The Preaching of SBC14

What type preaching will we hear at the SBC annual meeting?

Jason Duesing and myself are teaching a course on the annual meeting of the SBC for students who, most of which, have never been to the SBC.  Dr. Duesing covered the historical question, and I tried to prep them for what type of preaching they would hear.  Below is a synopsis of what I told them, but first a few caveats.

First, for me, growing up attending the SBC in the 1980s, it was all about 1.) the preaching and, 2.) the presidential election.  If you know what happened in the SBC in the 1980’s you know that the two were not mutually exclusive.  The elections were won by great communicators.  Why and how this is true is an important discussion for another time.  This is simply to acknowledge that the SBC does more than gather to listen to preaching.  However, personally when I think of the SBC, I can’t help but think of the great preaching moments.

Second, the categories below do not address style of delivery, or theology of preaching.  The style of a sermon varies depending on a preacher’s personality and preaching context.  The theology of preaching, at least in my mind, has to do with what the Bible says about the nature of God’s communication, that further influences our communication.  This is the penultimate topic to discuss in preaching, again for another time.

What I am addressing here is the philosophy of preaching.  The methods the preacher is using are an expression of his philosophy of preaching.  I think there are three interwoven tiers to preaching that relate to each other in descending order:  theology of preaching, philosophy of preaching, and style of preaching.  What I am talking about below is the middle tier.

Third, many preachers will be a hybrid of these philosophies. Not trying to pigeon hole anyone here.  Also, some preachers with one philosophy will wisely adapt it to fit the moment.  This is necessary and understandable.

Fourth and finally, please realize how blessed we are.  With all her controversies, the SBC has a history of great communicators.  This year’s line up looks to be no exception.  What we say here is an attempt to have a critical mind without a critical spirit.  I’m incredibly grateful for the SBC and her preachers.  So, what types of preaching will we hear at the SBC?

Pure Exposition

While we will hear exposition, the word exposition is so ubiquitous it’s unhelpful.  Almost everyone I know is an expositor no matter how they preach.  Saying you are listening to an exposition is like going to Starbucks and asking for a coffee.  Sure it seems simple enough, but try it and you’ll see the complications of that simple request.  Supposedly everyone in the place is drinking coffee, it’s just that they really aren’t.

At the SBC we will hear some take a text of Scripture and explain its meaning in its context.  They will not project an outline on this text, but let the structure of the text be buoyant.   The text will breathe and the structure will come to the surface in glorious simplicity.  This is the only type of peaching we teach at Southwestern.  Its not that we are uptight, the reason is that we train people for a pastoral function, whether they serve that role or not, that carries the responsibility of explaining revealed truth to a congregation over a sustained period of time.  Preaching to a few thousand people in a large audience carries a unique responsibility itself, so at conventions, we don’t get a lot of pure exposition.  I believe in what I teach so I regret this.  Just being honest, but I wish more guys would steward the moment by just explaining Scripture.  However, being in that moment is itself a stewardship, one that I believe is unique from the pastoral function.

Text-Centered Preaching

This is a phrase we coined to describe preaching that is all built around one text, but stops short of pure exposition.  This is arguably the bread and butter of SBC preaching.  All of the “points” come from one text.  However, unlike pure exposition it does not tend to the semantic structure of the text nor is the outline shaped by the genre of the text.

However, the sermon will be built around one text, while it may or may not working out the singular idea of the text.  Thus it is text-centered while not text-driven.

Topical Preaching

This is a sermon that is built around a topic not a text.  Scripture will be used to support the topic, but the sermon itself is a working out of the topic, not the working out of the topic of one text.

Theological exposition

In a theological exposition a doctrine will be extracted from a text.  The rest of the sermon, or much of the sermon, will be spent teasing out the implications of this doctrine and applying it to the listener.  These sermons are heavier on doctrine a lighter on exposition. Canonized by William Perkins in his Art of Prophesying, this style of preaching, often called the Puritan Plain Style, has a rich history.  It is most obvious in the preaching of Jonathon Edwards.   It seems simple enough and perhaps this is its appeal to a generation who does not like rhetorical flourish.

Its other strength is that it does communicate theology.  Perhaps its weakness is that a sustained exposure to this type of preaching might give the listener a better sense of theology than Scripture.  It often has as its goal teasing out a doctrine, more than working out a text.

Again, no one preacher will be a perfect expression of these, most will be some type of hybrid.

A closing word to the uptight

For those who believe exposition is the only way to go, what are we do to in these situations?  The answer: we sit and listen.  We open up the breaker box and flip the one off that critiques sermons.  We put ourselves under the hearing of the word of God and pray He moves in our hearts.  We also breathe a prayer of thanksgiving for a denomination that loves God’s word so much that it generates a wealth of bright lights in the pulpit.  May God give us a million more.

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