Tuesday, November 18, 2008

How Expository Preaching Changed Me. . . Part 1

Just for the record and for a summary, I am giving you the links on one page for those who might want to read them later.

Planned Preaching -- Part 1 -- An introduction to Expository Preaching and an example of some of my foolishness in preaching when I was a rookie.

Planned Preaching -- Part 2
-- The reasons we ought to give ourselves to the disciplines of Expository Preaching.

Planned Preaching -- Part 3 -- How to begin your initial efforts at Expository Preaching.

Planned Preaching -- Part 4 -- Some recommendations about exactly where to start as far as Biblical texts.

Planned Preaching -- Part 5 -- Some of the helpful tools that are necessary to get involved in Expository Preaching.

Planned Preaching -- Part 6 -- Some more of the helpful tools that are necessary to help in Expository Preaching.

Planned Preaching -- Part 7 -- The steps that I have used to work through a Biblical book in an expository manner.

I am going to write on some final thoughts of how that approaching Scripture in a verse-by-verse fashion caused some remarkable changes in my own thinking. My hope is that you will read these blog posts in the spirit of which I write it. Whatever provocations you may find here are not intended to be inflammatory to your spirit but rather to be insightful enough to make you think. That is all I ever ask with anything that I write. I have been very forthright and at times angry with my elaborations concerning the Emerging Church because I see the deadly danger of its influence. However, most of the ramblings you find here on the Barnabas Blog are written to encourage you toward a higher life. That is what I intend with this series of posts but they may burn a bit going down.

Once I got involved in verse-by-verse exposition and making sure that I was staying entirely within the context of Scripture, some glaring things began to happen to me. At first, I went through all of the antics of self-analysis about how my heart was wrong. But the prevailing thought that kept cropping up was the idea that I was “too smart for my own good.”

Much wrestling was done with this until I continued to let Scripture say over and over what it was going to say. I became so immersed in Scripture at the expense of some critics who said I was “Word” only and no Spirit. What I learned through that little trial was that those who violate the harmony and context of Scripture don’t have nearly as much “Spirit” as what they perceive they have. It was through this that I gravitated toward the understanding that a man was not a greater authority than what Scripture was or stood for. So through all of this process, I started holding myself to a higher level of ministry of the Word through the preparation process. In doing this some things began to prevail in my mind about preaching the Word.

Context Is Everything!


I came to understand that context of the passage is paramount. I begin to look at the way I preached and particularly how I listened to others preach through the lens of context. I became so radical about my own preaching and diligently worked to make sure I had the context correct. In fact I realized that if I was going to preach the context of the passage there were some of my own sermons I had to toss in the junk-pile. They did not hold true to Scripture! I had simply taken a Scripture reference and then leaped from a tall pulpit into the never-lands of frothdom.

These “sermons” were fantastic, brilliant, funny, exciting and “successful” messages but they were not from God because I had taken His Word and made it say something it wasn’t intended to say. I had to find a place of repentance because I had violated the last commandment in the Book. It clearly states, “don’t add anything to it or take anything away from it” (Rev. 22:19) because the man who does is in serious danger of missing Heaven. I know. . . I know. . . I can hear it now, “Stretching it a bit aren’t you, Philip?” That depends. . . . It all depends on how much you value Scripture and how much regard you hold for God. Frankly my thoughts troubled me in that I had violated the first of the Ten Commandments. I had not made God into a graven image I had just made Him something that He was not. Oh we shouted and had a big time but it was inaccurate preaching because the context was violated.

This is the danger in “thought” preaching or “thought” getting. I would hear a message and then I would get that magic “thought” and work it out without regard for the context or harmony of Scripture. For those who have been reading these blogs, I won’t you to understand that I will continue to preach topically (because it is not a mortal sin) but I will remember to give much regard to the context of the passage.

One day as I listened to someone preaching (interestingly at a conference level), I begin to have some lingering doubts about a passage that was being “preached.” Much enlightenment came to me when I understood that Matthew 18 had nothing to do with a holy huddle of two or three agreeing that God was going to rain fire down from Heaven (or the Holy Ghost, or revival, or healing, or money). This passage has everything to do with church discipline. It is literally illustrated by Paul in 1 Corinthians 5 when he removes an unrepentant, sinning “brother” from the Church. When one isolates Matthew 18:18-19 and lifts it out of its proper setting suddenly the sky is the limit for whatever you want God to be and do for you. Essentially what happens is the preacher has suddenly made God something He is not.

The next example I give was not so much something I heard preached but was used as a line of reasoning for ministers who had gotten into moral failure. I would be addressed in a manner like this, “Rev. A. has ‘fallen’ into sin. He is a good man and his pulpit ministry needs to be restored.” Then the line of reasoning would be “the gifts and callings of God are without repentance” (Romans 11:29) they would smugly say and then continue on about restoring such an one who had had fallen (Galatians 6:1). Look deeper in the context of Romans 11 and you will find that this has nothing to do with ministry but with Israel’s final welfare in God’s plan. As for the Galatians passage, this has reference to a man being restored to a position of salvation but not leadership responsibilities. To garner the direction for ministry, the patterns of the book of Acts and the Pastoral epistles have to serve as guidance. Where Scripture apparently makes no assertions, it is my thoughts that his is a mortal mistake to make in the general and overall welfare of the Church.

These are the two prevailing examples of many that came to mind. It just does not fare well in the long run to constantly violate the principles of context. Again, please don’t get the idea that I am opposed to topical preaching because I am not and will continue to do it most likely on a regular basis. However, I am entirely opposed to preaching that is out of context of what the real intent of the Biblical writer is stating.

Personality Can Trump the Bible

Another thing that I discovered is that the personality of the preacher can trump the Bible. One day a little book came in the mail that was written by a man who had experienced much success (i.e., miracles, signs, wonders, evangelism, sacrifice, etc.). Comparatively speaking, his ministry was like a 10,000 lumen candle power to my little two double-A battery penlight. The light off of his ministry was overwhelming. In fact, there were times that I had sat and heard stories about his sacrifice and success and then in response drug my miserable, much-loathed soul to an altar and wept, snotted, and cried in much repentance about how little I had done.
But as I read the little book, I begin to pick up on some unsettling things. At the time, I had no idea what “divine flesh” was but I was familiar with Gnosticism because of some studies that I had been through in Colossians. As I read this book, it troubled me that a great personality was apparently aberrant in his theology. In my mind, it was more than just a quibbling about some personal conviction. His view was entirely changing the scope and practice of Jesus Christ, in fact his “Jesus” had not blood, merely an emanation from God. I wrestled up and down with this. I remembered the miracles et al and wondered privately and later aloud to some elder ministers about this. The great lesson in this was that a personality, no matter how seeming successful they may be cannot trump the Word of God. Miracles are not a seal of approval on false doctrine.

As time has passed, I came to the conclusion that good theology will put steel in your mind and in your backbone. The more theology you understand and know, you can say, “You’re preposterous claims have no Scriptural foundations.” Brothers, whether we realize it or not, we need this kind of mentality in our days. We need the gumption, as they say, to gently confront but deal with error in a very measured way.

I have written in the past about how that Hebrews 13:17 indicates that I will have to give a specific account for the church I am called to pastor. It will be very uncomfortable and chilling on that day for the Lord to ask me “What did you do with the Church I gave you to pastor?” if I have been negligent with doctrine. A pastor has the great responsibility to not allow his own personality or that of another “successful” minister to corrupt the flock with faulty theology. Brothers, expository preaching will open you up to a greater awareness of your responsibilities and it will increase your knowledge of the Bible exponentially.

More to come. . . thanks for reading. . .

3 comments:

booksmoore.com said...

Excellent, excellent series of posts! I am thrilled to see such developments among Pentecostals.

It is true that once you get accustomed to this sort of preaching, it ruins the fluffy stuff for you. This type of preaching rightly emphasizes loving God with our hearts and our minds. It builds strong churches and strong saints. It is one of the great needs among us today.

Thanks for taking the time to put this stuff out there.

D. C. Lake said...

Bro Harrelson, I am a bit curious...who would you say are you biggest influences in Expository preaching. I know you read puritan literature and I've read that they are really good on that line but which living guys can you say influence you. I would also like to know if there are any Apostolics that you can maybe point younger guys like me to learn from.

In recent times, I also have tried to become more expository in my preaching and can concur with all you said about it. I believe many people in our churches need this for a strong word diet. I also realize that when you get into it people are kinda more motivated to dig into the word and study.

Ryan Gustason said...

One note on a statement you might want to look at:

19And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book.

Eve made the same mistake, so don't feel too bad! LOL! Love your writing though!

Ryan Gustason