The Big Idea: Let's Get Back to the Text
Before you rush to application, get the A(a)uthor's meaning of the text right.
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PreachingToday.com: As you think about your life as a preacher and a professor of homiletics, what are you passionate about these days?
Dr. Jeff Arthurs: First and foremost, I'm passionate about preaching the biblical text, about preaching sermons that are tied closely to a specific Bible passage. Of course most sermons are based on a biblical theme, but they often don't go far enough into the specific authorial intent. So preachers are preaching from the Bible but it's not really exactly what the author—both the little a author and the big A Author—really intended for that passage.
Can you give a specific example of what you mean?
I'll start with an example from my own preaching. I was preaching from the story of the friends who lowered the paralyzed man through the roof to get him to Jesus. When I was planning the sermon series and chose that particular text, I intended to preach on lifestyle evangelism. So I was prepared to list some principles of friendship evangelism: Be a good friend, bring your friends to Jesus, persevere in your efforts to evangelize your friends, etc. Of course you can probably find some of those principles in that text, but that's not why that passage is in the Bible.
The story of the friends of the paralytic man is in the Bible because it's part of an argument for the Deity of Christ. It was originally written as part of a series of five controversy stories that start in Mark 1. Jesus is gradually unfolding his true identity, and the religious leaders are getting mad. Finally, in this scene Jesus claims that he has the power to forgive sins, a power which the Pharisees knew belonged to God alone. So the main idea in the text is that Jesus is the Christ. It's all about the Deity of Christ.
Now, a warranted implication of that truth may be to bring your friends to Christ. He's the Son of God. He's the Savior. He knows everything. He loves sinners. So bring your friends to Jesus. But the primary purpose of that passage focuses on declaring the identity, the person, the Deity of Christ.
That serves as an example of what I mean by pastors who say they are preaching from the Bible, but they're actually reading their own conclusions into the Bible. They bring out of the text what they have already predetermined is in the text. Unfortunately, I would say that that type of approach to Scripture constitutes quite a bit of evangelical preaching in the West.
Why do you think we keep doing that? Is it easier? Or are preachers just trying to be helpful by making Scripture applicable?
Both—it's easier and we're trying to be helpful. The preacher's instinct is always What am I going to say? Sunday's coming. I have to say something. We need to develop sermons efficiently, so we opt for a method of exegesis which is shallow, avoiding meditation and rigorous exegesis. Furthermore, we not only face the pressure of "I've got to say something," but we also feel, I want to say something good. I want to say something helpful. These are my people. I love them. So I want to apply in a way that helps them. That's the preacher's instinct. But unfortunately we jump too quickly from the text to application and we don't sit long enough with exegesis and theology.
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