Preaching and the Scripture

Ferrell Jenkins

The principal responsibility of a preacher of the gospel is to proclaim the word of God. No two mature preachers are likely to use the same techniques or style of delivery, but an emphasis on the Scripture is the one thing that should be common to all preaching. Too many men use their pulpit time telling stories that are interesting, but which do little to instruct their hearers in the way of the Lord. It is my conviction that the man who fails to point people to the Scripture has failed in his responsibility as a preacher.

Topical and Expository Preaching

Two types of preaching are in common use among us - topical and expository. In topical preaching one selects a topic of interest and then looks to the Scripture for verses dealing with the subject. In this method the cross-references which are contained in a Bible and the concordance prove to be helpful in the selection of material to be used. In expository preaching one turns to a certain portion of Scripture, a paragraph or chapter, does an exegesis to determine what the portion is teaching and then prepares an outline which conveys the truth of that passage to the modern hearer. Expository preaching is much more difficult than topical preaching because it requires a greater knowledge of the Bible and demands that one spend more time in preparation. One must master the context of his text, which usually includes the entire book, study its historical background, and learn the meaning of all words in the text. This will involve the use of word studies and lexicons as well as grammars. This is also the time to examine the appropriate Bible dictionaries, atlases, and commentaries. After long hours with the Word, one is then ready to decide on the homiletical form his lesson will take.

In the course of expository preaching, one may see that the Bible doesn't put as much emphasis on some of his pet notions as he once thought it did. Could this be one of the reason so many shy away from it?

The Danger of Topical Preaching

Topical preaching has its place, but also has inherent dangers. New Testament preachers and writers made frequent use of this approach. Peter used a topical sermon on Pentecost. His announced topic was "Jesus the Nazarene" (Acts 2:22). He spoke of the ministry, death, resurrection, and exaltation of Jesus. Peter's major text was Psalm 16:8-11 and he also used 2 Samuel 7, Psalm 110, and other Scriptures.

What can be the danger in topical preaching? When one selects verses from the Bible somewhat randomly because they contain certain words, there is a danger of taking the verses out of context. A "text" often becomes a "pretext" to say what one had already decided before he picked the verses. Is it too harsh to say that one should not do topical preaching until he has mastered the context of every verse he uses? And yet most of us began with topical preaching! And some never move beyond it.

When we first begin preaching we often utilize the outlines of other brethren whom we have heard. Even if our exemplars did use topical lessons, they may have done their homework before presenting their lessons. We only see the various points, each backed by a Scriptural reference. For example, a lesson on "The Two Covenants" might be presented in a topical fashion and others might repeat the lesson. However, at some point someone had to carefully study Romans, Galatians, Hebrews, 2 Cor. 3, etc. Before I can be sure that I am teaching the truth with my topical presentation, I must engage in that firsthand study myself.

Paul described the preacher as a workman. He urged Timothy to "be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, handling accurately the word of truth" (2 Tim. 2:15). The preacher who does not handle the word of God accurately will not be approved of God and ought to be ashamed.

Let The Scripture Speak

Regardless of which type of lesson we choose to use, we must be sure to point our hearers to the Scripture and to the Christ revealed therein. When we spend our time mastering the clever stories and illustrations of some of the popular preachers and motivators of our day our preaching will never be what it ought to be.

When a "sermon" consists primarily of a great idea the speaker got from a billboard, a TV jingle, a bumper sticker, or a story he read from an outstanding motivator, you can be sure that he has not spent enough time with the Word of God. One of the finest articles along this line I have read, and one I used to share with my students in the "Work of the Preacher" course at Florida College, was written by Floyd Doud Shafer. In this article, entitled "And Preach As You Go!," the author suggests that the congregation

"Form a choir and raise a chant and haunt him with it night and day: 'Sir, we wish to see Jesus.' When, at long last, he dares assay the pulpit, ask him if he has a word from God; if he does not, then dismiss him and tell him you can read the morning paper, digest the television commentaries, think through the day's superficial problems, manage the community's myriad drives, and bless assorted baked potatoes and green beans ad infinitum better than he can. Command him not to come back until he has read and re-read, written and re-written, until he can stand up, worn and forlorn, and say: 'Thus saith the Lord'" (This article was printed in Christianity Today, Mar. 27, 1961).

This article was printed in Christianity Magazine.

Note: Many article are cut short in order to fit the space limitations of the publication. Often this is the most difficult part of preparing an article. Below I include a few paragraphs that I had to delete from the article before submitting it for publication.

Like Paul, we must not "come with superiority of speech or of wisdom." We must, rather, determine "to know nothing...except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified." Our preaching must not be in "persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith should not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God" (Read 1 Cor. 2:1-5).

Dual training is needed: Gospel preachers must train congregations to accept Biblical preaching; the congregations must demand that those who occupy their pulpits preach the Word and that they spend the time necessary in preparation of their lessons.
I admit that sometimes I read the sermons of outstanding denominational preachers and motivators. Generally, I find, that these materials are deficient in scriptural content. Until people know the Scripture they will never have a foundation upon which to build.
Too often the congregations are pointed to clever stories the speaker has found in a book of illustrations (or from a subscription service).

Paul described the preacher as a workman. He urged Timothy to "Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, handling accurately the word of truth" (2 Tim. 2:15). The preacher who does not handle the word of God accurately will not be approved of God and ought to be ashamed. cf. 2 Tim. 3:14ff - 4:5

Three books of the New Testament, 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy and Titus, were written to preachers. In these books one would expect to learn much about the work of the preacher.