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greg liston: two definitions, nine theses, one plea

Last week I finished pastoring at a suburban church. I am in a reflective mode. Here are some of my reflections on the state of Kiwi preaching. Intentionally provocative, necessarily brief, possibly ill-considered… 

the definitions

1. Biblical Preaching: Preaching that unpacks a Biblical text for the entirety of the sermon – explaining it, illustrating it, and applying it, so that the main “voice” heard through the sermon is the voice of the Bible, not the preacher.

2. Quality Biblical Preaching: Preaching which, guided and empowered by the Holy Spirit, does the above intentionally, creatively, dynamically and well.

the theses

1. Quality Biblical preaching is the most effective tool pastors have to grow long term maturity, health and vitality in their congregations (and themselves).

2. The future of the Kiwi church depends on having many Kiwi pastors delivering sustained quality Biblical preaching to their congregations.

3. There is a growing movement of Kiwi pastors committed to this ministry of quality Biblical preaching.

To summarise, the “supply” of quality Biblical preaching in New Zealand is growing.

4. Most people do not care whether their pastor’s preaching is “Biblical”. Much more important to them is its relevance, persuasiveness and their emotive response.

5. Indeed, most people have no idea what Biblical preaching actually is, and consider a few passing references to random texts enough to qualify a sermon as “Biblical”.

6. So, far from growing, Kiwi Christians’ appetite for Biblical preaching is actually in decline. Demand is roughly proportional to age – those older value it most, those younger value it least.

To summarise again, the “demand” for quality Biblical preaching is not growing.

7. A situation where the supply of quality Biblical preaching is growing, but the demand for Biblical preaching is declining is simply not sustainable.

8. Most pastors, faced with this mismatch, will unconsciously, imperceptibly and inevitably over time alter their preaching to match their congregation’s desire for relevance, persuasiveness, emotiveness.

9. In general, the longer a person has been a pastor, the less important Biblical preaching is to them.

the plea

There’s this idea out there that if we simply preach quality Biblical sermons, people will naturally see how much better they are. We seem to think that a growing Kiwi movement of quality Biblical preachers will logically lead to a growing appetite for quality Biblical preaching. We believe increasing supply will inevitably lead to increasing demand. But it won’t … and it’s not.

If nobody tells us the long term value of ‘eating healthy’ – and reminds us of it often and repeatedly – we’ll always choose the Big Mac over the salad. If nobody tells us the long term value of saving for the future – and reminds us of it often and repeatedly – we’ll always choose the flat screen over the wise investment. If nobody tells us the long term value of disciplining our children – and reminds us of it often and repeatedly – we’ll always give the lolly rather than endure the tantrum.

And if nobody tells our congregations the value of quality Biblical preaching – if we never explain what it is, how to recognise it, why it’s important, what long term difference it makes – then how can we be surprised when they prefer the homiletical equivalent of the fast food, the impulse-buy or the quick fix.

So here’s my urgent plea. Let’s finish the job. We have made it our responsibility to increase the supply of quality Biblical preaching in Aotearoa. That’s a wonderful start. Let’s make it our responsibility to increase the demand for it as well. Let’s teach our congregations what quality Biblical preaching is. Let’s make them hold us accountable for delivering quality Biblical sermons week by week. Let’s tell them – and remind them of it often and repeatedly – the long term value of a life lived conscientiously and intentionally under the word of God.

* * *

Greg is currently pursuing doctoral studies in systematic theology, after recently completing 7½ years as the senior pastor of Hillsborough Baptist Church. Previous roles include strategic management consulting and a Ph.D. in quantum physics. He is married to Diane and has two children, Emily (9) and James (6).


  1. Robyn Mellar-Smith says:

    Thanks Greg. Your post was a good reminder to me of the discrepancy between what my congregation think is good preaching, and what I have been taught and seen modeled by PW & others. It was an encouragement to me to continue to aim for quality Biblical preaching, even if I don’t always hit the mark! So thanks 🙂

    All the best for this new phase in your life!

  2. Hi Greg,

    It was great to hear you expand on this and other things yesterday at Carey. Your analysis of what congregations want (thesis 4), in particular, has stayed with me.

    I often think part of our role as the ‘resident theologian’ (is this a Paul Windsor quote, originally?) in a church is to provide a language for people, to give them words to express things that are important. I guess ‘biblical preaching’ is a piece of language we can recast for our congregations.

    Enjoy the mini-break before the next season starts.

    🙂 Thalia

  3. Andrew Picard says:

    Great post Greg, I really love your analysis of supply of biblical preaching exceeding demand. I think it highlights the tension that many pastors face – congregations who aren’t happy with your preaching because they want what they want. I remember a significant person in our church early on saying to me “I can’t wait until you preach on terrotorial spirits” – the person gave up waiting and in the end left our church (mumbling about how usless I was as a pastor). How do we, especially when we’re young and new to ministry, hold our nerve in biblical preachig when it can seem like we’re trying to make the church drink cod liver oil – “I know you hate it but it’s good for you”? Of course biblical preaching at its best isn’t like cod liver oil but you get what I mean. Any thoughts on how we can hold our nerve in biblical preaching, whilst humbly listening to fair critique?

  4. David Jackson says:

    Hi Greg

    I am meant to be doing an assignment but your blog caught my attention. I respect you as a preacher and a man of wisdom and it is for this reason that I won’t hesitate to argue against some of your thoughts.

    I agree that Biblical preaching requires us to unpack the text for the entirety of the sermon; however what does the main voice of the bible sound like? At the risk of giving an oversimplified answer I would argue that it is ‘relational’. There are of cause countless examples of relational stories in the bible, not to mention the metanarrative itself. If we accept that the core of the bible is relational then we need to take another step and make the core of Biblical preaching relational.

    Now, I recognize that this runs the risk of being manipulated into nothing more then the personality of the preacher, however the same amount of risk applies to someone who throws together Biblical passages to manipulate a point. To separate the preacher’s personality from the sermon leads us down a secular path of dualism.

    In other words I would argue that the main “voice” from the sermon is actually from a ‘relational preacher’ inspired and influenced by the bible. I agree with point 5; someone who is truly inspired and influenced will not throw random texts together.

    But, where I would disagree with you most is with point six – The younger generations are in fact thirsty for Biblical preaching. One researcher (according to Mike Pilavachi) discovered that the younger generation desired biblical based preaching more then anything else from the church (even more then hyped up worship!). As a 27 year old I can testify this to be true; it is the only thing that the rest of the world can’t offer.

    In response to point four – The results of good Biblical preaching will be ‘relevance’, ‘persuasiveness’ and an ‘emotive response’. I appreciate that a talk can do these things and have no biblical support, but that does not mean we throw the baby out with the bath water. The art of Biblical preaching is to be relevant, persuasive and gain an emotive response, in a relational manner and under an umbrella of proper exegetical study.

    Ok, those are my thoughts. Back to my assignment – Happy for you to poke at holes in my response.

    God Bless


  5. Greg Liston says:

    Thanks for your responses. And for the good wishes, Robyn and Thalia. And yes, Thalia, I think you’re exactly right. Recasting what people understand by Biblical Preaching is the first step to getting them to “eat healthy”.

    Andrew, I think this is a profound question. I’ve struggled with it a lot. What is my job as a pastor: to give people what they think they want, or what I know they need? And who am I to know better than them what they need? I think that (as above) step one is to recast our congregation’s understanding of what a Biblical sermon is. And gaining the credibility to do this means delivering sermons that show how the Bible is “relevant, persuasive and emotive”.

    David, argue away! Conflict makes it much more interesting. (Great book on this – Death by Meeting (Lencioni)). To be honest I’ve pushed the edge in this post hoping it would create some conflict. (Still waiting for things to blow up from Thesis 9!)

    Regarding relationality: I understand preaching as “truth through personality”, so would never want to “separate the preacher’s personality from the sermon”. What I mean by the Bible being the main voice is that the text is used as a swimming pool (to swim around in) rather than as a diving board (to launch off). Both methods allow the personality (or the relationality) of the preacher to shine, but only one can be described as truth through personality. Truth is relational, certainly, but it is not merely (or even mostly) relational. When the personality is gone, the truth remains.

    Regarding thesis 6: I’m not sure that its worthwhile debating too much whether young people value Biblical preaching more than seniors, as I imagine we’d both agree that whatever the current level of demand is, our role is to increase it. Maybe you’re right, but it hasn’t been my experience. For example, I have often heard seniors praise a sermon for being clear, understandable and helping them obey more readily; can’t recall the last time I heard anyone under 40 say something like that. And if Kiwi young people are so keen on Biblical preaching, then why are there no massive preaching conventions (e.g. Keswick, WordAlive, Katoomba etc) that in other countries are mostly attended by the younger generation? I think young people can be taught to value Biblical preaching, and some of them are being taught, but I don’t think it’s prevalent in NZ. Perhaps it’s something we could work on.

    Regarding Thesis 4: I agree wholeheartedly that (quality!) Biblical preaching will be relevant, persuasive and emotive. But it takes a lot of work on your knees and in your study to see how the Biblical truth is relevant, persuasive and emotive at this time with this congregation. My concern is that preachers, pressed for time, short cut to “rpe” sermons and the baby that gets thrown out is not the “rpe” experience but the Bible.

    Feel free to come back at me on any of this. Hope you do well in your assignment!

  6. Myk Habets says:

    Great post Greg – amen!

    Perhaps we could add another thesis – 10: the bigger a Kiwi church gets the less a pastor is interested in biblical preaching. Now I know there are some very good exceptions to this in our Baptist world, but…

    I also wonder what readers think of your thesis 1 – if they agree or not? I agree but think many would not. Preaching a biblical theme without reference to a text throughout the sermon, relying just as much on a good joke, an emotional story, a Google search, or You Tube clip counts as biblical for many I fear.

    Good food for thought.

    1. Andrew Picard says:

      Myk, you obviously have to join a small church 😉 Is the picture that’s being painted here entirely fair? Are all congregations and most pastors (especially older pastors of bigger churches) really that uncommitted to biblical preaching? I think it might be a bit too sweeping. In my experience, many in our churches are desperately thirsty for preaching that is committed to letting scripture orientate the sermon and their lives. Whilst some feel pushed away by it, there are many who are drawn in by it. I hear what’s being said but I’m not sure it’s that bleak is it? Are we too narrowly defining “biblical preaching”? What is our definition of biblical preaching? As someone asked me this week, does Rob Bell qualify?

  7. Andrew Picard says:

    This is such an engaging post Greg. Here’s some more thoughts that your post has triggered – if the biblical preaching scene in NZ is as bad as all this, how do pastors committed to biblical preaching sustain their commitment when so many of their ministry partners aren’t much interested, don’t share the same assumptions and want to have completely different conversations? How do we keep energised and committed to the call of biblical preaching when we feel like lone rangers. From my experience, this is most keenly felt by those who pastor outside of the main centres, where there are no theological colleges or theological stimulation – places where people never hold conferences on biblical preaching etc?

  8. Greg Liston says:

    Hi Andrew. For the record, I don’t think the situation in New Zealand is bleak, and I don’t want to be too sweeping. I think there is a growing supply of Biblical preaching, which is just wonderful. My problem is that I am not sure whether many of the people in the pews understand what Biblical preaching is, and why it is so important, and as a consequence of that whether they want it. There are some, sure, but many, not so sure. I remember way back the first year I started being a pastor, I gave forms out for people to rank me from 1 to 10 on a series of criteria. One was “This was a Biblical sermon”. I had always got 9’s and 10’s for that one – some of the other criteria they marked me harder on! Then one Sunday I preached a sermon that I knew was well below the grade, with only a few random texts mentioned here or there. (There was some situational reason for it – can’t remember exactly what that was though.) Expecting to be hammered in the reviews, I was mighty surprised when I still got 9’s and 10’s. I asked why and got the most unusual answers. It struck me then, that people really don’t know what a Biblical sermon is.

    Re: finding encouragement, I guess the homiletical homies are a good example. They’re geographically spread but find mutual encouragement in each other. I imagine we’ll see more of this kind of thing growing up.

    Good questions on whether we are too narrowly defining Biblical preaching. Does it help to think about Biblical preaching as a standard diet? (Even fast food or giving lollies to kids is OK every now and then.) So would you be OK with listening always and only to Rob Bell, on a regular weekly basis?

    Myk, you are more controversial than me! I’ll have to step it up.

  9. Grant Harris says:

    Well, some interesting thoughts in there.

    Myk…on what basis or evidence do you comment about the bigger churches? (just interested from a personal point-of-view!). Maybe you’d rather email me about that one than make a public comment!

    Greg…same as above on point 9 – it’s a sweeping statement and after 8 1/2 years the importance of biblical preaching only gets stronger for me (I think – I’ll wait for Myk’s reply above!).

    But is the biblical preaching pattern the most important thing? My point being that in my church, and I suspect in many of our churches, even the regulars are only there 2 or 3 weeks in a month; is there a greater scope for a more ‘biblical centred’ culture within the church; whereby the importance and centrality of the Bible is built into the culture, rather than just a Sunday through preaching, particularly when the average attention span of most is lower than it used to be due to mass media that gets a message across in a much shorter time than the past. How many churches are particpating in E100 nationwide? As a percentage, low. What does this say about the culture of the Bible in the church?

    When talking about biblical preaching versus non-biblical preaching, my question is this – on what basis are you all saying that biblical preaching is so poor – what is the evidence for such a claim? And what is the theology behind this – it could well be that every church in the country is preaching solid biblical sermons, but it takes actual people to respond in their hearts to the Good News – which maybe they aren’t doing, and we can’t control that – although with intelligent lights, a good smoke machine, and a great visual jockey (vj), their response always seems to be better!

  10. Murray Cottle says:

    Greg… It has been good to read your stuff and the responses. You make some good points.
    I think that your defintion of biblical preaching may be too narrow. You define it as unpacking a (ie one) text. I see taking a topic eg suffering, marriage or money and preaching on what God has to say about this in the scriptures as being biblical preaching.
    As for your point 9! Tongue firmly in your cheek? Surely it is not your experience – the longer you have been a pastor the less biblical….

  11. Greg Sands says:

    I’m not sure whether to start debating my ex-pastor, but hey, he started it! Anyway:

    My initial thought as I read the definitions was that I wonder if there’s a difference between “Biblical” preaching, as you define it, and “biblical” preaching, in the way I now see Murray has just mentioned. (And perhaps this explains some of the reasons on the comments you got – people still thought it was scriptural, or at least – one would hope – not contrary to Scripture!) If I extend this thought, and make it a little personal, I think the sermons of yours that I most appreciated were the ones that were grounded in the overall themes of the Bible – not merely the words in a passage, but those of creation and sin and redemption and Kingdom etc. That style encompasses both Biblical and biblical, without being wholly defined by either, and with the ability to lean more either way at times.

    Where I would strongly agree with you is the temptation to minimize the Scripture. There is certainly a shallowness in simply using “random texts” from the Bible, and cherry-picking verses without considering them in their context. The one (and only?) sermon of yours I eventually owned up to disagreeing with you on, I think suffered from this (IMHO)!

    I’ll take your word on Theses 1-3. On 4-6, I’d suggest that people (of all ages) in most churches very much care whether their preaching is “biblical”. Perhaps some of the decrease in desire for “Biblical” preaching with age, if it is indeed there, is associated with the slow cultural shift from Word to Image, from newspaper to TV. So what then is the answer to that? Perhaps to use Images to point towards the Word. Perhaps to be more creative in the way we use words, and the Word. Perhaps even to speak less, and to let the Word say more? i.e. get out of the way.

    I think Theses 7-9 are a bit of a cop-out though. What good parent allows their kids to eat McDs daily? Or even weekly? If parents give in to their kids, it’s not the kids fault!! Our kids don’t get much choice what they eat, and we don’t have to lecture them on healthy food (too often!). We simply cook healthy food and serve it up – they eat it (eventually) or go hungry! And if that’s what they get used to, hopefully that will be their diet when they start making their own decisions. Hence the importance and value of training (c.f. what my Mum taught me to cook), and encouragement such as this website (c.f. recipe books and dinner parties). Perhaps any decrease in “demand” is as much caused by a decrease in “supply”, as much as the other way around.

  12. Not that I’m competitive, Greg, but I notice this post has generated the most comments ever on KMP 🙂

    I agree, on Andrew’s question about holding your nerve, that colleagues (wherever you find them) are crucial. This is partly because if you’re the only person in your church judging the quality of the sermon by whatever criteria you use, you can feel like you’re going mad 🙂

    One of the great joys of preaching for me is that how good or bad my sermons are according to my judgment is close to irrelevant, when the Holy Spirit winks at me and directs people’s attention to an idea or turn of phrase regardless.

    I think this dynamic underlies some of the disconnect you’re talking about, Greg, and gives me hope that people are being fed while we work on bridging the gap in judging criteria. But it can also leave you feeling powerless and uncertain of your craft if you don’t have voices coming from the same place as you when it comes to the art of preaching.

    I wonder if building a common understanding of the nutritional value of various kinds of preaching will make preachers less lonely and uncertain, as we sort of build colleagues within our listening congregations.

  13. Greg Liston says:

    Ahh more conflict. Patrick Lencioni would be so proud! Here we go, in no particular order.

    Murray, I am very happy to include what you describe as “Biblical” preaching in my definition. I considered putting “text(s)” rather than “text” in Definition 1, and perhaps that would have saved some confusion as Greg Sands points out. Nevertheless, I would make the point that when doing the “Murray Cottle Biblical thematic style” of Biblical preaching, it is a whole lot easier for the sermon to actually not be Biblical and just a collection of neat thoughts. From my perspective that is high risk / high reward stuff, that needs to be used with care. Regarding being tongue in cheek on thesis 9, well, yes it is clearly exaggerated for effect, so you are right. But my tongue is less firmly placed in my cheek than perhaps you’d think. Never a truer word said in jest etc. My experience as a pastor has been feeling a constant pressure to deliver McSermons – because they’re easier and they get a more immediate response. I think most pastors feel that kind of pressure, and if they don’t recognise it and deliberately counteract it they’ll succumb to it. Don’t you agree?

    Grant, I didn’t quite get what you were saying in your comments, so sorry if the following misses where you were coming from, but here’s some thoughts. First, I am NOT saying “that biblical preaching is so poor”. Quite the opposite. There is a growing movement of Biblical preaching and this is wonderful. What I AM saying is that what this growing movement generally understands as “Biblical preaching” is somewhat different from what their congregations are looking for in sermons. It’s the mismatch that is my key point. The rest you can disregard if you like, but this point about the mismatch I think is accurate and important! Regarding thesis 9, I admit that it is exaggerated (as per response to Murray above.) But I think it is less false (more true?) than perhaps others like yourself might think. You asked for evidence. Well, let’s say we measure “importance” by the number of conversations we have about a particular topic. How many conversations have you had with “newer” pastors about Biblical preaching? And with “seasoned” pastors? My experience is that with the “new” pastors, Biblical preaching is the topic of about 50% of my conversations. WIth the seasoned pastors the subject of Biblical preaching rarely comes up. I think this would be an indication that thesis 9 is at least pointing towards a truth. If I’ve misunderstood what you’ve said then let me know and I’ll try again!

    Greg Sands! I didn’t know you were reading this site. (Perhaps I might have been a little more circumspect.) But as I was reading your response I felt glad that some of my pastoral colleagues could see the incredible insight and clarity you always bring. Your first two paragraphs I agree with wholeheartedly. On the third, I agree that most people would say they want Biblical sermons. But what I am trying to point out is that what they mean by that comment is quite different to what we (ie. the pastors in the growing movement) mean by it. (I should have put thesis 5 before thesis 4, as it is because of 5 that 4 is true, if you see what I mean) The words “Biblical sermon” need to be redefined, as Thalia points out. Or at least we need to be using the same words the same way, so we at least know when we disagree! And on your last paragraph, I understand what you’re saying. But the people in church aren’t children and they can choose where to eat. Nathan and Melanie (your kids) are kind of stuck with what they get given, even if the complain loudly (as mine often do). But the people in our congregations aren’t stuck with what’s given to them. This is one reason pastors drift into McSermons, in order to keep the people who will wander elsewhere to eat. The one place, however, where we do have a captive audience is with our children and younger youth, and the importance of building a healthy appetite for the Bible in these age groups is just so important! This is why what Craig (youth pastor at HBC) is doing on Tuesday nights now is a huge step in the right direction for us.

    And Thalia, nearly but not quite. Andrew Picard’s post got 14 response, which this comment takes me equal to. (Not that I’m competitive either!). I think this sentence at the end of your response “I wonder if building a common understanding of the nutritional value of various kinds of preaching will make preachers less lonely and uncertain, as we build colleagues within our listening congregations” is brilliant. It says what I’m trying to say much better than I have said it. Thanks!

  14. Paul Windsor says:

    Greg, you write…

    “How many conversations have you had with “newer” pastors about Biblical preaching? And with “seasoned” pastors? My experience is that with the “new” pastors, Biblical preaching is the topic of about 50% of my conversations. WIth the seasoned pastors the subject of Biblical preaching rarely comes up.”

    That is a piece of anecdotal evidence with which I agree completely. It is exactly how I see it. I would go one step further. Seasoned pastors seem only to want to talk about leadership. Remember how many showed up for the kiwimade forum who were not giving presentations? Maybe 10% – if that?! Hopes are being placed in leadership that leadership alone cannot sustain. It is like a ‘gospel’ of its own. [That is what I think – I am not putting words in your mouth].

    Yes, yes, yes, – there are exceptions!

    Seasoned pastors in this country must discover a deeper confidence in the word of God and the gospel – and the systematic and consecutive preaching thereof. BUT there also needs to be a fuller exploration of the interface and relationship between preaching and leadership. Maybe Michael Quicke’s two books, 360 Degree Preaching and 360 Degree Leadership are a combo with which to start.

    That’s my little bit of kindling for the fire!

    Paul Windsor

  15. Myk Habets says:

    Turn your back for a day or two and the comments multiply like proverbial rabbits! Grant, I think one of Greg’s later posts gets to what I was saying about big churches – simply the equation that the bigger the number the more opinions there are and if Greg’s original theses were somewhat accurate then in big chruches there is exponential pressure from the congregation. It was not based on my attending a heap of big churches and reflecting on that 🙂 Whew.

    But on another issue rasied I think that Greg’s orignal thesis 1 is actually correct. Bread and butter, week in and week out sermons should, in my opinion, be based around a single text (however big or small but small enough to be specific and focussed), and that is the original definition of ‘biblical preaching’ this post started out on. I believe we need the pudding sermons, the entre sermons, the aperitif sermons etc, yes – topical, narrative, dramatic, inductive, affective – absolutely. These all need to be in the preachers repertoire (regardless of temperament I would say). But the bread and butter (should it be fruit and veg?) needs to be the single text deductive sermon which is creative and applied. If preachers are not regularly doing this then I fear it is not ‘biblical preaching’ by this narrow definition at all.

    So a question – how many of us in the last years worth of preaching have preached at least one of the following? deductive, inductive, narrative/dramatic, topical. The why’s and why nots to that would be fascinating I think. 🙂

  16. Andrew Picard says:

    Greg, you’ve clearly got more comments than me now (not that I’m competitive)! Myk, your comment highlights for me the problem we have with defining “biblical preaching”. In your mind does biblical preaching mean deductive preaching? If yes, I’m not sure I share the same assumptions. I’m passionately committed to biblical preaching but I’m not sure that the form has to be deductive.

  17. David Jackson says:

    Thanks Greg for letting me have a go at arguing with you (-: I have written some more thoughts. (Disclaimer – My arguments are not against you as a Preacher but against the philosophy of your thesis as I perceive it)

    You write “Truth is relational, certainly, but it is not merely (or even mostly) relational.” This statement stabs at the very heart of your thesis. I suspect the people who sit in thesis points 4, 5 and 6 would agree and say the pool we need to be swimming around in is the text. However, where the difference of opinion lies, is around what actually is the text. I would strongly argue that the core of the text is relational and therefore does not and can not exist without it.

    Dare I say – Perhaps the thesis has misdiagnosed the illness. The sickness is not that people don’t want Biblical preaching (and therefore we must cure them), the sickness is actually with us; the preacher!

    Paul has fortuitously exposed our illness with his alarming statistics on the lack of attendance by those who are not leading a presentation. Our sickness is that we only contribute to our faith communities if we are the one teaching. The attitude from the Biblical preacher turns leadership into “I am going to tell you what you don’t know”. I recognise most weeks we can get away with forcing vegetables onto our congregations because we know how to put it in a convincing way. Similar to a parent and child relationship, we know what’s best! But as you have mentioned Greg, we are not dealing with kids.

    I would argue that it is not the vegetables people are rejecting, but is instead the way it is being forced upon them, and therefore they accept a McSermon as it is a better option at the time (at least it taste better!). But what would happen if we asked the congregation to help us prepare the meal in a loving relationship with each? (i.e help cut up the carrots, peel the potato’s). Perhaps someone would put their hand up and suggest we cook the vegetables differently (note: we are not changing the vegetable just the flavouring).

    How would this approach transform the way we do sermons? People will be eating vegetables and having healthy spiritual diets, however the main event of the night/morning will be the loving relationships people encounter with each other

    Concluding Thoughts – In my view the majority of people in churches do care that the preaching is biblical. There is a big appetite for it (especially among the dozens of people I encounter within my generation). Your right to say that they don’t go to preaching conventions, but is a convention attendance really the scale in which we should use to measure? They don’t want a convention! All they really want to do is to engage with Biblical preaching that is in in fact Biblical (i.e. relational).

  18. To pick up on what is possibly a tangent we’re going on: I agree with Andrew that Myk’s definition is unnecessarily narrow – but probably we actually all agree, but are drawing some lines in slightly different places.

    Myk, I’d argue that narrative texts (Jacob in Genesis or the parable of the Good Samaritan) ought to be narratively preached, at least a lot of the time, and that a good narrative sermon (telling the story of the text) spends as much or even more time swimming in the pool of the text than deductive preaching of the same text. Surely deductive and narrative are both swimming-pool preaching approaches? Or are you calling ‘narrative’ the kind of preaching where the preacher mostly tells personal or topical stories to make a point?

    And a good proportion of inductive preaching is swimming-pool territory too, just with the illustrations and applications front-loaded to add impact, though it’s true another good proportion of inductive preaching doesn’t go as deeply into the text, and won’t satisfy our nutritional requirements for bread/butter/fruit/veg preaching.

    I reckon the (or one) dichotomy we’re discussing (swimming-pool vs diving-board preaching) is about deductive/narrative/inductive preaching of one whole text vs topical preaching of a whole bunch of texts or preaching that purports to be about one whole text but in fact skates quickly into the preacher’s own thoughts that don’t explore the text.

    Isn’t that what we’re debating?

    1. Andrew Picard says:

      Amen Thalia. I think it’s a question of how the sermon gets its orientation – from exegesis of the text or from something else. A related question is whether the preacher spent serious time with the text and supplementing that work with reading serious commentaries and journal articles on that text? I totally agree with Thalia that the form of the biblical text should shape the form of the sermon. I would also add that I think sermon forms get their bearing also from the preacher participating in God’s self-proclamation in the specific context of their local congregation and this should also shape the form of the sermon to give a clear and present word to the local church.

  19. Ali says:

    I have a question as a mere observer:

    Does the definition of biblical preaching being thrashed out here depend on the interpretative grid of the preacher?

    Knowing a little (and mostly only a little) about a number of you (and only a number) there is a broad commonality in your interpretation of the Bible on certain points (perhaps stemming from close association with Carey Baptist!). So…

    – would a fundamentalist preaching speaking from the Bible and drawing lessons of cultural sepratism fit your definition of Biblical preaching?
    – would a “Young, Restless and Reformed” preacher be giving biblical sermons when he emphasised a complementarian [read male headship/male only eldership] interpretation or a Calvinistic (federal Calvinism for you, Myk) interpretation?
    – would a Southern Baptist minister justifying slavery from Biblical passages on a Sunday morning 100 years ago or more be an example of biblical preaching?
    – would a sermon based on a biblical text by Lloyd Geering which denied cardinal doctrines of the faith count as a biblical sermon?

    In other words, is biblical preaching divorced from your decision about what is accurate biblical interpretation, and where do you draw the line?

  20. Ali, for my two cents, I think what we’re talking about in this thread is a separate question from whether we agree with someone’s interpretation of Scripture. We’re talking more about method than content.

    I think we’re saying that one kind of poor/un’biblical’ preaching is the kind that isn’t the unfolding of a single biblical text. What you find in that unfolding is another question, and some of your examples I’d probably call poor preaching, but for very different reasons.

  21. Ali says:

    I understand what you are saying, Thalia. I’m not convinced that method and interpretation are as separate as you seem to be stating, but I agree that for the purposes of this thread it’s probably too distracting to venture into that side of things. But for future reference, I think the relationship between interpretation and method and biblical preaching is worth exploring.

  22. Greg Liston says:

    Well, thanks to everyone for your comments. I’ve really enjoyed reading them, even though it has kind of distracted me from starting my Ph.D. 🙂 I imagine there’ll be a new post up in the next couple of days, so I’ll try to bring this discussion to some kind of resolution! (Or at the very least a temporary ceasefire.)

    To summarise my argument … I was saying that many people in our congregations don’t understand, and therefore don’t desire “Biblical” preaching, so many preachers feel (and some succumb) to a pressure to short cut past the Bible to give people the relational, emotional and persuasive sermons they want. I made a plea for us to teach people what Biblical preaching is and why it is important. The primary metaphor that people picked up on (even though it wasn’t the only one I used) was the idea of teaching people to eat healthy.

    To summarise the responses … there were many who responded positively to the post, but there were also some who expressed concern or surprise. Their counter-arguments centred on the definition of “Biblical” preaching, and exactly what was a healthy diet for our congregations. They contrasted my definitions with theirs, implicitly or explicitly saying that because their definition was more accurate, people DID understand and value Biblical preaching. Some of the contrasts they made were relational vs propositional (David), texts vs text (Murray), biblical vs Biblical (Greg Sands), Biblical culture vs Biblical preaching (Grant). This led to a general discussion of what Biblical preaching was, with many varying views expressed, some narrower, some broader.

    I think a discussion of exactly what constitutes a “healthy” preaching diet for a congregation – a point which there seems to be some disagreement on – is a very important topic, worthy of vigorous debate. Getting this right matters!

    Here’s the point, at least as I see it. The Bible is not just a helpful book that gives people guidance for the situations they face in their lives; it is a book to base your life around – a book to centre your life on. It is through reading and understanding the word of God that the Spirit leads us to a deeper relationship with the Word of God, Jesus Christ our Lord. So our preaching must model and teach people to value and use the Bible as central and life-defining. Preaching is not just giving people answers, it is modeling for them where to find the answers and how to look. If preaching is just good ideas, even if the ideas are based on the Bible, then that is not enough for it to be Biblical preaching. Like Paul says “My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom but on God’s power.” (1 Cor 2:4-5)

    So when I say that the “main ‘voice’ heard through the sermon is the voice of the Bible, not the preacher”, what I mean is that for most of the content of the sermon, a listener should be able to look down at the Scriptures that are (should be!) open in front of them, and see that the preacher is simply explaining and applying what the Scriptures say. The sermon teaches what the Bible says and it models the way we look to the Bible for truth. It’s when this happens, and happens well, and only when it happens well, that we are genuinely giving our congregations healthy food to eat. Anything else is fluff!

    Now, the most obvious way this can be done is to take one text and explain and apply it (i.e. deductive sermons). That doesn’t preclude other styles of preaching, (e.g. topical, inductive, narrative sermons) and some passages may in fact lend themselves more to particular styles. But because deductive sermons are the most obvious way of doing this I think that the regular fare of preaching should be deductive, leavened with other styles occasionally. But even this is a sideline. The key underlying point is that all preaching should be Biblical preaching, in that the voice that people are hearing should be evidently and obviously the voice of the Bible. And the point of my post was to question whether our congregations value this Biblical preaching, and if not what we can do about it. I guess I wonder whether my “intentionally provocative, necessarily brief, possibly ill-considered” theses have generated more heat than light, but my honest desire in writing the post was to get Kiwi preachers to think about whether their sermons are genuinely Biblical or not, and to perhaps re-adjust a little the criteria by which they and their congregations judge whether a sermon was any good. Cheers!

  23. Mark Maffey says:

    I couldn’t agree more, the fundamental issue I see is that for preaching to achieve both biblical soundness and quality there needs to be a comprehension that Padtors aren’t going to achieve this if their weeks are filled up with meetings and are seen to be one-man bands by their congregations. To achieve the goal preachers would need at least 10 hours per sermon, I gravely doubt whether this happens in many cases.

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