The Hermeneutical Distinctives of Expository Preaching
or even intimacy, in hearing the living Word of the living God through the paragraphs, sentences, and individual words of Scripture. The text needs to be seen not as an object to be analyzed, dissected, or even “mastered” so that we can then begin to “do something with the Bible.” Rather, we need to hear it as the urgent, present-tense message of the present-tense God (I AM) through our minds to our hearts to energize our wills in faith and obedience. Then the Bible is doing something with, in, and to us. If the preacher’s life is being changed through his encounter with God in the “living and enduring Word” (1 Pet. 1:23 NIV), he really does have a message to proclaim, not simply from the written page but from the heart.
This is why prayer is so central to the process of preparation. We are entirely dependent on God’s Spirit to open our blind eyes, unstop our deaf ears, and soften our hardened hearts, so at every stage in prepar- ing to preach we seek the author’s help to rightly hear and handle his Word of truth. From the first reading of the text to the final words of the sermon, we are entirely dependent on the gracious work of the Spirit, in preacher and hearers alike, to bring understanding, to generate faith, and to empower obedience.
Learning to listen by opening our eyes is one of the key skills for the biblical preacher to develop. We need to see what is really there and what is not. Like a person with hearing difficulties, we need to strain to catch every detail of vocabulary and nuance of tone in our Lord’s conversation with us in the unique and specific parts of Scripture. But the problem with a written text, which increases the more familiar we think we are with it, is our tendency to skim-read it in order to find what we already know is there. We then deal with general ideas rather than give attention to detail, and the resulting sermons exist in a world of theological abstraction. So much preaching is bland and predictable because there has been no move toward studying the text beyond its general themes and familiar ideas to the uniqueness of this particular Word of the Lord. The preacher has been content with a superficial, surface reading in which he has viewed the text through the prescription lenses of his own evangelical framework. This means that he has been in control of the text, assessing it, dissecting it, allowing it to illustrate the principles of his framework that he is determined to preach, but not permitting the text to be in the driver’s seat, controlling the sermon.
What needs to be happening in the preparation process is for the text to be challenging our framework, and this is achieved by question- ing. Obviously, our first question will always be, “What precisely is this text saying?” But then there are other key questions with which we can sharpen our listening skills. For example, “Why does the biblical