What is preaching and why do we do it? Many are the articles, books and lectures dealing with the practice of preaching. In fact, I’ve written a few articles myself and delivered quite a few lectures concerning various aspects of preparation and delivery. A lot of ink has also been spilled concerning foundational elements, but such is less exciting (or profitable).
However, none of our practical advice or vocational effort will be of much significance if we are not right and resolved when it comes to our underlying convictions. That’s why I decided to write a short (hopefully readable) piece on the theology and philosophy of preaching.
First, what do I mean by those terms? Our theology of preaching is what we believe the Bible says about preaching. Our philosophy has to do with how those beliefs are fleshed out in the real world—how we put our beliefs into practice.
Since this is a brief article, let me give five basic and foundational truths I believe the Bible teaches about preaching.
1. Preaching is biblical. In both the Old and New Testaments, preaching of some kind is God’s primary means of declaring His words and His will. The Old Testament words for "prophet" and "prophecy" (nabi and nebuah, respectively) come from the root for "bubble up" or "boil over." The idea is that the words of God pour forth from the mouth of the prophet.
The rarer word, nathaph—translated “to preach”—has as its root the idea of “dropping” words in the direction of something or someone (see Ezekiel 20:46; 21:2). The New Testament is replete with preaching, using such words as kerusso (to proclaim or announce), katangello (to announce news), euangellizo (to announce good news), and parresiazomai (to speak boldly).
2. The Word of God is the content of preaching. In 2 Timothy 4:2, Paul solemnly charges Timothy to "preach the word!"
3. Preaching should be Christ-centered. Comparing himself with other preachers, Paul said to the Corinthian church that his preaching was not filled with “plausible words of wisdom,” but he had resolved to “know nothing ... except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:1–5). He later affirmed that the message he delivered "as of first importance" was nothing other than the Gospel (1 Corinthians 15:1–5).
4. Preaching should endeavor to glorify God. Not only do we see throughout Scripture that everything should be done to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31), but Paul actually says that the message of Christ is "the gospel of the glory of the blessed God" (1 Timothy 1:11). If we are preaching the Gospel, the ultimate end is that God will be glorified.
5. Preaching is a spiritual endeavor. Paul said that the Gospel is "the power of God for salvation" (Romans 1:16). He also said that he preached the Gospel “in demonstration of the Spirit and of power” (1 Corinthians 2:1-5), and in Ephesians 6, he requested prayer "that the words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel."
Based on this theology of preaching, we can develop a philosophy of preaching. In other words, we can come to some conclusions about how preaching ought to be practiced based on what the Bible says about it.
1. Because preaching is biblical, it is essential to the church. This means that preaching must be practiced in the church. Moreover, because preaching is so central to the proclamation of the Gospel and the glory of God, it should be the primary driver and focal point of Christian worship. We can practice this when we give preaching its proper place in our gatherings.
2. Because the Word of God is the content of preaching, expository preaching is best. I define "expository preaching" as the contextual proclamation of a text within its context. Every sermon must be grounded in a biblical passage, and the original meaning of that passage must be proclaimed, explained and applied. Any preaching not derived from a biblical passage will not carry the power and the authority of God’s Word.
3. Because preaching should be Christ-centered, all preaching should be Gospel preaching. This does not mean that every sermon needs to be from a passage that explains the Gospel, but every passage must be preached in light of the crucified and risen Christ. We do not preach good works or good advice. Even when calling our people to obedience and righteousness, we must do so as we announce the good news of the finished work of Christ on our behalf.
4. Because preaching should endeavor to glorify God, God must be magnified. God, not man, must be the hero of every sermon. We need to tell people about God, and we need to do so rightly so that He is shown to be glorious in all His attributes.
5. Because preaching is a spiritual endeavor, the preacher must walk in the Spirit. We must walk with God ourselves, and we must bathe the whole work of preaching—from conception to preparation to delivery—in prayer. And then when we stand to preach, we must trust the Holy Spirit to accomplish the work of the preached word.