Thursday, March 12, 2009

Types of Preaching

I don't know how useful others will find these posts, but I'm continuing a series of posts highlighting some of my thoughts on preaching based upon some of the books I read for my DMin program. In this lengthy post, I'm trying to process some of the different styles of preaching and my thoughts regarding their validity.

Textual Preaching. Textual preaching generally refers to a type of preaching that draws from a single text as its source. Al Fasol considers the nature of textual preaching in Handbook of Contemporary Preaching. He quotes Clarence Roddy who offers the following definition of textual preaching: “A textual sermon is one in which both the topic and divisions of development are derived from and follow the order of the text…the text controls and dominates both topic and development in this type.”[1]

The question I've wrestled with is how this type of preaching is distinguishable from expository preaching. Fasol contends that some distinguish textual preaching on the basis of the length of the text being considered. He considers this distinction “superficial” and concurs with Greidanus who believes that “expository preaching cannot truly be contrasted with textual preaching or preaching on a single verse…. All textual preaching is therefore understood as expository preaching.”[2]

Steven Matthewson agrees on the value of textual preaching, but sees a distinction with expository preaching. Relying upon Broadus’ understanding of textual preaching, he concludes that the main difference lies in the structure of the sermon. “While the [textual] sermon must of course be faithful to Scripture, its structure does not take its cue from the biblical texts(s) on which it is based.”[3]

It seems to me, then, that while the line between expository preaching and textual preaching may at times be thin, it still exists.

I agree with Matthewson’s understanding, and would still argue that the primary focus of the pastor should be on delivering expository sermons that as closely as possible follow both the content and the structure of the text.

But what expositional pastor has not at one time or another come to the conclusion that the structure of the text will not be the most effective way to communicate to the congregation? Or what expositional pastor has not at times felt the need to spend an additional week on a smaller portion of a larger thought? Considering the nature of textual preaching has made me more open to utilizing this method in my preaching ministry.

Doctrinal Preaching. Timothy George contends that “the recovery of doctrinal preaching is essential to the renewal of the church.”[4] Doctrinal preaching is that form of preaching which helps the congregation understand the subject being covered in the sermon in light of its entire redemptive context. The sermon can be only tangentially related to the primary text but should at least be “biblical.”

I have concluded that the problem is not that doctrinal preaching is a bad way of preaching, it is simply that it is not as strong as expositional preaching. As a rule, a steady diet of expository preaching will address the same concerns that doctrinal sermons will cover, but be more tied to the biblical text and therefore is more likely to be “God’s Word.”

That being said, there are times within an expositional sermon series that a doctrinal sermon may be appropriate. For example, while preaching through Ephesians 1, a pastor may decide to spend a week discussing the doctrine of divine sovereignty.

Narrative Preaching. Narrative preaching “is not a simple matter of using stories and illustrations to make the sermon interesting, instructive, or challenging. The narrative sermon, rather than containing stories, is a story which, from outset to conclusion, binds the entire sermon to a single plot as theme.”[5]

Euguene Lowry’s conception of the narrative form is one in which ambiguity is the driving force. He eschews any method that destroys the tension in a sermon. He claims that “nothing can be more fatal” than the philosophy of “tell them what you’re going to tell them, tell them, and then tell them what you told them.”[6]

The drive for narrative preaching is often fueled by an unbiblical understanding of the purpose of preaching. While I think that narrative proponents are on to something when they encourage pastors to build tension and communicate in “natural” ways, the passion for ambiguity and the call to allow listeners to discover the truth for themselves cuts against the Scriptural understanding of the preaching task.

Craddock laments that in traditional deductive preaching “the conclusion precedes the development, a most unnatural mode of communication, unless, of course, one presupposes passive listeners who accept the right or authority of the speaker to state conclusions that he then applies to their faith and life.”[8] But Scripture presupposes just such a scenario—though it words it less cynically.

I believe that the sermon must be constructed in such a way that propositional truth is going to be communicated clearly. Furthermore, while I cannot categorically say that the narrative sermon is never the best way to accomplish this, I would contend that it is at least rare that it is the best form through which to communicate content. I will discuss this more below.

Topical Preaching. This is perhaps the most widely disputed form of preaching, at least in terms of its definition. It is hard to even begin to establish a definition of this type of preaching. Most of the authors I read attempted to defend topical preaching against those who would consider it unbiblical. Don Sunukjian contends, “Topical preaching that is truly biblical is the communication of a biblical concept, derived from several different passages related to one another through a common subject and through either parallel or progressive assertions about that subject.”[9] Francis Rossow argues that in “the textual sermon, the text determines the choice of the topic; but in the topical sermon, the topic determines the choice of the text.”[10]

How I feel about topical preaching depends upon the definition being used. In Rassow’s definition, I see a form of preaching that is occasionally beneficial. The message is still being guided by the text, the only difference is that the pastor has determined the topic in advance.

Summary. There are elements of expository preaching in each of the above methods, when defined in a certain way. I currently feel a great deal of freedom to preach as the text dictates and the Holy Spirit leads.

For instance, I have decided to take two weeks as we have gone through chapter 4 of Ephesians, and consider more closely the role of the pastor-teacher, I do not feel constrained by the fact that this subject is not be the main idea of the paragraph. I preached a sermon on the paragraph, and now I'm taking two weeks to talk about the role of an elder, yet I still believe I have preached expositionally.

What type of sermon is this? Such a deviation could be considered textual because it is dealing with just one verse and not based upon the structure of the text. It could be called doctrinal because of its focus on ecclesiology. It could be called topical because passages from various other texts are utilized. Such a dilemma shows the difficulty of sermon categorization, and reveals an element common to all preaching that is truly biblical: a desire to be faithful to proclaim God’s Word accurately to God’s people based upon their need. This is what is at the heart of expository preaching.

[1] Al Fasol, “Textual Preaching,” Handbook of Contemporary Preaching, Michael Duduitt, ed., (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1992), 77.
[2] Ibid., 82
[3] Steven Matthewson, “What Makes Textual Preaching Unique,” The Art and Craft of Biblical Preaching, Haddon Robinson and Craig Brian Larson, eds., (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005), 413.
[4] Timothy George, “Doctrinal Preaching,” Handbook of Contemporary Preaching, Michael Duduitt, ed., (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1992), 93.
[5] Calvin Miller, “Narrative Preaching,” Handbook of Contemporary Preaching, Michael Duduitt, ed., (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1992), 103.
[6] Lowry, 21.
[7] Craddock, 46.
[8] Ibid.
[9] Don Sunukjian, “Topical Preaching Can Be Truly Biblical,” The Art and Craft of Biblical Preaching, Haddon Robinson and Craig Brian Larson, eds., (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005), 421.
[10] Francis Rossow, “Topical Preaching,” Handbook of Contemporary Preaching, Michael Duduitt, ed., (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1992), 85.

1 comment:

Grammy said...

Dear Grandson,
Very Interesting! I believe our pastor most commonly does expository preaching, going verse by verse, and explaining as he goes. He almost always has three points that he makes as he preaches. He always keeps his language on a common, easily understood level. Many times he doesn't always get everything said that he wishes, and just continues it on the next Sunday. I have learned a lot from him during the past ten years. It doesn't really make a lot of difference in style of preaching, as long as the pastor is led by the Holy Spirit. Thanks for your very interesting dialogue. Love you! Grandma