Friday, April 07, 2006

Saying the Right Things from the Wrong Texts: Is It Preaching?

Preaching is, at its essence, proclamation. I think we can all agree on that. I think we can also agree that the method for our preaching is to proclaim ("preach") the Word. Obviously, we are also commanded to preach "the gospel," but we who are 21st century Paleoevangelicals understand (hopefully) that the gospel is revealed exclusively through the Word.

I suppose one might stand in a pulpit and proclaim something. That would meet the essential technical definition of "preaching." What is proclaimed might even be true. That does not mean that the preacher has preached the Word.

My conclusion, which I suppose not everyone will accept, is that the preacher has no divine authority to preach a message that is not grounded in the Word. If he preaches biblical truth but fails to defend it from his text in the Word, he has not preached the Word. He may have spoken truth. He may have helped people in some way. God may have worked mightily through what he said.

But I'll say it again. He has not preached the Word.

I write all this simply because yesterday SI published an article that advances the notion that preachers are not bound to restrict their message to the truth contained in their alleged text, as long as what they say is consistent with Scripture as a whole. I appreciate the sentiment that seems to have motivated the article. Pride is always a bad thing, whether it is seated in the pew, planted on a couch, or speaking in a pulpit. Or typing on a keyboard.

Two questions come to mind:
1. If a preacher says good things but does not defend them from the text, isn't it just good advice, not preaching?

2. How are preachers who say good things without defending them from the text different from exegetical charismatics who follow similar methodology in what they consider to be the gift of prophecy?

Sam Sutter, the author, alluded to some admittedly difficult texts related to the use of the OT in the NT in his article, and Tom Pryde has written a helpful response. My cautiously articulated opinion is that the OT texts were used appropriately by the NT authors, who understood the Messianic nature of the OT far better than we do today. For further information on one of the texts Sutter notes, see this article:

John H. Sailhamer, “Hosea 11:1 and Matthew 2:15,” Westminster Theological Journal 63.1 (2001): 87-95.

If you want to investigate the matter in depth, set aside some serious time and read Sailhamer's Pentateuch as Narrative. The bibiliographical information there is quite helpful as well.


Scott Aniol said...

I struggled with this question a lot in college (because I heard so much of this kind of preaching!) I recognized that what some preachers were saying was right and wise, but it wasn't from the text. So should I appreciate their wisdom and ignore their exegetical falicies?

One day it hit me: the Holy Spirit has promised to use His Word to change hearts, not the wisdom of men, even if it is on target. Saying the right things from the wrong texts, therefore, lacks the power of the Holy Spirit! This is a big problem!

If a man wants to give wise council, fine. This is especially appropriate for pastors with their people. But don't try to press it into a text.

Thanks for your take, Ben.

Ashley P said...

Agreed. Whole-heartedly. Thanks for the prophetic witness, Ben.

5am said...

I think Scott Aniol was my row monitor during some of those messages :-) (really) He however far more gracious than I

Sam Sutter

PS.. on Sailhamer - I like his approach - Israel at the end of the day is Jesus (and us as united in Christ). But Matthew (And Sailmaher) is doing something other than a literal reading.

Ryan Martin said...

I think Sailhammer (and I) would disagree with your appraisal of his approach. Perhaps your understanding of what is "literal" is faulty.

Ben said...

Ditto that.


Do you know of a place where Sailhamer has said that he rejects literal-grammatical-historical in favor of redemptive-historical, as you implied in comments to Tom Pryde's post? I would be very interested (and surprised) to see it.

Ryan Martin said...

Just for the record, Sailhammer, if I am not mistaken, in the WTJ mentioned above, goes so far as to tag his view "sensus literalis."

Ben said...


You're absolutely correct. He says it multiple times. I'm planning to post on this soon.

David C. Kanz said...


Oh boy---what have you traversed into in this post?

I think, however you are correct--I said the same thing at:

Thanks for your discussion.

ATPierson said...

I think your premise is wrong. You are assuming that the Word of God is a written text, but Christ said "Thy Word is truth." When I evangelize, I do not go to a primary text and park, and often I do not refer to a text when making a point. Does that mean I am not preaching the Word? No! What if the Bible has not been translated in a language. How can they preach the Word, according to your definition? Preaching th Word then IS preachin truth originally derived from the Word of God.

The "Prince of Preachers" Charles Spurgeon, often preached messages unrelated exegetically to the text proposed. The main problem with this approach is that his congregation was dependent on him to preach. The strength of preaching messages from a specific text is that the hearers can identify where the Bible says the truth proposed.

I appreciate your concern for the integrity of the Word, but your definition of preaching, is too limited.

I appreciate your blog.