The Hermeneutical Distinctives of Expository Preaching
work rather than the biblical text, unless the Bible text is questioning our framework every time we are preparing. It is not that framework preaching is wrong if the framework is itself biblically orthodox. What is said will probably be true, but the preaching will soon become re- ductionist and predictable. The problem is that such preaching does not challenge the church, and it will not change the world. It becomes impository of the preacher’s word upon the text, which has to dance to the preacher’s tune—the agenda that he has constructed—rather than being expository of the fundamental meaning of the Bible, with all its necessary challenges and unsettling disturbance to our inherently sinful, this-worldly patterns of thought and behavior. In John Stott’s words, it is the function of biblical preaching both “to disturb the comfortable and then to comfort the disturbed.” And that process begins with the preacher in his preparation.
There is an old saying that a text out of context is merely a pretext. Its truth is constantly demonstrated in many a pulpit, where the preacher’s “angle” on the subject becomes the key constituent of the sermon, ir- respective of why the text was originally written or even what it actually teaches. But it is a very important inference from our evangelical doc- trine of Scripture that God’s revelation will itself provide us with divinely given authoritative keys as to how to unpack and use its contents. Our submission to Scripture, as a vital part of our submission to Scripture’s Lord, means that we must be prepared to teach the Bible not only in its truth-content but also to use its own distinctive methodologies. We must cut with the grain of the biblical text. This should affect our preaching schedules and the shape of the pulpit diet for our congregations, as much as it does the contents of an individual sermon.
Much of the benefit that has flowed so consistently from the College Church pulpit is attributable to the systematic consecutive exposition of Scripture, book by book, as the solid “given” of the preaching ministry. We should study and preach the Bible book by book since this is how God has provided it for us. Indeed, there is a real sense in which the whole Bible is one book, comprised of its sixty-six separate but clearly integrated units, each one having its own specific purpose and major themes. The principle of the “melodic line,” or the theme tune of every book, is an important tool to work with. What does this particular book contribute to the one great story of salvation history, as God’s plan to rescue humanity from its rebellion and to reconcile rebels to himself is worked out through the ages and comes to its culmination and fulfill- ment in Christ? What would we not know if this book were not included in the sixty-six? What is its distinctive value and message? What is the tune it plays?