Who Owes Me Three Dollars?

May 4, 2008

Filed under: Uncategorized — ineedsheetmusic @ 3:32 pm

Many of you will know that basically all of my background with respect to sermons is listening to them. And 99% of those sermons were topcial sermons. The overwhelming majority of sermons preached in reformed churches are expository sermons. It goes without saying then, that it was an expository sermon that was mandated for this class. So, this was my first attempt at an expository sermon.

For a quick picture of T vs. E, a topical sermon is one where the preacher has a topic in mind. He preaches what he wants to say about the topic and in order to defend or verify that his statements are biblical, he then refers to texts, or individual passages. In this way he proves that what he is saying is correct. An expository sermon, on the other hand, is completely different. Here, the preacher is already in the text, he is preaching from within a passage. In T, he speaks his mind and derives the validity from scripture. In E, being already in a text, he is saying "THUS SAYETH THE LORD".

One mistake I made, then, in my sermon is that, even though I was in principle expositorally preaching my assigned passage, I carried the topical preacher’s mindset into the pulpit. I improperly made use of other scriptures. I in effect came across as apologetic (not in the good sense, but in the sense that I showed a complete lack of having the authority of the office). There was no "thus sayeth the Lord". It was "thus sayeth Bruce". And in all cases my references to other passages were employed in the identical way that the T preacher would. I was in effect saying, "look over here. See? Is not what I am saying correct?"

This may seem like hair-splitting. But it is actually more than that.  I do believe that topical sermons are fundamentally flawed. When the T preacher refers to other texts as proof, there is a great danger. By eliciting truth from them as proof texts they are lifted out of their proper context.  The referenced scriptures are themselves subject to an expository sermon. When they are preached, they also require an expository sermon. Used as proof texts, an overly facile approach to scripture results. You can see what is happening. With the T preacher, you never get to "thus sayeth the Lord". Put another way, the T preacher, by referring to other texts as proof, is tacitly admitting that the authority of the expository "thus sayeth the Lord" is really the only way to preach.

Admittedly, there is a problem here for the student preacher. By virtue of his being a student, he necessarily has not yet been granted the office of preacher, and thus lacks the authority to say the "thus sayeth the Lord" that comes with it. In reformed churches there is an incredibly rigorous external call process through which the candidate preacher must go. So how does the student preach as if he already has the office? I was clearly neither ready for that, nor was I really even cognizant of this dynamic.

That was by no means my only shortcoming. More later.

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  1. It seems to me that what you are arguing for with exegetical preaching is what Ruberad was criticizing a while ago with inductive Bible study. If so, that’s ironic! In any case, shouldn’t someone who is doing topical preaching have done enough exegetical study of the various passages relevant to his topic to be able to speak with the authority you seek? His listeners should know across a period of time that they can trust his authority because of how he has preached out of singular texts. How else can we know the scriptures in their fullness of someone does not help us understand the “big picture?” As I was reading R’s critique of inductive study, I couldn’t help but think of a dear IV colleague (now in heaven) whose file drawers were stuffed with inductive studies. Put together, they provide the kind of knowledge someone who seeks topical understanding needs. P.S. I think you’re speaking tongue in cheek when you say that 99% of all sermons you have heard were topical. After all the last two years in your current church would have whittled away at that percentage 🙂 (And then there’s your childhood….)

    Comment by Barbara — May 5, 2008 @ 7:53 am

  2. When a minister is preaching from a given text, he gains his authority to speak from the text at hand.

    So, for example, if one is preaching John 3:16, one might proclaim that “God so loved the world.” If he is to proclaim this text, make this point, does he need to go to other Scriptures to prove that God indeed really did send his Son out of love for the world? No.

    Here’s why. The text at hand says as much. It’s right here in the text at hand.

    The question is, do we believe what THIS text says, or don’t we? If we need to go to other passages to prove what THIS text is saying, we introduce doubt about the authority of THIS text. We invite the audience to preside in judgment over this text.

    Now, many don’t see it that way. Many would say that no, we aren’t inviting the audience to preside in judgment over the text, but only over the minister’s analysis of said text.

    But do we really want the audience to preside in judgment over the minister’s analysis or interpretation of the text? No. This is not what they’re there to do. That contradicts submissive listening.

    The job of the minister is to be an expert in biblical interpretation. He must proclaim what the text says. It is the role of the people not to preside in judgment over his interpretation, it is their role to listen, and to see if what he is saying is actually in the text at hand. It is his job to show them that.

    But there is a big difference between “I don’t understand” and “you interpreted that text incorrectly.” The layman in the pew isn’t as qualified as the minister to interpret Scripture. He is trained for that task, and that’s what he’s standing up there to do. He’s standing up there, preaching the text, precisely because he’s been trained to do just that. The laity has not been trained in this way.

    In other words, the job of the listener is not to second guess the minister’s interpretation of the text, but to believe in what the text says. It’s the minister’s job to help them believe what the text says by explaining what the text says. It is his job to interpret and translate the text in a way that they can understand, clearly and concisely.

    Any use of Scripture that does not further the goal of helping them to understand what this text says, is misplaced. Usually, our tendency is to bring in other passages to PROVE that our analysis of this passage is correct. But that’s not the right way to think.

    Does this mean that we don’t ever bring in other passages? No. We might bring in other more clear passages to help illumine this text, the text at hand. But the use of other texts should be to help the people understand what’s being said.

    The proof, however, for what the text is saying, must come from the text itself.

    You cannot prove that John is saying something by what Paul says. You can say that John and Paul must agree, and that’s fine, but Paul doesn’t say exactly the same thing as John. They believe the same things, and they agree, but they don’t say it in the same way. Every author of Scripture makes a unique contribution, which is why we have all the Scripture we do.

    So if we look at James saying that justification is by faith and works, for example, we might use Paul to prove that James means something different by “justification” than Paul does. But Paul is not definitive for what James is positively saying, though he may be useful to prove what he is NOT saying.

    But when you preach a text, you don’t want to spend much time talking about what the text is not saying. You want to say what the text IS saying.

    And the best source of proof for what the text is saying, in fact, the only definitive proof for what THIS text is saying, is that text itself.

    When you preach the Word, your authority to say what you are saying does not come from you, or from your training, your intelligence, your understanding. Your authority comes from the text from which you are preaching. Insofar as what you are saying is what the text is saying, then you are preaching that text, you are preaching the Word.

    So we who aspire to preach must preach the text at hand. We must proclaim what THIS text proclaims. We must announce the message of the text at hand. And the best way to do that is to explain this text, to expound this text, to translate it in a way that is easy for the people to understand.


    Comment by Echo_ohcE — May 5, 2008 @ 12:36 pm

  3. You are a good writer and you were always skillful at telling a story, so I’m sure you will be a good preacher as well. My grandfather would get frustrated with preachers who kept us running from one text to another. One of his quotes was that we should “hammer one nail solidly instead of 15 nails halfway”.

    Comment by Albino Hayford — May 5, 2008 @ 9:14 pm

  4. If I can summarize what I think you’re saying,

    With T, the preacher says “Here is what I have to say, and by the way, here are some similar things that the Bible (God) says”

    With E, the preacher says “In this biblical text, here is what God has to say”

    And you feel that you were halfway between, something like “Here is this biblical text, and here is what I have to say about it”

    Anyways, I don’t think you should be too hard on yourself for bringing in other scriptures. Analogia fide requires us to use scripture to explain scripture. So it is perfectly valid to say “In this passage, the author is saying X. It may seem unclear from this particular passage, but look at all these related passages by the same author that make it clear that this author means X when he writes as in this passage”. Or replace “this author” with “God” and you can compare the current text with any relevant texts in the whole bible.

    For instance, I maintain that you cannot preach a good sermon on James 2:14-26 without referring to Paul, (and perhaps vice versa).

    Comment by RubeRad — May 6, 2008 @ 7:03 am

  5. So where’s the .mp3 of your sermon?

    Comment by RubeRad — May 6, 2008 @ 7:04 am

  6. Thanks for all the comments so far. I will weigh in a bit tonight.

    For the moment, Barbara is right. 99% is off. Prolly closer to 50%, but the first 20 years I don’t remember, at all.

    Albino’s “pound one nail all the way rather than a dozen part way” is a nice way to put it.

    The .mp3 is actually a video. Wait till I am done with this series. You most likely won’t want to see it.

    Comment by Bruce S. — May 6, 2008 @ 10:26 am

  7. Sorry one more comment…

    Did your sermon actually stop to turn to the prooftext? Or did you integrate the citations into it (meaning did you speak the Word without actually referring to chapter and verse)?

    I agree the former needs to be very limited. However, I think the latter is more than acceptable.

    Comment by Standing Solus Christus — May 6, 2008 @ 6:32 pm

  8. The whole point here is that an expository sermon is not all that easy to do. For example, it doesn’t take much for an E sermon to turn into a T sermon. Mine didn’t actually do that, by the way. I just fell into the habits that accompany a T sermon. Also, a T sermon can actually take on the appearance of an E sermon. For example, a preacher can begin his T sermon with a proof text. This has the look of an E sermon because an E sermon always starts off with the reading of the word.

    My next post will go on with some more flaws that I felt I exhibited.

    Comment by Bruce S. — May 6, 2008 @ 8:44 pm

  9. Abbreviated version of previous comment: you can’t prove what THIS text says by what another text says. You can prove what it CAN’T possibly be saying by what another text says, but you can’t prove what it’s positively saying from another text. The proof for what THIS text is saying can come only from THIS text.


    Comment by Echo_ohcE — May 6, 2008 @ 11:16 pm

  10. Why? Because while all Scripture agrees, it’s also all unique. Otherwise, it’d be superfluous.


    Comment by Echo_ohcE — May 6, 2008 @ 11:17 pm

  11. Albino’s quote rocks, by the way. Sounds like Spurgeon.


    Comment by Echo_ohcE — May 6, 2008 @ 11:18 pm

  12. Did you assign me a quilt avatar?

    Comment by Echo_ohcE — May 6, 2008 @ 11:18 pm

  13. WordPress has introduced, for commenters without their own avatars, “Identicons”. An Identicon is a unique (but non-reversible) encoding of the email address you use to post comments. I like yours, Echo, it’s the most right-angled (“ortho“dox) I’ve seen!

    Optionally, various blogs can turn off identicons (going back to a blank bust), or switch to “Wavatars” or “MonsterID”, which are little critters that similarly use the encoding of your email address to assemble critter parts into a unique avatar.

    Comment by RubeRad — May 7, 2008 @ 6:51 am

  14. It looks more like a swatztika that Barney the dinosaur would use. Maybe it’s the avatar of the gay Nazis.

    Comment by Echo_ohcE — May 7, 2008 @ 8:14 pm

  15. The Nazi swastika has its arms the other way (pointing clockwise). But then again, I hear the gay Nazis also wear their earrings on the other ear…

    Comment by RubeRad — May 8, 2008 @ 6:00 am

  16. Holy threadjack, Batman!

    Comment by Echo_ohcE — May 8, 2008 @ 2:12 pm

  17. This intelectual stuff is beyond me. What I want to know is what was the grade on your sermon!!!

    Comment by setty — May 17, 2008 @ 9:28 am

  18. I can’t wait for Bruce to do his first African American “hooping” sermon! “Can I get a witness?” – “Ooooooh, it’s like fire shut up in my boooooones!”

    When I taught Homiletics at Berean Bible College, I had a Black student who was so fired up and rhythmic in his preaching style that you couldn’t help but shout back at him. Every time he preached a sermon for his test, he would bring 2 ladies from his church who would sit on the front row and wave hankies, calling out, “Yes…that’s right…preach it!” every time he reached a crescendo.

    For his final exam, he preached a sermon called, “Let God Speak”, starting with the creation of the world, making his way through the Old Testament and “bringing it home” with the death and resurrection of Jesus.

    “The earth was without form and void…a mass of chaos…BUT THEN GOOOOOD SPOKE, and the waters separated from the land.”

    “Jesus was dying, the enemy was rejoicing, the disciples were trembling…THEN GOOOD SPOKE and shouted, “IT IS FINISHED” and our penalty was paid in full.”

    After each section, he would lean back and shout, “Then God spoke! Oh, why don’t we let GOD SPEAK to us tonight?”

    To give him a good grade, I had to invent a whole new category of sermon, called the “African American hooping outline”, and gave him an “A”.

    I’ve often thought of that sermon when I hear empty prattling on the radio, television and in our pulpits. My soul cries out, “Let GOOOOOOOD speak!”

    Comment by Albino Hayford — May 20, 2008 @ 7:38 pm

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