A Theology for Text-Driven Preaching
Not long ago, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Steven W. Smith, pastor of Immanuel Baptist Church in Little Rock, Arkansas and former professor of preaching at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, about his book Recapturing the Voice of God: Shaping Sermons Like Scripture.
In his book, as well as in the interview, he discussed his theology of how we should preach the Bible.
It’s interesting, with all the different styles of preaching, that you won’t find a verse in the Bible that says, “This is how you ought to preach.” But clearly some ways are better than others. What is the ideal way to preach? What is the aim of preaching?
Whatever the aim of preaching is, it is at least to bring people to God through Jesus. That seems general enough for our purposes. I’m quite sure preaching aims to do more than that, but like I said, it is at least this much.
The question then would be “Given that we want to bring people to God through Jesus, what is the best way to preach?”
Dr. Smith said something in our discussion that I thought was profound, yet so simple. He said, “I want to preach in a way that reflects Christ’s revelation of the Father (paraphrasing).” In other words, I want to present the Bible to the people the same way Christ presented the Father.
This way of thinking would look like this:
- Jesus is the exact representation of God the Father (Colossians 1:15; John 14:9).
- Jesus is revealed in His Word (John 14:23-24).
- Therefore, the preacher should re-present the Word in order to re-present Christ, who in turn re-presents God the Father.
Do you see the close connection between God the Father, Jesus, and the Word?
I think this makes the preacher’s job quite simple; not necessarily easy, but simple. My job as a preacher would be to take the text of Scripture and re-present it to a modern audience. It isn’t my job to think of cleverly contrived one-liners, but to simply re-present the text. In this way, much pressure can be lifted from the preacher.
One last point is that our sermons should then look like the text. That is to say, if we want to re-present the text to the people – so that they will be exposed to God through Jesus – we ought shape our sermons like the text (Hence, the subtitle of Dr. Smith’s book). We should not approach the text with a predetermined sermon outline. If there are four points in the text, our sermon should have four points.
I’ll summarize Dr. Smith’s line of thinking with three points:
- The structure of the text should determine the structure of the sermon.
- The spirit (tone) of the text should determine the spirit of the sermon.
- The substance of the text should determine the substance of the sermon.
If we wish to expose our congregations to their Creator through Jesus Christ, then this theology of preaching seems ideal to me.
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