Should our attempts to preach the Bible train people to be better readers of the Bible?
I think the answer to that question is obvious. It seems like a no-brainer to me that our attempts to preach the Bible should train those who hear us to be better readers of the Bible. This has implications for what we do in our sermons, implications for how we preach.
In short, it means we “show our work” in ways that are appropriate. Remember that phrase from math class? It refers to the way that all the steps on the way to the answer are to be written out, as opposed to doing the math in your head and shortcutting from problem to solution.
Obviously we can’t show every step, and we shouldn’t bore people with unnecessary exegetical detail.
That said, we’re preaching the Bible, and the Bible is a book. We’re making disciples of Jesus who are to obey everything he commanded. As we preach, we’re training people who need to meditate on the word of God day and night. We’re training people to read and understand the Bible.
Why am I saying all this? Because to my thinking it follows from the people of God needing preaching that is squarely based on the Bible.
What’s wrong with preaching where the work isn’t shown?
It’s too easy for preachers who don’t show their work to make assertions that the text of Scripture does not make, and this is complicated when they make applications from their own assertions. If you can’t show it to me from the Scriptures, it does not carry the authority of the word of God. In such a case, it is not the word of God that is being preached.
As I listen to preaching, I want to hear what the Bible teaches. I want the preacher to prove to me that what he’s claiming is what the Bible teaches. I want him to show me enough of his work to earn my trust, I want his applications to come from what the Bible actually teaches, and I would like to go away with a better understanding of the passage that has been preached.
I’ve heard analogies that argue against what I’m contending for, and I think they fail.
Here’s one: when you preach, you don’t show your homework because preparing a sermon is like building a house. When you walk into a house that’s been built, you don’t see its structure. The drywall covers the frame, and paint covers the drywall. It’s finished. So should the sermon be.
But what if as you preach you’re preparing people to build their own houses? That is, what if you’re making disciples, not just being a disciple on their behalf? Even if a particular Christian never stands to preach a sermon, don’t we want him to be reading the Bible for himself? Don’t we want Christians arriving at the meaning of the Bible for themselves? Don’t we want them to be able to evaluate claims about what the Bible says for themselves?
This “finished house” analogy seems to suggest that the preacher is going to do the thinking and the Bible study and the responding to challenges for his audience.
If a preacher isn’t showing people how he got to his interpretive conclusions and applications from the Scripture, will anyone who hears that preacher learn to be a better Bible-reader?
For all these reasons, this past Sunday (October 16, 2011) I took some time to explain how I had arrived at the turning points in Jeremiah’s flow of thought in the passage I was preaching. It’s difficult to determine the structure of the whole book of Jeremiah, and it’s difficult to arrive at the structure of individual passages.
Why should we care about structure? Because the way that Jeremiah has arranged his presentation is essential to understanding his message.
As I preached Jeremiah 4:5–31, “Wash Your Heart from Evil,” I explained that repeated words and phrases, changes in content or theme, and changes in point of view (for instance, from first person to second or third) are all indicators of turning points in Jeremiah’s presentation.
What do you think?
Should preachers show their work?
Are these reliable indicators of the movements in Jeremiah’s thoughts?
Can someone learn to read the Bible from those who don’t show their work?