I follow over 40 different blogs on a regular basis. One of these writers is a teacher out of London, UK, named Peter Mead. His ministry is one of teaching preachers, and his blog, Biblical Preaching, contains his thoughts on how to accurately preach God’s Word. I really enjoy reading it, and he shares some great insight.
Mead is a huge proponent of expository preaching. That is, he believes that preaching is best when it’s done straight through a Bible book Correction: Many people take that to mean preaching straight through a biblical text, rather than skipping around hitting various topics. (Unlike many others, though, he does recognize the usefulness of intentional topical preaching.)
Here is one of Weirsbe’s sections Mead quoted in his post:
Some have criticized Ironside for preaching through Bible books instead of preaching “more contemporary messages” in such a strategic pulpit. But time, I think, has vindicated his ministry. His expositions are as fresh and meaningful today as when they were preached. I have many books of “contemporary sermons” in my library, and they read like old newspapers in comparison.
My initial response, when I read this, was, “Yes, that’s true. Messages built on contemporary needs and topics have short-lived value. Preaching should follow the text more.”
In fact, this is my background and my training. I grew up in a church that taught through the Scriptures, and I was trained to do the same thing because it is the right thing to do. So it was sort of like going back to a comfortable place to read this.
But as I thought about it over the last week, I was reminded of something very important. Most of the Scriptures were not written as sermons or messages to be taught straight through. Sure, some of the letters in the New Testament are designed that way and a few books in the Old Testament, but the majority of the Bible is not. Here are a few examples:
The first 17 books of the Old Testament and first five of the New Testament are histories or narratives that tell us things that happened. These are not things we are supposed to necessarily duplicate; they just happened. And many of these stories are not even told in the order they happened. They were recorded as the writer remembered or collected them. Many times, in the gospels especially, stories are recounted together in groups of like stories (topics or settings), whether or not they actually happened in that order.
The Old Testament also includes a few books of poetry, none of which requires or even wants to be taught from beginning to end. The Psalms, for instance, is essentially a hymnal, a book of songs the people sang or recited at various times throughout the year, much like we skip around modern songbooks depending on the day’s message or the time of year.
Then there are the actual “sermons” of the Bible – the words of the prophets. Bible prophecy comprises about one-third of the Scriptures, a large chunk. They can be preached straight through, but do they need to be? I don’t think so. In fact, many of the visions that the prophets recounted were given days, weeks, months, and even years apart. They didn’t even preach them straight through!
Not only that – they were God’s response to the contemporary problems of the day. The same holds true for the New Testament letters. Both the prophets’ and the apostles’ writings are full of then-modern people, places, and (most importantly for our purposes) issues. They responded to the issues of the day, using whatever ancient Scriptures they needed to drive home the point. You never find them preaching through any of the Old Testament books.
The reason we can use the Scriptures to speak to modern issues is that humanity’s problems are the same in every generation. The apostles and prophets, Jesus’ cultural-laden stories, and the narratives of life in the ancient Middle East are always relevant because we can see ourselves in them. But just like they addressed issues as they arose, so should we – not necessarily tied to an outline that was written for a specific time and place.
Now, there are times that preaching or teaching through a book is important and useful. I do so at least once each year with one of the letters. In fact, I’ll be teaching through Philippians this fall at Oak Tree Community Church. So, I’m not against it by any means. But to say that it is the best way (Mead) or the only proper way (others), I think does a disservice to those who willingly sit under our teaching.
I love the way Andy Stanley puts it in his book, 7 Practices of Effective Ministry. They are very specific about what they teach each group of people in their church because, “All Scripture is equally inspired. All Scripture is not equally important. All Scriptures is not equally applicable” (pp. 124-125).
This is the balance we need to remember. There is a huge difference in preaching or teaching what people need to hear and what they want to hear. We would do well to follow the example of Jesus and the apostles and prophets by diligently preaching what people need, whether or not it exactly follows an ancient writer’s outline.
Never forget: we are not called to teach the Scriptures. We are called to use the Scriptures to teach people.