and pull out things that just aren't there. However, if the pastors already know from their own study that certain Scriptures support an idea, then could they not teach expositorily from all of those without compromising the Scripture's meaning?

Just some questions for clarification, that is all. I am glad that I found your blog - I added a link to it from my blog. Hope you don't mind.

Again, I am enjoying your class and learning a lot from it.

God be with you and your family,

Albert Shepherd
The Aspiring Theologian

Steve Weaver said...

Good analysis, Ray! Blessings to you and your ministry.

Brett said...

Right on, Ray! Great minds think alike. Or, in our case, I occasionally get it right and see things the way you do! In my comments about the convention, I wrote, "Expository preaching is clearly the preferred approach to preaching in the SBC. Praise God. It's the only legitimate approach for inerrancy. However, I'm not sure everyone understands what true expository preaching is, as evidenced by some of the messages presented at the Pastor's Conference and Convention."

Sadly, I was being generous when I chose the word "some" in that last sentence.

Great to see you in Greensboro, Ray! Only wish we would have had more time to visit.