How then shall we preach?
Nearly two years ago to the day, Mark Thompson wrote a small piece on the Sola Panel called Now What Was That Text Again? It was immediately bumped by another post, and hence received only a handful of comments. This is a shame, as I can think of few other posts from the last few years that are more vitally and directly relevant to the health of our churches.
Mark’s thesis is that we are being increasingly influenced by overseas preachers who use the so-called “springboard” approach to a scriptural text. Following this method, the preacher will extract a theme from the text, develop it systematically, and then apply pastoral and biblical wisdom to the ideas that result. He contrasts this with the strictly expository approach popularised by John Stott a generation ago, which sought to carefully and contextually explain and apply the text, usually verse by verse. Mark is much in favour of the latter approach, and he fears the effect of the former.
Those who want to see a wholesale return to the Stott model will need to demonstrate it’s superiority. Mark comments that the best preaching of this type is “...biblical, profoundly theological and thoroughly engaging. It is suffused with a sense of urgency and importance…” I have heard preaching in this vein. But I’ve also heard many dull, lifeless, repetitive, shallow and cliched sermons preached in the Stott model. And I’ve wondered if the model itself has limitations - our preachers are very comfortable with doctrinal passages, but less so with great slabs of narrative text.
I think this is an excellent debate to have. And although I hope a few more people will read Mark’s post, this particular battle is not going to be won in blogs - it is ultimately going to be won from the pulpit. The challenge for those on Mark’s side is to produce sermons that are not just faithful to Stottian exposition, but are highly engaging, theologically rich and pastorally informed.