In the June 2008 issue of The Briefing, published by Matthias Media, there was a rather interesting article entitled “The Dangers of Valuing Preaching” by William Philip. In the article he describes the recent resurgence of interest and thirst for expository preaching and how this surge mirrors movements of the past that have inevitably lead to a dead orthodoxy where act and science of preaching overshadowed its biblical purpose. From this he shows the reader three possible shifts in preaching that could potentially lead to this deadly error. As the article is not available online I will summarize his points below; however, if you are a pastor I highly recommend that you obtain a copy of the article and study it for the integrity of your ministry and the health of your flock.
“1. A shift from content to form”
The danger here is quite simple and yet it is a massive snare into which many have fallen. Whether you are just stepping into your role as an expositor or a seasoned exegete chances are there is a form of preaching with which you are most comfortable; this can be from the hottest book that is fresh off the press or patterns that have been developed over a lifetime of preaching. The danger is not the comfort but the form of preaching which you impose upon the text of Scripture. Here he points the reader to Luke 24:32, “Did not our hearts burn within us … while he opened the Scriptures?” and he notes that the response of the disciples indicates the focus of Christ’s proclamation, namely the text of Scripture. May we preach in such a way that our preaching would be transparent and the hearts of men be left enamored with the Word of God.
“2. A shift from vertical to horizontal”
I think the danger of this shift is the most subtle of the three. It is at this point that the preacher begins to view preaching as a merely human exercise as he studies the Word, preaches the Word, and the congregation hears the Word. Rather we must preach as men called by and gifted by God to equip the people of God, through the faithful exposition of the living Word of God, in the power and presence of God, so that He might take His Word and use it to accomplish His purposes in the hearts of His people and among the nations.
“3. A shift from the corporate to the individual”
The danger presented here runs rampant throughout churches affected by western culture. This shift occurs in one or both of the following areas preaching either becomes about an egotistical preacher or it becomes about a narcissistic “church member.” Either way the focus shifts from God addressing his gathered people, preacher included, to a man addressing men. This shift is strikingly similar to the one above and in many ways represents the end result of point #2. Once the focus shifts from God to man it will inevitably shift from man, in general, to a particular man; whether or not that particular man is in the congregation or the pulpit the shift is the same. Contrasting this he notes the overwhelming congregational emphasis of Scripture noting the emphasis in Hebrews of the congregation “drawing near” to God. For me I immediately think of the epistle to the church in Ephesus, aka Ephesians, where Paul writes to the church, not an individual, concerning the armor of God, an armor worn not by an individual but by a congregation. I also think of James 5:13-20 where we see the church mutually caring for and protecting itself. We preach in such a way that the church is equipped for and is exhorted to undertake its mission as the called out people of God.
What do you think about Philip’s three deadly shifts? Do you see these as a danger to your ministry? With the recent resurgence of demand for expository preaching do you see these shifts as a current danger in Evangelicalism? What do you propose we do to guard ourselves against this danger?
Interesting. I don’t have a ministry, but I never would have thought about the points he makes. I would like to see some descriptions/examples of the historic past movements he’s talking about.
I would think expository preaching would shift the focus away from the man preaching by empowering individuals to study the Word for themselves. When a preacher is simply exegeting a passage of Scripture, rather than making an eloquent speech that he’s put together from various passages, it becomes about the Word and not about the speaker.
I think the greatest danger is pride/arrogance. People espouse one form as superior to another and reject the others as lesser. There are great defenses of expository preaching, but to be extremely dogmatic about it creates some division. I guess that’s where he gets the form vs. substance idea.
The other danger I see stemming from the above is just pride. I think the recent emphasis on preaching, and expository preaching, has created the “preaching is the highest form of worship” mentality which leads to nothing more than the ecclesiological schisms that Martin Luther railed against. This may be the “egotistical preacher” that he’s talking about, someone who thinks he’s closer to God than other believers.