The Hermeneutical Distinctives of Expository Preaching
with penetrating accuracy into our own lives and the lives of those who listen to us.
This process does not start with us in the modern world but with the given text. The Bible is not provided to answer the spiritual whims and fancies of the twenty-first century. We can and do come to it with our own cultural questions. But the good expositor is more interested in asking the Bible’s questions, which, since they are God’s questions, are going to be much more important and far more significant than any we, in our ignorance and spiritual blindness, could ever pose. To do the contextual work faithfully at the biblical end will ensure that the unchanging text is truly heard in the modern world, with all its potency to teach, rebuke, correct, and train in righteousness. Then it really is the Word that is doing its characteristic work. And that work really is the Lord’s.
The biblical method of application has another great advantage. It delivers us from the tyranny of the currently fashionable norms of our own particular Christian subculture. So often in preaching, the applica- tion is mass-produced out of the current orthodoxies and enthusiasms of the wider church scene. The latest book, the newest ideas, the most exciting models are bolted onto a biblical text with very little authen- ticity. Because such applications are usually in the form of obligation: “We ought to . . .”, followed by the challenge, “so are you . . . ?” they quickly develop into legalism and soulless duty. The emphasis is then more and more on doing Christian things (giving, praying, witnessing) so that grace is effectively evacuated from the preaching. Attention becomes focused on the present—on me and my world, on my current concerns, or on our congregation and its growth and prosperity. It is almost as though there is no great eternal plan and no universal church. We become entirely obsessed with our own concerns, the prisoners of our inflated egos.
There is a dangerous and immediate consequence of this contem- porary sort of preaching. The hearers soon become adept at screening out the all-too-predictable challenges that masquerade as application. Successful life-changing application, however, is launched from the text in its original context and flies under the radar screen with an irresist- ible power. When the text surprises me, so that my response is “so, that’s what it means . . . of course!” then the Word is really at work. The mind is persuaded by the truth and the heart is softened to receive it and put it into practice. Finally, the will is energized to active obedience, to make the necessary life changes in thought and behavior, in the power of that same Holy Spirit who has been communicating through his inspired Word.