If you haven't read T. David Gordon's, Why Johnny Can't Preach, you should. He pulls no punches chastising preachers for messages that lack cohesion, organization, and gravity. Perhaps what is most interesting is his explanation of why. One of his answers is simple: "Johnny Can't Read (Texts)." This is how he begins the chapter:
Those who love preaching, who believe in the centrality of preaching, and who live by the preached word have little quibble with the authority of preaching. We believe that a certain exercise of God's rule comes along with the proclamation of His word. We are to hear and to obey, to give careful attention to "what thus saith the Lord." But sometimes, those who love preaching most may abuse its authority most. That is, we may abuse the authority of preaching by forgetting or failing to make clear where that authority comes from.Wayne Grudem helps us correct this omission or tendency:Throughout the history of the church the greatest preachers have been those who have recognized that they have no authority in themselves, and have seen their task as being to explain the words of Scripture and apply them clearly to the lives of their hearers. Their preaching has drawn its power not from the proclamation of their own Christian experiences or the experiences of others, nor from their own opinions, creative ideas, or rhetorical skills, but from God's powerful words. Essentially, they stood in the pulpit, pointed to the biblical text, and said in effect to the congregation, "This is what this verse means. Do you see that meaning here as well? Then you must believe it and obey it with all your heart, for God himself, your Creator and your Lord, is saying this to you today!" Only the written words of Scripture can give this kind of authority to preaching. (Bible Doctrine, p. 40)Gentlemen, preach the word! In season and out of season. Preach as it really is, the word of God. Call your hearers to receive it as it really is, the word of God, not the word of man. Challenge them to obey it as obeying God Himself. And let the authority of God thunder as the word of God falls like a hammer!
Humphrey Jones was a 19th century evangelist whom God used to great effect in the Welsh Revivals. In a letter to a student friend, he gave directions on preaching:Preach pointedly and rousingly -- aiming at the conscience each time... and beware of displaying yourself in any of your sermons. I try to aim at two things in studying and preaching: one is, not to say anything to show off myself; another is, not to say anything to amuse the people. (Quoted in The Banner of Truth, December 2009)
Deepak,I don't have much to add on the commentary question. I, too, turn to the text first. I get more out of the study if I look through Bible handbooks, dictionaries, parallel passages, even systematic theologies first. Having said that, hardly a Sunday goes by that I'm not hugely thankful for the faithful scholars who spend their lives writing commentaries. What a gift they are to the church! I'm preaching through Galatians now and Timothy George's commentary in the NAC series is stellar. He deals with the Greek, provides practical application, and even historical perspective. As good as George is, his commentary doesn't replace the detailed work of F.F. Bruce in his volume on Galatians in The New International Greek Testament Commentary series or even the bird's-eye-view offered by John Stott's volume for the Bible Speaks Today series. I should add how grateful I am to God that my church provides an allowance for books!
This has helped me. I pass it along to any young preachers out there looking for free advice.
When you come to a passage there are four things you can do:
illustrate, defend, explain, apply. I rearranged the order from
seminary class so the four points make a convenient acronym: IDEA. Most
young preachers, and probably most preachers in general, gravitate
toward "explain." We do best at studying the text and communicating
what we learned to others. If the passage is especially obscure or
controversial, it makes sense to land heavy on the E. But sometimes the
passage is relatively simple. In this case, don't spin your wheels on
endless word studies that basically repeat with synonyms what everyone
can see immediately in the text.
Most preachers, myself included, need to incorporate the I, D, and A
more often. One note on the D while I'm at it: it is rarely wise to
spend a lot of time defending what your people don't need defended. For
example, in most churches you can probably skip the 15 minute intro on
the Pauline authorship of Ephesians. Likewise, don't waste time
defending your interpretation against esoteric objections in the
commentaries that no one in your church would ever think of.
"Illustrate" and "apply" are the hardest to do well. It requires a
different part of your brain. You need to think creatively. You need to
imagine what your people are or might be going through. You need to
avoid the temptation to offer quick sermony points of application like
"Don't let money be your idol" or "Some of you need to trust God with
your time." Probe deeper. Use one good, personal illustration or one
concrete point of application rather than firing application-buckshot
with little imagination.
So remember, for every text and every point you can illustrate, defend, explain, or apply. It's an IDEA whose time has come.
Hey Dee,Glad to see you're continuing to be your kind, probing self. Happy New Year to everyone. I trust you're experiencing grace from Christ our Savior more and more as you look to Him and await His appearing. Won't it be awesome (in the best sense) when He comes?!Meanwhile, we talk commentaries....1. If I spend 16 hours on a sermon, I would guess that on average 12 of those hours are spent in the text itself and working on my first draft of the sermon.2. When I turn to commentaries, I turn to exegetical commentaries first. I do use them as "Bible study partners" to check my handling and understanding of the text.3. I really enjoy the Baker Exegetical Commentary Series and teh Pillar New Testament Commentary Series. I've found helpful volumes in the New International Commentary on the Old Testament. 4. I don't often consult one-volume commentaries. Henry is about the only one I'll dip into occasionally, though I own a couple others.5. After I've spent my time in the text and written a draft, I first consult exegetical commentaries. Then I'll normally do any re-writing or re-thinking I need to do. I do also like to read one or two expositional commentaries. I enjoy seeing how others handle the same passages. Among my favorites to read the night before are Boice and Lloyd-Jones.Also, if readers aren't already familiar with them, they may wish to pick up copies of Carson's New Testament Commentary Survey and Tremper Longman's Old Testament Commentary Survey. Both are excellent reviews of individual commentaries by book of the Bible. These are my first stop before purchasing commentaries.Not sure any of this is wisdom, but thanks for asking. Looking forward to hearing from the other brothers.
Mike M, Mike G-S, Thabiti, and Aaron:
Here is my first set of questions for 2010. Let's talk about your use of commentaries in preparation for preaching.
1. How much time do you spend in the text before you consult commentaries? (I could imagine that an unhelpful tendency would be to run to commentaries too soon in your preaching preparation...before you have personally wrestled with the text and tried to sort through what the text says...)
2. It is obvious that when you are not sure about an interpretation of a text that we should check a commentary, but do you ever use commentaries to just check your exegesis?
3. What are your favorite commentaries (either individual or series)?
4. How often do you consult one volume commentaries of the whole Bible (like Matthew Henry)?
5. Any other general comments about your use of commentaries?
Thanks, brothers, for passing on your wisdom.
Blessings in Christ - Deepak
As many of us prepare for the pulpit in full force, a word of counsel from Anglican pastor, Frank Colquhoun, writing in 1965: Obscurity is one of the fatal enemies of the pulpit. And it is here, I am persuaded, that not a little of modern preaching falls short. The man in the pew derives no benefit from it--not because he doesn't believe it but because he can't understand it. This may be due to the fact that the sermon is dealing with some obscure theme beyond the range of his interest or intelligence. Or it may be due to the fact that the sermon is couched in high-sounding theological jargon which makes no more sense to him than would Hindustani. There are preachers who indulge in a pseudo-intellectuality and appear to take a special delight in bewildering their hearers by a display of verbal gymnastics. It is a sorry sort of business. To make easy things hard, it has been observed, is any man's job; but to make hard things easy is the work of a great preacher.Making hard things clear and easy, that is a great goal for Sunday morning.
Have you ever thought about how important and mysterious words are? I don't simply mean have you ever thought about choosing the right words, or the effect of words. I mean, have you stopped to ponder the existence of words, and the meaning of the existence of words? Words are... well... remarkable. Carl Trueman has been prompting me to marvel at the existence of language and words, and what they tell us about the nature of relationships and ministry. He, rightly, I think, describes "the subordination of language to image and the rise of deconstruction and critical theory" as part of "the long war against words" (Wages of Spin, p. 44). We live in a culture and time that exalts image, the visual, aesthetics over the splendid syllables of speech. And it's affecting our very view of meaning, authority, text, and God.Trueman asks: "[I]n a world where words now have only secondary importance, can the traditional emphasis on words--the Bible, preaching, etc.--be maintained or should it not rather give way to something else, some other means of communicating the message?" Some shout--with words--"Yes! Yes! Yes!" And they expect us to know what "yes!" means, while simultaneously denying that our "yes" to Scripture means anything for anyone beyond ourselves or can really be a necessary consequent to the text itself. Words are not only wonderful, the games we play with them can be both tricky and damaging.But consider Trueman's summary of the biblical view of language, which I'll quote here at length (the words are that good):To put the biblical matter in a nutshell, language in the Bible is the basis of interpersonal relationships. Creation, of course, is a highly mysterious event, but it is significant that the Bible uses the language of speech to express the creative activity of God. In Genesis 1 and 2, God is the one who converses, speaks, within himself, and the act of creation arises out of precisely this kind of interpersonal conversation between the members of the Trinity. Then, in the Garden of Eden, God's relationship with Adam is expressed via the medium of language. It is how God defines the nature and limits of the relationship, and, after the Fall, it is how God confronts Adam and Eve with their sin. The same pattern is repeated throughout the whole Bible in both testaments: whether it is command or promise, the two basic aspects of the divine-human relationship with men and women, to limit it, to move it forward: he speaks to Noah, to Abraham, to Samuel, to David and so on. Indeed, God's use of language is a basic element which allows the encounter between God and humanity to be considered as a personal relationship. (p. 46)Trueman goes on to quote Carl Henry: "[L]anguage was divinely gifted not primarily to provide a basis for culture, but rather to facilitate intelligible communion between man and God and communication of the truth." (46-47) Trueman again: "The kind of salvation which the Christian God offers demands words, whether of promise or command, in order to define and delimit the nature of his relationship with his creatures" (p. 52, italics added).It's not, "I speak, therefore I am." It is rather: "God speaks, therefore I can know him." Oh! how wonderful a divine gift is speech!Trueman concludes his essay with these words: "Put simply, then, the question of the importance of words to the Christian church is a question of theology, not methodology: to marginalise preaching in our church life and outreach is to marginalise words; and to marginalise words will inevitably involve marginalising the Word himself." (p. 62)Minimize language, squeeze out preaching, lose the Word. All that from man's misguided fascination with twisting words to suit his depraved fancy.So, do you enjoy language? Hearing it? Speaking it? Reading it? Christians are word people, because our God uses words so we may know Him. And, indeed, He is the Word made flesh. How can we not be fascinated with language and keep vigil over speech?