Posts Tagged ‘Preaching’

Here’s to You, Dr. Robinson

Preaching magazine is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year, and one of the figures who has most influenced preaching during those years has been Haddon Robinson, now retired from his teaching role at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. Through his work at GCTS, Denver Seminary and Dallas Seminary, he has taught generations of pastors and teachers, who are helping to shape the evangelical pulpit of today. Every evangelical preacher owes him a debt of gratitude. One of his last major projects is Theology of Work, a treasury of resources on the topic of faith and its relationship to work. As the website explains: “The Theology of Work (TOW) Project exists to help people explore what the Bible and the Christian faith can contribute to ordinary work.” Given this is the week when we celebrate Labor Day, this is an opportune moment to take a look at the site, including articles, Bible studies and more.Haddon-Robinson

There is also a revised and updated edition of Robinson’s classic Biblical Preaching: The Development and Delivery of Expository Messages now available. This is one of those essential texts that belongs on every preacher’s bookshelf, but don’t put it on the shelf until it has been read and thoroughly devoured!

Thank you, Dr. Robinson, for all that you have contributed to those of us who preach the Word. Your influence and legacy will be making a kingdom impact for generations to come.

Preaching & Plagiarism

Some sincerely wonder where the lines are drawn on the issue of plagiarism and preaching — what is “stealing” and what is honest research? Others bristle at the very concept of plagiarism, insisting that everything should be “fair game” and that there is nothing wrong with using someone else’s sermon (even preaching the whole thing verbatim) if the original author doesn’t care. Recognizing there are varying views on this issue, here’s a brief summary of my position on pulpit plagiarism — so if you write to take me to task, you’ll at least know what I actually think!

We all share ideas. I get ideas from others, and I hope they get some from me. There is no problem in using ideas and stories from one another. But if I’m drawing a significant amount of material from a book or sermon by another person, it’s appropriate to briefly mention the source. How tough is it to say that a particular story was told by Chuck Swindoll or Max Lucado? (Some of our folks have read their books; they know our sources.)

I edit a magazine about preaching, and we work hard to provide useful illustrations and ideas for preachers to use in their sermons. There’s nothing wrong with that, and we don’t expect you to “footnote” us in your sermons. (If you are then publishing the material, it is appropriate to credit any published sources you use.) Of course, if you are quoting a specific person, it’s good to mention the one you are quoting.

The problem that is increasingly developing today is when a pastor copies or downloads the sermon of another person and preaches it as his own. Why is this a problem?

  1. It is dishonest. It is presenting someone else’s work as my own. If I did that in the business world or in higher education I’d be fired. Do we think preaching has less ethical demands than the secular world? Deception is deception, whatever the context.
  2. It cheats the congregation of the anointed passion that comes from a God-called messenger working through the biblical text to uncover the truth God has for that congregation that day. Our congregations deserve better than generic, off-the-shelf sermons. If you are presenting someone else’s sermon, it is more performance than preaching.
  3. It cheats the preacher. When we simply take a shortcut and use someone else’s sermons instead of doing the prayerful study to prepare our own messages, we shortchange our own process of growing as spiritual leaders. If we fail to let God grow us in this way, then down the road we will find ourselves wondering why we are so spiritually empty.

If God called you to be an actor or performer, then people expect you to perform scripts written by others. But when a congregation hears a preacher stand before them to present a message from God, they expect that person to have prayed and studied and struggled through to find the message God has for them. And I believe that is what God calls us to do. Why would we settle for less?


Why Do We Preach?

Why did God consider preaching to be something of such urgency that He places a divine calling upon selected messengers to proclaim His Word? What is the purpose of this task we call preaching? Why do we preach?

If you were to look at the average sermon, you might easily assume that the purpose of preaching is to teach people the scriptures. Over more than a quarter century of editing a magazine for preachers, and many years of teaching future preachers in the classroom, I’ve had the pleasure – or burden, as the case may be – of hearing and reading lots and lots of sermons. It is quite clear in the majority of sermons I read that the preacher’s purpose is to help the listeners better understand some portion of scripture.

And if you look at the way we tend to write about preaching or teach ministers to preach, it would become ever clearer that our focus as preachers is on explaining the meaning of one or more biblical texts. We spend many hours teaching future pastors to select a text, study it, exegete it, identify its big idea, and then explain all this to a congregation in a way they will understand, while trying to avoid putting them into a sound sleep.

Certainly preaching requires careful study if we wish to be faithful expositors of God’s Word. If our congregations don’t gain an enhanced understanding of scripture by listening to our sermons, there is definitely something wrong with our preaching. But is that why we preach – so that our people will become more adept at understanding and interpreting the scriptures?

I think the answer is best found in scripture itself, and particularly in Paul’s second letter to his protégé Timothy. Reading from 2 Timothy 3:16-17, Paul writes: “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness,that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (ESV).

In this famous passage, the apostle Paul offers us a critical insight into the nature and purpose of scripture. He begins with the nature of scripture – that it is “God-breathed.” It is inspired. As John Stott explains, it is “not that Scripture itself or its human authors were breathed into by God, but that Scripture was breathed or breathed out by God. . . . It originated in God’s mind and was communicated from God’s mouth by God’s breath or Spirit. It is therefore rightly termed ‘the Word of God’, for God spoke it. Indeed, as the prophets used to say, ‘the mouth of the Lord has spoken it’.”[i]

But not only is Paul suggesting the nature of scripture as a product of divine origin, he is also telling us the purpose of scripture – that it is profitable. Because it is given to us from the very breath of God, it has value and purpose for our lives. In fact, Paul points out four different categories in which scripture is profitable – it is useful “for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.” The first category, teaching, refers to doctrine, to theological truth; the latter three categories all deal with activity, with application of that theological truth to our daily lives. In other words, Paul says that scripture is profitable for both belief and behavior.

And as we continue into verse 17, we see the culminating idea of Paul’s discussion of scripture – it is God’s gift to us and it is profitable for both belief and behavior, in order “that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” In other words, our study and devotion to scripture have a purpose: they serve to equip us to accomplish God’s purposes in our lives and our ministries. The goal of our study of the scriptures to that God might make us complete, mature, and equipped to serve Him in any way He may ask.

We preach the scriptures for the same reason that God gave the scriptures: to mature and equip believers, to call them to repent, to respond, to obey. In other words, application is not a peripheral element of preaching, or one more task for the sermon among several; application is the very heart of the preaching task.

To be clear, when I speak about application, I mean a discussion of how a particular biblical text connects with real-life issues faced by our listeners. It drives biblical truth into the avenues of our lives, with a focus not on information but on transformation. Like an archer with his arrows, application in preaching faithfully takes the biblical text and shoots for a target – that target might be repentance, obedience, service, or some other biblical challenge. Anointed application has one goal: life change.

[i] John R. W. Stott, Guard the Gospel the Message of 2 Timothy (Downers Grove, Ill.: Inter Varsity Press, 1973), p. 100


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