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objections to preaching – mark keown

Word on keyboard made in 3D

I recently heard Dr Ian Paul speak on the subject “Has Preaching Had its Day?”. It’s a really interesting listen, and I recommend you take a bit of time to listen and consider it.

In his presentation, Ian presents seven objections to the preaching as we know it. He then responded to them.

The first is the practical objection, so much preaching is as boring as! He challenged us that this is not necessarily true. He notes in the UK that where people are good, people pay come to massive Christian events to hear monological preaching. He encourages trainee preachers to develop their skill by watching comedians to enhance their ability to engage in the moment. He notes that Radio listening is on the increase as seen in BBC historical and political podcasts.

The second is what he calls the pedagogical objection; monological preaching is a poor way to disciple people. He responds that on its own, preaching is not enough. It must sit within a wider strategy to help people grow in their faith. He notes the importance of small groups and linking teaching material to the word taught. But he warned that he did find it very hard work to prepare the material.

The third is the learning-styles objection; monological preaching suits certain people, but not others. He notes that there is now a move away from learning styles as people learn from being challenged from alternative learning styles. He suggests giving appropriate opportunity for people to respond as we preach. We can also use technology and social media to encourage this.

His fourth point is the philosophical objection; monologue preaching is hierarchical in terms of power and truth. He urged preachers to preach as one without authority. We mustn’t draw on our social power based on position and expertise. He urged us to call others to test out what we say– don’t take my word for it, test it, live it, and put it into practice.

The fifth point is the cultural objection; many people are turned off by the traditional practice of preaching as it is culturally irrelevant. He met this objection by us working hard to ensure that our preaching connects with culture and everyday life. Hence, we must use jokes, the news, and current life issues. It must draw on the everyday world of our people.

The sixth objection is the theological objection. A preacher is not the only one with spiritual insight. We need to listen to all voices. He noted the gifts of 1 Cor 12–14 and the wide range of modes of preaching in the NT. His response is that while there is truth here, God calls people to be preachers and teachers of the word. He sees preaching as a prophetic ministry, God is speaking through it. He suggests that as there are different modes of preaching in the NT, we need to extend our understanding of preaching to a wider range of situations in all of life.

The final point is competence objection; preaching a good sermon is hard work and not many do it well. His response was to challenge us: are we investing personally and institutionally in preaching?

I found it a good presentation and very provocative for helping me consider my own preaching and teaching ministry. Some of the best material came as he asked what is preaching. He suggests the key question concerning preaching is this, “what is God saying to these people in this place in this time through this text?” Preaching is the liturgy of the word, “the meeting place is the training place for the market place.” He notes Darrell Johnson (The Glory of Preaching), “when God speaks, something happens. When the preacher speaks God’s word, God speaks. Therefore, when the preacher speaks God’s words, something happens.” He sees this as close to Barth who sees preaching as an event, “when the gospel is preached, that is the gospel.” It is proclaiming so that people can respond as its spoken. He goes on, “Preaching is our participation in the transformation-communication of the Trinity to the creation.” He notes Phillip Brooks great quote, “Preaching is truth expressed through personality.” Hence, we need to be people who embody the truth and really invest in preaching. He finished suggesting that “preaching deserves our best.” I say amen to this. Have a listen, he preached well.

preaching Christ and Christ crucified – mark keown

Paul says in 1 Corinthians 2:2 that when he came to Corinth, he preached Christ and Christ crucified. For a long time I read this as meaning that the central content of Paul’s preaching is Christ and particularly his death and its consequences. After spending a number of months working through Philippians 2:5–11 while simultaneously teaching 1 Corinthians at Laidlaw College, I realise that Paul is saying a lot more than this in this passage.

The problem in Corinth he is addressing is a church fragmenting over their favoured preachers – Paul, Peter, and Apollos. The essential issue is stylistic. We can’t be sure of the exact styles these preachers used, but from what we know of Apollos from Acts 18, he likely preached with great rhetoric skill and flair as he preached the gospel. He was more like the Sophists and other traveling preachers who frequented Corinth. Peter perhaps appealed to the Jews, and Paul to those from the early days who remembered him with fondness. Their essential problem was cultural – they were enculturated into a proneness to judge speakers on the quality of their delivery and style. They were drawn to flamboyance and charisma. Sound familiar?

Paul argues from 1:12 on that the Corinthians need to pull their heads in and realise that there is no such thing as ‘I follow Paul … Cephas … Apollos,’ but ‘I follow Christ’ and their unity is bound up in Christ and Christ crucified. When he says he preached Christ and Christ crucified he means two things.

On the one hand, it is about content. Christ and him crucified is the basis for our unity. Whether we are rich, poor, educated, uneducated, male, female, strong, or weak (etc.) we are bound together in the one indivisible Christ. Christ did form the centre of his content, particularly his death and resurrection. The spin off for us is that, whatever our style, whatever our context, to Christ and Christ crucified we return again and again. The crucified Christ, nonsense to the world, is our salvation. The crucified Christ is also our life-example – we call people to cruciformity. Both Christ as our salvation and example must be stressed again and again and again.

The second thing he is saying is that Christ is not only his content, but he shaped his approach to preaching in emulation of Christ and Christ crucified – it is about carefully thought through delivery. Recognising that Corinthians were obsessed with rhetorical flair, he was concerned that to come at his preaching there by the style they were familiar with, many would not hear the message clearly. They would be drawn to Christ not through Christ, but through Paul and his superb rhetoric. So, he chose to do something quite extraordinary. Rather than use the approaches found in rhetorical handbooks, emulate the Sophists and traveling philosophers, he disrupted their expectations by preaching differently. While he did speak with full conviction (1 Thess 1:5), he spoke humbly, out of fear and much trembling, not seeking to persuade with dynamic words of wisdom (philosophical brilliance), but portraying publically Christ crucified clearly and without the kind of flair they were associated with. In this way, the gospel could be clearly heard uncluttered. He trusted the gospel to do the work. He was not going to let his delivery get in the way. Then, their faith will not rest on glorious rhetoric (human wisdom), but on the power of God – the power of the gospel of a crucified Christ to convert even the Corinthians. That it had is a pillar of his argument – remember the simple message that converted you!

These Corinthians had yet to grow up into Christ. They were still stuck in their pre-Christ worlds, judging the Christian preachers, instead of coming together in Christ with the attitude of Christ – humility, selflessness, sacrifice, service, and love.

There is so much for us to think of here. Of particular note is that we need to be sensitive to our context and adapt our delivery carefully to ensure that the message is being heard and that people are being drawn by Christ to Christ and not to the preacher because of his/her skill. I am profoundly challenged by this every time I get up to preach. I have always been concerned for dynamic delivery. I am rethinking this, as I want the message to be heard not the medium to be admired. Something to work toward.

multiple voices – mark keown

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One of the key texts in the NT for understanding how the early church did its worship is 1 Cor 14:26. Paul is dealing with the problems at their worship gatherings—an obsession with flamboyant rhetoric (1 Cor 2), inappropriate dress and abuses of the Last Supper (1 Cor 11), a fixation on tongues, and more. He advocates less concern for rhetoric and tongues, and a desire for prophetic proclamation – proclamation that is encouraging, comforting, and strengthening. Preaching that is Christ-focussed and speaks God’s word with future consequence into the present life of the community.

In 1 Cor 14:26 Paul urges the all the Corinthians to bring to their gatherings something to share – a veritable pot-faith spiritual smorgasbord. He includes a list of five specific gifts: a hymn, a teaching, a revelation, a message in tongues, or and interpretation. He then states, ‘let all things be done for building up’ the church. As with all lists of spiritual gifts in 1 Cor 12–14 and elsewhere (e.g. Rom 12:4–8; Eph 4:11), these are not to be read as exhaustive of what people are to bring. They are to bring such things – in other words, the full range of God’s gifts are to be bought to the gatherings and shared. Individualising this – every one of you bring something to share. This builds on 1 Cor 11 where they bring food to share – also bring something from your spiritual giftedness. We then have a picture of the early Christian gatherings in the Pauline churches as more akin to a homegroup where everyone brings food, spiritual and actual, to share, and space is given for all. It is highly participative.

Such a vision has led some to set up micro-church enterprises which mirror this. This is not a bad idea, and will no doubt be part of our church’s future. However, it can tend to forget that there were as many sociological reasons as spiritual for the church being as it was in Paul’s day. They met in small groups because they had to. When the persecution of the church ended in later generations, they took over the Basilicas and gathered in larger groups. There are multiple ways of doing church.

That said, I think there is something important to gain from Paul’s injunction here. One thing is that we need to move away from the dominance of one voice in the Christian gathering. Our contemporary services tend to have one key leader/preacher who week in week out, preaches God’s word (we can discuss music here too, but not in this blog). Having one voice has some real advantages. Assuming that person is a good preacher, the church can really grow under such a ministry. It also can maintain continuity and a level of quality control. If that person is the core visionary for the community, the vision can be upheld loud and clear.

However, I wonder whether the weaknesses outweigh the gains? What if they are not that good? Further, even the best preachers can get over-exposed – fresh voices are required in the dressing room. All preachers have blind spots and hobby horses. What about the other aspects of the gospel being overlooked, albeit inadvertently. What if that preacher is male, when do people hear a woman’s perspective? If a Pakeha, when another culture? If young, how can they relate to the older? If they have grown up in a Christian home, can they connect with the lost? Etc.

One thing this text tells me is that while our best preachers need to be given opportunity to preach, we need a multiplicity of voices from the front of our churches bringing the word through lives shaped differently? This then challenges us to find those budding preachers and train them. This means humbling ourselves and giving up the pulpit. This means allowing quality to at times be sacrificed for the bigger picture of growing others in the task. This means the preaching guns humbling themselves and realising that they aren’t Jesus – let his body speak.

While in a large gathering it is implausible to live out 1 Cor 14:26 literally (we will be there all day), I think we need to hear more voices in our churches and from our pulpits. They don’t have to be sermons, they can be sharing times, testimonies, interviews, etc. This is certainly something I am pondering.

engaging the text in preaching – mark keown

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In my experience in the church and with fresh students to Laidlaw College, in the main, Christians today are not engaging sufficiently with the text of Scripture. So, I consider one of my primary tasks as a preacher today is to get them to do so; at least for the 20-30 minutes I have opportunity to address them. I have thought a lot about how to do this and am working with a method in many of my sermons which I am finding is yielding positive results.

When I preach now, whether I am preaching topically or expositionally, and usually the latter, I will focus my attention on the passage(s) in mind. This starts with me immersing myself in the text in question. Ideally, this is done in the original language. I use Logos software for all my biblical research, and its tools are amazing (see my previous blog about Logos software here). As I do, I get excited about the text, its underlying story, its message, and how it breaks down. I want to get to the point where all I have to work with is the PowerPoint and know the text so deeply, that I can ad lib on it in the moment, speaking freely and dynamically about the text – my goal, that they get as excited about it as I do.

When it comes to the sermon itself, I know most of the congregation don’t bring a Bible (although more do now with smart phones etc.), and so prior to, or early in the sermon, I read through the passage (or we read together), so they are familiar with it. Sometimes, I will ask them to say what they see in the passage. Then, as I come to the sermon itself, aside from sharing illustrations and background material, the main content of the sermon involves putting the text up in front of them on Powerpoint, highlighting phrases or verses, and expounding it.

So, for example, recently I was preaching on Rom 8:35-39 in a series on hope, and below is a slide exposing part of Rom 8:37. I was able to speak on the great Greek word hypernikaō, “hyper-conquerors” and, while firing a few shots at prosperity teachers, explain what a cool word it is and what it means that we are conquerors in a world, where suffering is real – God is with us and loves us in our travails (you can hear the sermon here).

Mark

In taking this approach, I have moved away from clever three-point sermons and overdoing personal or other stories, which are still very important and good, and try to inspire people with the Scriptures themselves and especially the rich feast one can have when engaging with it.

I have found that this approach is yielding a very positive response as hearers are more and more deeply desirous of the word. They are coming under it, and the word is shaping them. I am going to stick with it I think.

fast preaching – mark keown

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In recent years the demography of our church has shifted radically. It is no longer primarily European as it once was, but praise God it is now a rich blend of Europeans with non-European peoples who have come to NZ to settle. While some of these people have good English, a large number struggle with English and have difficulty understanding the preaching. Not only has our church changed, but our suburb has shifted markedly. About half of the people living in it are Asians, many of whom find English a challenge. Our mission field has shifted. As such, our approach to preaching the gospel needs to adapt.

As a result of this shift, I have realised in recent times that I need to make a radical change to my preaching style. I am a naturally fast speaker—very fast in fact. I have developed a style being a child of my generation in which people tend to speak quickly. We see this in the media which is full of people who speak very quickly. Such speaking full of one liners and repartee that Kiwis get and adds dynamism and interest. Such people that come to mind are Mike Hosking, Paul Henry, Martin Devlin and others. In fact, it is astonishing how quickly the popular media presentations speak.

Until recently I have resisted the odd comment here and there about my speaking too fast thinking that my style especially suited attracting younger people of ‘my culture’. I was of the view it added dynamism and personality. That may be so, but I have to acknowledge that ‘my culture’ is now not the dominant culture which I encounter each week. The seismic shift in the demography of our church leads me to seriously begin working on changing my approach to a more methodical, simple, slower, and clearer style of proclamation (this applies at Laidlaw as well). This doesn’t come natural to me as I am a fast communicator, who throws in a whole range of kiwi humour without much thought.

One thing I am considering is how fast then should I preach? Not surprisingly, I found a whole range of material on the net about this. One analysis of six minute Ted Talks found that the range of speakers was 133-188 with an average of 163. The analyst notes that she speaks around 145–160 words a minute, while the average American English speaker speaks 110–150 wpm. Audio book publishers recommend 150–160 wpm. Auctioneers are up in the 250–400 word range. Across the discussions I found on the net, around 160 words per minute seemed normative. Considering that many in our churches in cities like Auckland are second language speakers, 160 would seem a maximum speed.

So, with this in mind I analysed six minutes of my own speech from a recent sermon on our churches sermon audio blogs. In these minutes I averaged 180 words per minute with one minute including 190 words. So, as I suspected, I speak too fast—and especially so as the demography of our church changes.

I am now committed to make a radical shift in my approach. I am determined to slow down, working on pause and emphasis to add dynamism. Such changes are critical if the gospel is to be contextualised to our shifting culture. What is appropriate in your context?

the wonderful world of logos – mark keown

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I am not a salesman for Logos Software, but it has changed my life. You see, I am a bibliophiliac, I am in love with the Bible. I am a lecturer in New Testament (NT) because of this. When I became a disciple of Jesus at age 24, inspired by Open Air Campaign (OAC) evangelists and Navigators, I began memorising Scripture. Being a trainspotting lover of sports stats from my childhood, I turned my attention to Scripture and developed an encyclopaedic knowledge of it. When I turned up at Bible College, I was like a pig in mud, I just couldn’t get enough, learning biblical languages, and going deeper into Scripture. I loved it. As a result, I did ok and ended up doing a doctorate, and a NT lecturer – how did that happen?

Early in my postgrad study, I can’t remember how, I discovered Logos Software. Despite the financial challenge Logos involves (it’s not cheap), I had to get me some, so I did. This purchase changed my life. I discovered a tool that allowed me to play in the “mud” of Scripture at a level and speed that I couldn’t possibly do without it. I found that with a right click on a Greek word, I was in a world of joy. I could search the NT, the Septuagint, Philo, Josephus, the Pseudepigrapha and many of the writings of the Old Testament. I found that there were a whole range of lexicons (like Louw and Nida) and dictionaries (like BDAG, EDNT, TDNT) that I could explore to deepen my knowledge. I found I could buy piles of books and commentaries, and with the parallel panelling that Logos enables, I could sit and read commentaries, books, articles, sermons, hit hyperlinks, and move freely through a whole theological library without leaving my chair.

Then I got an IPad and smart phone (as you do, I hear the cries of the poor as I say it! sigh), and then I had them at my fingertips wherever and whenever. The research for my doctorate was 75% personal research through Logos. My lecturing at Laidlaw and preaching ministry now is in the main, enabled through Logos. What a biblical scholar could do in ten years in the “good old days” one can now do in months, as one can speedily and efficiently explore.

So what has all this to do with preaching? Well, as I said in my previous blog (http://kiwimadepreaching.com/2014/12/smartening-up-the-gospel-mark-keown/) we need to excite people with Scripture. Now, there is no excuse, except financial, for a preacher not to be up with the play and with resources that enable them to really grapple with Scripture as they come to preach and be inspired themselves. This inspiration is infectious. If you learned Hebrew or Greek and have lost it, you can now rediscover it through the power of a right click. You can even learn Hebrew or Greek through their courses. Anyway, I am out of words, so why don’t you check it out for yourself (or Accordance which others swear by)? See https://www.logos.com/. I don’t get a commission.

smartening up the gospel – mark keown

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When I was domiciled in Cambridge (UK) a number of months ago, I had a look at the Cambridge University Bookshop one day. There were a great range of biblical books full of deep insight, some from Kiwi friends. As I looked, sadly I realised that aside from the odd exception, no-one in my church would ever read them; and if they did, they would have little clue what they are about.

The problem is the massive divide between what can be called “academic Christianity” and “popular level Christianity.” Academic Christianity is that world of scholarship that looks at the biblical world, history, and theological questions through a microscope (I live in it). “Popular level Christianity” seems to be driven by the popular media, Christianity’s traditions (e.g. Pentecostal, Reformed), and simplistic understandings of the faith. It seems that never the twain shall meet. This is sad, because the two worlds need each other big time.

One of the many challenges for a preacher today is to confront the dumbing down of the gospel by smartening it up. This is especially important for those who come to church often. Indeed, a Christian who attends church weekly from age 16 to 80 will listen to some 3330 or so sermons over the time. That’s a heap of sermons. They need to be taken on a journey toward greater depth, or they will shrivel up and die.

The meeting point of academia and popular Christianity has to be the pulpit. The preachers challenge is to be consistently engaging with the academy. Many avoid this, believing that academic Christianity will rob them of their passion and security. Sure, that happens. But, if we come to study with a strong confidence in the Bible, the gospel, and Christ, we find that academic Christian study deepens us greatly. So, every regularly preaching pastor should be faithfully engaged in ongoing study, whether formal or otherwise. This is not listening to the odd you-tube video or sermon – but study.

At the same time, we have to remain immersed in the world around us. We need to be engaged with people, the media (even if it is drivel), with young people, with contemporary culture. We have to make time to engage with people inside and outside the church and know their world. While this gets more challenging the older we get and the more we are Christianized, it is not impossible if we study as one aspect of our busy lives of engagement with people, churched or otherwise.

In the pulpit we bring the worlds together. I see no reason why over a period of sustained quality preaching we cannot raise the level of thinking in our church. Seemingly complicated words and ideas like perichoresis or cruciformity (etc), patiently and repeatedly explained in the vernacular, can become a part of the mind-set of our people. As we feed ourselves on the richest theological stuff out there and distil it for the “common folk” their appetites can be whet and the gospel smartened up. As we speak of great books and writers we can introduce people to the world of theological thinking.

The great preachers to me do this well, joining the two worlds with a freshness of delivery that explains and inspires. They demonstrate the value of deeper learning. They stay connected to today. They excite others with wanting to know more. They turn people from pop-culture bunnies into deep readers and thinkers who remain engaged in today’s world.

My personal heroes in this regard are John Stott and N.T. Wright.

Yet, we can’t leave it to them. It is our task Sunday by Sunday to be such a person to our own people. In that way we can smarten up the church. And wow! Does it need that!

preaching the cosmic scope of what god is up to – mark keown

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Emma and I had a fascinating discussion this morning at breakfast here at Westminster College in Cambridge. The conversation partners were a delightful Sydney scientist couple visiting their daughter studying in Cambridge. As we talked he was intrigued by my NT scholarship sharing that he too is an academic working in the area of environmental science.

We also learned that he and his wife attend an evangelical church in Sydney of a popular denomination which shall remain nameless. In his ecological work he is observing and documenting first-hand the devastation of the natural life in the areas around Sydney due to climate change. He spoke of a tragedy occurring as we speak whereby these areas are becoming wastelands bereft of animal life. He was genuinely grieved. He works with others who are observing this all over Australia.

He started asking what was going on in theological thought around ecology and faith. I told him, heaps! As the church responds to the ecological challenges we face in the present by going back to the Scriptures and Christian story and consider God’s perspective on all this.

They shared about science and faith and the narrowness of the views of those in their Christian orb. He spoke of a complete disconnect from the world of science, ecology and church. I heard a couple who sensed that the gospel was way bigger than personal salvation, discipleship, worship, the church, and evangelism. But due to the failure of the teaching they have experienced, aside from their sense that “wait there’s more,” they lack any real theological understanding of the cosmic creational scope of the gospel. This is because no-one has ever taught them that there is a way of looking at the gospel that preserves the centrality of personal salvation and speaks of the fullness of the scope of what God is doing on planet earth.

We got talking about God and his creation, the possibilities of evolutionary theism, salvation as cosmic restoration, and a restorationist eschatology, i.e. that God’s ultimate purposes in Christ is to restore the whole cosmos with restored humanity at the centre of his purposes (esp. Rom 8:19–22). It was fascinating and unsurprising to hear him speak of difficulties of relationship with passionate six-day creationists. We spoke about different ways of reading Genesis and the story of the gospel. They shared that they were committed to love and unity wanting to remain in close fellowship with others who differ. Yet, they were finding this hard.

What got me was that they had never heard anyone articulate the gospel story with its full cosmic dimensions. Their experience was of moving around churches and only ever hearing a dualist spiritual-secular world-view.

They asked what theologians thought about this. I told him about movements of thought which were exploring all this, science and faith, a holistic view of the gospel, the place of ecology, justice, and more. I suggested authors, books to read, places to explore further to get him going. They were genuinely excited.

What can we glean from this? I was reminded that we as preachers must not fall prey to preaching a truncated narrow dualist gospel. While we must always preserve the importance of personal salvation, evangelism, the church and its local mission, we must preach the gospel in its fullness so it touches the questions of the day, the work our people are doing, the fullness of what God is doing on planet earth. We need to do a regular review of what we are preaching to ensure that we are not falling prey to preaching a narrow gospel. My sense is people are hungry for the full story. Let’s tell it.

preaching theologically – mark keown

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We live a context in which Christians are biblically and theologically challenged. There are a range of reasons for this including anti-intellectualism, theology having a bad name, people living of scraps from the internet, preaching that does not challenge, poorly theologically equipped popular preachers, and more. One of the critical needs of our age is to inspire our hearers not only to live the Christian life, but grow in their understanding of the Bible and theology. We want them to dig deeper. So how can we preachers help facilitate this process.

First, we need to keep ourselves theologically sharp. If we have an undergrad degree, we need to keep reading not only Scripture and the newspaper, but some good theology. There is nothing worse than a preacher’s library covered in dust, out of date, or unused.

Second, if we have not studied theology, we should do so, even if only part-time or by distance. We need to be stretched to stretch our people. Postgrad study is an excellent way to push us to further theological depth. I have seen great examples at Laidlaw of preachers who have come and done this. I take my hat off to them.

Third, when we preach, we need to develop the skill of bringing theological depth and insight to our hearers in a meaningful way. That means making them aware of different views, how to interpret, books and resources that are inspiring us, snippets from church history, theological language well explained, and all with touches of humour, inspiration, connection, and at the appropriate level. This means it has to be a part of us, not something manufactured. Something processed to the point of ease of delivery and framed for the level of our people. It has to be ‘natural’ and not ‘forced.’

Where different views are in mind, I believe we should preach with conviction giving the view that we are convinced of (or in the process of thinking an issue through). However, we should do so making them aware of why other people hold diverse views. For example, I remember doing a sermon on tithing. I went through the two main views, suggested my own, but left the congregation with Rom 14-15 encouraging them to go and decide for themselves and then live out of their conviction without judgment on the other. There is also nothing wrong with us saying we are working on something ourselves, demonstrating that we too are growing theologically.

What we really want is for people to leave Church interested in learning more and with guidance as to how to do so. We want them to go to small groups and pick up the discussion points. We want them to come and ask questions. That said, perhaps also we need to teach them how to dialogue theologically with grace and seasoned with salt as well.

The Sunday sermon of course will only ever be a taster. In most churches we are preaching for a short period to a group that covers the wide range of theological understandings and levels. As such, developing pathways for further learning is critical. I am delighted to hear of churches that are doing summer/winter schools, developing theology programs in their churches. Bring it on. Then there are a range of colleges for the really interested.

I believe we need to take seriously the biblical and theological illiteracy of our age. We have our people for 20–30 mins or so on Sundays. We preachers need to lead them in how to think theologically. This is one dimension of our task.

expositional, thematic, or narrative preaching? – mark keown

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When I was a young preacher the big question was expositional versus thematic preaching? Should we preach expounding the Scriptures passage by passage, focusing deeply on one passage, drawing out its meaning? Should we preach thematically, drawing from all of Scripture or key portions thereof to discuss a theme? In more recent times, narrative preaching has become more popular, with people preaching out of story or as story. Which way to go?

In my view we need a rich balance of all of the above. Each approach teaches a different skill, important for all Christians to develop. Exposition teaches the skill of exegesis – reading a single passage and connecting it to its context Scripture and applying it to today’s world. This is the bread and butter detailed stuff we all need. Preaching progressively through a book of Scripture helps the hearer learn the skill of reading in historical, social, immediate context and the books developing message. My wife Emma recently preached an expositional series on Ruth. It was sensational to hear people talk about the ‘aha moments’ they got from the book and redemption history.

Thematic preaching is equally important. Christians need to learn the skill of interpreting a theme across redemption history. We can show how something is found in the OT, fulfilled and interpreted by Christ, and understood and applied in the early church. Take the Temple for example. We can show them the development of ideas from creation as temple, the impact of the Fall, the Tabernacle, the temple in Zion, Christ as the temple, believers individual and the church corporate as the temple, the context of pagan temples of the Greco-Roman world, and the new creation in which the cosmos will be the temple of God in its fullness. Such preaching teaches people how to read the Scriptures as a whole, as an unfolding narrative, with Christ at the centre, and the new heaven and earth as climax.

Narrative preaching feeds the imagination and soul. Good expositional and thematic preaching is always in a sense narratival. It draws on narrative and is infused with narrative bringing alive the text to our context. Yet, narratival preaching differs in that it is as a whole story-based. We go from our exegesis or thematic analysis to developing the message as ‘story.’ While in Dunedin training for Presbyterian Ministry I went to Knox Presbyterian for six weeks in which I sat under David Grant who each week took a passage of Scripture and turned it to narrative. Each week I was spell bound and found my imagination awakened, my heart stirred, and my desire for God quickened. I discovered the power of narrative.

Of course, good preaching blends the three approaches, with a gifted communicator moving from exposition to thematic development to narrative freely.

In my view, Jesus did all three. We find him preaching expositionally in places like Matt 22:41–46 where Jesus brings out the messianic meaning of Ps 110:1. We find him preaching thematically in the sermons in John as he ponders things like “the bread of life” (John 8). We find him preaching narratively on many occasions (parables), expounding passages like “the second great commandment” with glorious stories like the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25–37).

The people we preach to require different connection points and skills. By switching things up in the pulpit we will keep alive their desire and we can surprise so that they leave the church motivated and equipped to meet life’s many challenges.