There are 3 essential disciplines of good biblical exposition.
To what extent are they part of your preparation process?
Traditionally, a set of 3 words has been used to encompass the process of preparing a sermon.
Since these three terms are sometimes used with slightly different meanings, perhaps it would be helpful to take a moment to describe how we will be using them here in terms of the 3 questions they seek to answer.
The Bible was written to others before it was written to us, so first of all, it is imperative to discover what it meant in its original context. Any honest preaching must start here. God’s message to us is a message mediated through writings intended for other people. Therefore, the question to answer is: What did the author want to communicate to his original readers?
Specifically, what relevance does it have for us today? This is the step where we must do the complicated work of discerning what a text originally written for others long ago in another context has to do with us today in our context. Sometimes the application is more or less obvious. Other times it is a difficult puzzle to construct.
3. Homiletics – How do I present it?
Structure lends clarity to a sermon. Originality gives it freshness and keeps the listener’s interest. The best entree will be of little use if no one wants to taste it because of the way it looks. This is not a structure or presentation detached from the exegetical and hermeneutical work done previously. Hence the whole question is, how should I structure and present the author’s original message so that its relevance for us today reaches my hearers with all its divine authority?
These are the 3 essential disciplines of all effective biblical preaching or teaching.
- We must discover the original meaning of the biblical text.
- We must interpret it for our times and context.
- We must communicate it in an effective way to the people sitting before us.
When we invest in these three areas with care and integrity (and within the parameters of the time God gives us), I believe we can be reasonably confident that we are adequately expressing revealed truth in a relevant way. We may cover these three questions in 10 steps, or 13 or 29 or 4, but we must cover all three or our preparation will be lacking. Let’s think about this last statement for a few moments.
What happens if a person doesn’t carry out the 3 disciplines adequately?
I think you will see teaching and preaching that suffers in some fairly characteristic ways.
- If all we deliver to our audience is the fruit of Discipline 1, we might wind up sharing our discoveries, but we won’t really be preaching or teaching. We will have information. We can talk about when the original was written, under what circumstances, to whom it was directed, etc. But that doesn’t mean that we automatically understand what it has to do with the people we will be addressing. What’s more, unless we give dedicated consideration to how we plan to present our discoveries, while all of our information might be factually correct, folks might lose interest because they see no evident connection to the lives that they are living.
- If we only develop that which corresponds to Discipline 2, we expose ourselves to the danger of committing eisegesis, that is, introducing into the text a meaning that’s not really there. Most likely that will leave us teaching a mere reflection of ourselves or the theological system we’ve acquired with the passage of time. My fear is that a large percentage of the studied teaching out there now-a-days begins here. I know that I’ve found myself doing this with some frequency: presuming to know more about a particular text than I really do. This is not good operating procedure!
- If we only focus on Discipline 3, it’s likely we will teach or preach fluff. My sense is that more than we would care to admit of what is preached and published out there has been prepared this way. A few key words are selected from the text, then whatever comes to mind gets said, making reference to those key words a few times so that it gives the appearance of legitimate study. But there is a vast difference between actually saying what the text says and saying what comes to mind with oblique references to the text.
And if it is possible to err on the side of one discipline, you can also err on the side of two. That is to say, it would also be interesting to devise the expository malformations that would occur by combining 2 of the 3 disciplines.
- Exegesis and Hermeneutics without Homiletics.
- Exegesis and Homiletics without Hermeneutics.
- Hermeneutics and Homiletics without Exegesis.
I get the impression that the offspring of the first pairing would be a master class with flashes of brilliance that impress the listener without touching the heart. The offspring of the second pairing would sound like terrific preaching…for the first century. The child of the third union would probably be what shows up in the typical liberal pulpit. Very polished. Very contemporary. Very lacking in the voice of God.
The three disciplines are essential. Work on them as you see fit, but work on each one to the best of your ability in the time frame God gives you. In doing so, you will be able to offer your hearers the authority of the original in every exposition.