Moody Publishers created an Author’s Page to go with Say It! On the page, I answer a handful of questions, including, “What are some core values that are embodied in Black churches and preaching?” They also recently changed the page for Say It! to include the recognition of the book’s awards.
I listened to a sermon preached this weekend at a large evangelical church in the suburbs of Chicago. It was not my own church, nor was the speaker an elder or member of the pastoral staff of our church. The congregation and their edifice were much larger and much more suburban than my own assembly. I had high expectations based on the size of the church, for I hoped that the word of God was drawing people to the thousands of seats in this sanctuary. However, I could not have been more disappointed in what I heard. I will not mention the passage or church so as to hide the identity of the speaker in my brief review. First, the person preaching totally missed the Big Idea of the passage — the main idea, the central idea —and substituted his own. His own idea was clever and drew from the personal significance of the textual words in English rather than from the meaning of the combined words, structure, theology, and tone of the text.
That preacher’s struggle to find the central idea in this narrative passage reminded me of the great importance of my task in teaching hermeneutics to my students: We must discern what God has said through the human author and not communicate our own extrinsic idea as the main idea. We are not preaching God’s words if we are not communicating his main idea through the author, no matter how clever, creative, or cool our idea sounds.
Second, for a theological issue in the passage he did not understand, the preacher attempted to explain it by means of an analogy. It was a good attempt, but it showed little concern for his people’s need for a correct theological understanding. It would have been good for him to give more thought and study to the issue and present accurate theology to those he served. Who knows if his listeners ever will have this theological error corrected even as they attempt to build their lives and theological knowledge on the error?
Third, the preacher ignored the issue of nationalism that was part of the meaning of the passage. On a particular point of application, he expressed agreement with striving for “social justice” (even though what he described was not social justice but social service; the wrong identity reinforces false ideas about social justice). He followed his expression by saying that the gospel is a proclamation not simply a demonstration.
Was that false distinction even necessary?
Apparently, it was necessary based on his audience’s response, for he received a hearty “Amen!” from many people. He could not hide that he was playing to the sentiments of the membership rather than applying what the biblical text means.
Again, the preacher skipped the nationalistic thrust of the passage, misspoke about social justice, and then separated the so-called “gospel” from serving people socially. I was witnessing the soft reinforcing of Christian nationalism or at least the ignoring of it. It is no wonder so many evangelicals are not confronted on sins related to their preferred political ideologies if this preaching is representative of the typical evangelical pulpit, which I fear it is. I should not have been surprised, though, since there was an American flag posted in the sanctuary.
I was thankful that the preacher later explained the gospel in a succinct form. He preached the wrath of God as God’s just judgment against sin. He exalted Christ’s death and resurrection as God’s solution for sin and wrath. He challenged the listeners to repent and trust Christ. Christ was preached, and for this I rejoiced!
Still, I am sad for that congregation. I am sad over a preacher who substituted his own idea for God’s idea in the passage, over a congregation that received that message as the word of God, and over the missed opportunity to challenge believers to pursue God-glorifying life-change based on God’s meaning in the passage. There were several other misgivings in the preaching of this passage, including the building of a point of application from an admittedly speculative interpretation by some scholars. However, the three aforementioned concerns stood out as most significant.
Finally, may I encourage believers in the pews to remove any and all expectations for the preacher to make you feel good about your faith, to say what is familiar or agreeable, to affirm your values or political views, or to make sure you leave the worship service without critical spiritual and theological challenge? It is not the preacher’s job to do anything other than preach the word of God in love with a view toward calling all hearers to the obedience of faith. The preacher I heard gave the evangelical form of scratching itchy ears, making people laugh at jokes and nod at error cloaked as Theology Lite. As preachers, our calling is to herald the gospel and all of its implications for living life before our Savior and King. We have one grand opportunity to do so each week. We need to be the best stewards possible over that calling and not send people away in disobedience or ignorance but with smiles on their faces. The gospel also is education, not job-preservation.
Instead, members should expect to leave the preaching event with a robust sense of conviction, correction, instruction, humility, hope, anticipation, and celebration of Christ. We should walk away feeling the gravity, grace, and gladness of having met with God and heard his voice.
I had a brief social media exchange with people I do not know about a well known preacher’s expositions of Scripture. I remarked that the preacher in question is a highly competent expositor of NT Letters – which, if trained in evangelical academies that affirm inerrancy, is almost a given. (As Jonathan Pennington says, “For Protestants, especially evangelicals, especially Reformed, doctrine-oriented ones, we love Paul. Give us Romans and thirteen years to preach through it phrase by phrase, and we will be in heaven!” [Reading the Gospels Wisely, Baker Academic, 2012], 37.) However, I also mentioned that the same preacher is not a competent expositor of NT Gospels and Acts, or the OT. I made no comment on the person’s abilities with the book of Revelation because I did not want a debate over views of interpreting the Apocalypse.
The comments related to the NT Letters and the other biblical literature recognizes that many expositors use hermeneutics intended for NT Letters to interpret the Fourfold Gospel, Acts, Revelation, and the OT. When they do so, they yield sermons that do not respect the biblical writer’s combined theology, structure, tone, and argument even if they might respect the use of the original languages. Yet even that respect for the languages is only to a certain degree if one does not place the grammar and syntax of the language back into the structured theological content of the passage’s tone and flow of the argument of the words.
Expositional preaching takes the biblical author’s central idea in a passage and communicates that idea to a contemporary audience, while respecting the biblical author’s language, structure, theology, tone, and argument. To do otherwise in preaching is not exposition, even if one is a highly respected expositor of the NT Letters.
For example, the subject of Judges 13 is, “Manoah’s increasing understanding of the identity of the Angel of the Lord in the revelation of the child to be born to his barren wife.” While there are typology and echo related to the child to be born, the passage moves from Manoah’s ignorance related to the words of the Angel to Manaoah and his nameless wife bowing in worship before the Angel as the Angel reveals his divine identity. If one preaches a sermon on Judges 13 without the above subject being the central idea behind the homiletical idea, the sermon will not be an exposition of this passage no matter how well studied, crafted, and delivered.
A good adage to insert here might be the one that begins, “If it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck….” However, having moved to Chicago, I have noticed how many people identify Canadian Geese as ducks.
Although our methods differ ever so slightly, I highly respect the work of David Helm and what his team at Charles Simeon Trust is doing to train preachers to give expositions of Scripture in various genres according to the conventions of the genre. Tony Merida and his team of writers are doing the same in the Christ-Centered Exposition series; (see this resource too). Also, if one is looking to approach the exposition of 1 and 2 Chronicles, some helps are offered here, there, and there.
Calvary Memorial Church has posted three of my recent sermons on Acts 4-5, 9, and 10. The Big Idea of each of these passages is somewhat unexpected. I am grateful for the roles of the Cyprusian Levite and the tanner by the sea in the narratives. I look forward to rejoicing with them in Christ’s kingdom.
The Tulsa Race Massacre and the destruction of Black Wall Street, and the death of George Floyd both occurred this week in history. We must remember. May I suggest that remembering through the lens of loving one’s neighbor as oneself might be a path to allowing the gospel to influence thoughts on reparations for the descendants of those harmed by the 1921 racial injustice event in Tulsa? If your family lost their businesses, homes, churches, and community to a systematic, racially-incited riot that was unprovoked, and no one was ever charged for a crime, and it set back your family financially, professionally, and emotionally for the next 100 years, what would you hope for in return for wrongs to be set aright?
Yesterday I preached at Calvary Memorial Church from John 20:19-23 on “The Breath of Peace.” (The sermon starts about 40:10 in the video.) This morning, Moody Radio South Florida’s morning show, Mornings with Eric and Bridgitte, invited me to talk about practical evangelism–the idea flowing from the message from John 20:19-23.
I am grateful to see the publication of Urban Apologetics! This is my endorsement of the book:
Eric Mason’s team of adept philosophers and theologians has created apologia for a community whose heterodox teachings have been misunderstood and ignored by traditional theological resources. Speaking to those who have both Whitewashed and/or Consciousness Community educations, it reveals the racial biases – evangelical and secular – that have been baptized as truth and masqueraded as the only right readings of history, theology, and Scripture. Within these pages is a corrective needed to help provide defense of the hope all believers hold while also exalting the human dignity of all persons in the body of Christ. This is a Tolle Lege call to all who have a heart that longs for the salvation of the spiritually lost within the African American community and it is a masterful work that lays bare the weaknesses of the Black Religious Identity Cults for those tempted to find hope their teachings.
FROM BOYS TO MEN My Response to the SBC Seminary Presidents’ CRT Statement BY WILLIAM DWIGHT MCKISSIC, SR.
“When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put aside childish things.” (I Corinthians 13:11 CSB)
I am often asked the question, why do I remain in the Southern Baptist Convention? A recent joint statement on race made by the six seminary presidents of the SBC has brought that question back into discussion once again. The crux of the seminary presidents’ statement is as follows:
“In light of current conversations in the Southern Baptist Convention, we stand together on historic Southern Baptist condemnations of racism in any form and we also declare that affirmation of Critical Race Theory, Intersectionality, and any version of Critical Theory is incompatible with the Baptist Faith & Message.”
A copy of Say It!would make a great stocking-stuffer for someone you know! Yes, it is a book about preaching the Scriptures. But it also is a book about learning to read the Scriptures well — even the difficult, unfamiliar, and seemingly boring passages of Scripture. Help someone become the best reader of Scripture she/he can be. Give her/him a copy of Say It!