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Prof says exposition of Scripture vital for preaching to glorify God

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (BP)–“Some Bible-believing preachers do not really believe in the sufficiency and potency of the Scriptures,” declared Kent Hughes at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary during the annual Hester Lecture Series on Preaching. Without that conviction, Hughes said, their preaching will suffer.

The senior pastor of College Church in Wheaton, Ill., since 1979 delivered the lecture series Feb. 22-24. Hughes is a senior editor for Christianity Today and has authored more than 25 books, including “Liberating Ministry From the Success Syndrome” and “Disciplines of a Godly Man.”

“Most preachers who claim to do exposition actually do disexposition,” said Hughes, referring to the process of departing from the text to pursue topics, repeat favorite verses or present worn clichés without ever engaging the text in its context in order to understand it.

Citing author Peter Adam, Hughes described five ways in which disexposition impacts the use of Scripture, including when it is:

— “decontexted” with the text ripped from its context and misapplied;

— “lensed” by viewing the text through a favorite lens such as one which is psychological, political, social, historical or domestic;

— “moralized” in order to teach morals without teaching what is actually in the text;

— “doctrinalized” by organizing the Scripture in some proof-text fashion to support a particular doctrine; and

— “silenced” as the preacher addressing gaps and silences in God’s Word such as a sermon on the innkeeper.

Hughes added a sixth way of doing disexposition:

— “homiletics of consensus” which occurs when the preacher polls his congregation on their felt needs and then plans his sermons around those needs.

While acknowledging the importance of preaching to the needs of people, Hughes said felt needs are often much more superficial, while real needs are what God’s Word addresses.

Borrowing from the three classical categories of Greek rhetoric — logos, ethos and pathos — to categorize his concerns about preaching, Hughes modified the definitions to view the Word of God as logos, the preacher as ethos and the passion of the preaching event itself as pathos, shifting the emphasis from man to God.

“What you believe about Scripture is everything,” declared Hughes, referring to his first concern, Logos. “There will be no biblical exposition as a part of your life unless you have this view of Scripture — that it is wholly inerrant, totally sufficient and massively potent. If you believe this, you will count nothing else as worthy as the expository preaching of the Word of God.”

In addition to providing a vehicle through which the Holy Spirit speaks, Hughes said the importance of expository preaching is confirmed throughout history, particularly in the apostolic and Reformation eras.

“For these massive reasons biblical exposition must be the regular diet of the church,” stated Hughes. “What we who preach need most of all is a commitment to the biblical text,” avoiding a fear that the text might “spoil our sermon.” He quoted David Bass as saying preachers should “study until we preach what it says instead of shrinking from it because it does not say what we want it to say.”

Hughes concluded, “There are appropriate times for topical and textual exposition and theological discourse. But, the week in, week out, day after day meal for my church has to be the exposition of the Word of God.”

Among the benefits Hughes noted for sequential expositional preaching are:

— preaching texts the preacher might tend to skip over,

— not having to decide what text to preach,

— adding growth and dimension to the pastor’s theology,

— always finding the subject of the message in the text; and

— adding confidence to the declaration, “Thus saith the Lord.”

Describing the benefits afforded those who hear expository preaching, Hughes cited:

— the Holy Spirit ministers to their needs;

— objection to the choice of the topic preached since it is simply the next one in the text; and

— the opportunity to learn God’s Word.
Hughes added, however, that the greatest benefit to expository preaching is that God is glorified.

Hughes defined his second concern over ethos, by stating, “Biblical exposition is enhanced when the preacher invites the Holy Spirit to apply the text to his own soul and ethical conduct so that the preacher is sympathetic to and humbly pursues the application of the text to his own life. The truth of God’s Word must come through the preacher’s character, his affections, his whole intellectual and moral life.”

Hughes said there is a great professional danger for preachers to “grow so familiar with the doctrine of repentance that we are dull to the fact that we have not repented ourselves.”

Sermon preparation begins with “20 hours of prayer,” Hughes said. “It is humble, holy, critical thinking. It is repeatedly asking the Holy Spirit for insight.” Included are the harrowing and plowing of one’s soul, ongoing repentance and an utter dependence upon God, he added.

“And when that is done, it is a singing heart. Nothing is more powerful than God’s Word when it is preached by one whose heart has been harrowed and sanctified by the Word he is preaching. Then it will be said of him, his sermon was like thunder because his life was like lightning.”

Moving on to his third concern about preaching by addressing the pathos, Hughes defined the preaching event itself as Spirit-directed passion.

“There is a lot of bogus passion in pulpits today,” said Hughes, expressing particular concern over a subtle form of false passion. A preacher may like the message he has prepared, have an energetic personality and be moved by the sermon when he preaches it, Hughes said, but it still may be of the flesh and have nothing to do with spiritual matters. “Every preacher knows exactly what this means. You can be carried away by your own eloquence and by the very thing you are doing and not by the truth at all.”

A key text concerning the passion of preaching is found in 1 Thessalonians 1:4-5, Hughes said. Referring to the phrase “deep conviction,” he said, “I used to read that thinking that was the conviction of the hearers. But what Paul is referring to here is his own conviction.” Noting also Acts 20:31, Hughes pointed out how Paul preached for three years admonishing the people with tears. According to Hughes, this was also Jesus’ way, observing that he lamented over Jerusalem.

“You must let the Word of God course through your soul, inviting the Holy Spirit to winnow your soul, making you sympathetic to the truth you are preaching,” Hughes exhorted. “And, as much as is possible, conform your life to the truth you preach so that God’s Word comes out of the inward affection of your heart without any affectation.”

Then, Hughes said, “You stand and you preach drenched in the authentic passion that causes you to speak with the utmost earnestness. And when you do that you are preaching the Word of God, the Holy Spirit is in your sails, God’s name is lifted up and there is glory alone to God. Amen.”

Further citations of sources are provided in the on-line version of this article available at www.mbts.edu.

    About the Author

  • Larry B. Elrod