I came to Christ in the mid 90’s through the influence of several radio ministries. I had arrived early on my first day of college and had nothing to do so I began to browse the stations. I “accidentally” came across WBTG, the local Gospel music station. Between the hours of 8:00AM and 11:30AM they would broadcast various Bible teachers from around the country. Men like Adrian Rogers, Chuck Swindoll, and J. Vernon McGee not only shared the Gospel, but they discipled me for the first few years of my Christian journey. It occurred to me at some point that not only had they taught me the Bible, but they taught me how to approach the Bible.
These men were teaching me theology, exegesis, and hermeneutics by faithfully expounding the text of Scripture.
Most people do not have a plethora of sound Bible teachers speaking into their lives. They hear one man preaching the word once or twice a week. That one man exerts great influence over how his listeners will approach God’s Word.
Here are a few common ways preachers approach the text and the corresponding dangers:
- Book Report – This is the man who is reading one of the latest best selling business or self help books. He has found the content helpful and he really wants to teach it to his congregation so he seeks a Bible verse that says, in some measure, what the book said. Over time people begin to assume that the real words of life are found in the latest best seller and they go there for wisdom rather than the pages of Scripture.
- Proof Texting – This is when a person comes up with an idea that they want to communicate and then seek out a variety of verses to “prove” their thought. Not only is this, at times, dangerous because it assumes infallibility on the part of the preacher, but it teaches the congregation to think the same way. They begin to go to God’s Word to prove their current line of thought rather than allowing it to shape their thinking.
- Micro Exposition – This is when a preacher seeks to mine out every potential thought that is in a text of Scripture. This approach is favored by those who are accomplished academically. Typically, it is accompanied with a very high view of scripture. The danger to this approach is that it looses the overall message of text and forces the preacher into doing more systematic theology than truly conveying the message of the text.
I’ve heard of one man who spent multiple sermons on John 3:16. He preached one sermon on God, another on love, another on giving… you get the idea. Each sermon was true and accurate; however, it lost the essence of the conversation Jesus was having with Nicodemus. There is a benefit to teaching systematic theology, but if it is the regular diet of the pulpit, the people will begin to approach the text as a springboard to some theology textbook rather than a superior text in itself. Beware to taking many, many years to exposit what was meant to be read in a single setting.
- I believe that the healthiest way to approach the text as a normal diet of preaching is what I call Macro Exposition. It typically tries to break a book of the Bible down into a logical series of thoughts that build to a single point. It honors the argument of the human author so that a successful sermon seeks to convey the same thoughts conveyed by the human author rather than something that would seem strange or unintended by them.
It will prefer larger steps through the text – large enough to cover a complete line of reasoning of a particular book. One of the dangers to this approach is that it may not be possible to speak fully to every word of every verse.
This allows the preacher to honor the immediate context of a particular passage and it also allows him to easily zoom out and catch the context of the Bible as a whole. Since he is focused on a single large thought, it is much easier for him to ground that thought in the meta-narrative of Scripture.
Preachers need to be have a variety of “styles” that they are able to employ; however, Macro Exposition as a regular diet is both healthy and replicable for the average church member.