I really enjoy preaching/teaching. I like the preparation. I like the creativity in crafting the sermon/lesson. I like the talking in front of people. I like the imparting of God’s truths to people so that they can live the way that God would have them live, but I hate having certain discussions about preaching, particularly this one:
Person 1: “I preach expository sermons where the Bible speaks for itself. You make the Bible fit your topic. All that you need is to tell people what the Bible says.”
Person 2: “Well, I preach topical sermons from the Bible, and I use certain concepts drawn from the text. I use the whole counsel of the Bible to teach people how to live out their faith.”
I am not either person, necessarily, but I know that the end of the conversation has Person 1 and Person 2 declaring that the other person is not preaching correctly.
These types of conversations make me crazy for several reasons, but the main one is the naive belief that there is only one way to communicate God’s truth. In Divinity School, I had three professors who taught preaching. Dr. Miller was extremely poetic and creative. Dr. Ross was extremely exegetical (like most OT professors would be). Dr. Smith was a combination of the two others and added a spice of African-American preaching. My conclusion after all of these courses is that there is no one particular way to communicate.
I think that the Bible needs to play a key role in any sermon, but that does not mean that it must be a verse by verse exposition. I think that a sermon needs to at least have some creativity as well as organization around a central theme or topic to have even a little impact on the hearer. This places what I think a sermon should be somewhere between a lecture on the Minor Prophets and reading a Max Lucado book out loud. Fairly broad ground, I suppose.
I also disagree with the statement that the expository style allows the Bible to speak for itself. The speaker is speaking for the Bible in any instance that the Bible is not simply being read out loud. Exposition is based on research and interpretation. We simply cannot claim that exposition is somehow the purest way to present a text. It is also hard to see how a sermon can be about Scripture but not utilize it. I understand that a sermon on love is founded on Biblical concepts, but it is also important to utilize Scripture to define what you are talking about.
Communicating God’s truth to people is no light task. It is something that we should reflect on and work through, but at the end of the day, I suspect that we will find that our definition of teaching/preaching should be anything but narrow.