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A religious speech or springboard sermon is not really a sermon, even if it springboards off of an idea from Scripture. A religious essay, lecture, address, or speech is not necessarily a bad thing in its proper place, but it is not really a sermon so it could not really be classified as preaching. It's an essay, a lecture, an address, a speech, maybe a history lesson.
Too often the text is only a starting point, with which the sermon afterwards maintains, not only no formal, but no vital connection. Sometimes, indeed, it is made simply a motto, a practice of extremely doubtful propriety.
As Haddon Robinson says in his book "Biblical Preaching," "First, and above all, the thought of the Biblical writer determines the substance of an expository sermon. In many sermons the Biblical passage read to the congregation resembles the national anthem played at a baseball game--it gets things started but is not heard again during the afternoon."
He quotes R. H. Montgomery who said that the expository preacher seeks to bring the message of definite units of God's Word to his people. Expository preaching, says Robinson, at its core is more philosophy than a method.
Whether or not we can be called expositors starts with our purpose and with our honest answer to the question: "Do you, as a preacher, endeavor to bend your thought to the Scriptures, or do you use the Scriptures to support your thought?"
The religious speech or springboard preaching is more preaching "about" the Bible than preaching "from" the Bible. It is more a preaching of "What saith I," than preaching "What saith the Lord."
Unger in his book, "Principles of Expository Preaching" says that it is quite obvious that the popular "springboard sermon" which employs a passage from the Bible as a starting point for a discourse on morality or sociology, or some other worthy but not strictly Biblical subject, is not expository.
He goes on to say that the exceedingly common homiletical practice of our day of using the Bible as a mere textual anthology form which to choose seedling thoughts for sermons on current events or social betterment is a far cry from expository preaching and is an indication of the spiritual superficiality of our age.
Furthermore, Unger rightly said that it was a tragedy of unparalleled proportions that many present-day ministers preach as if the Bible were little more than a collection of isolated religious aphorisms or anecdotes, unconnected to one another and to the general content out of which they are taken, or to the Bible as a whole.
To be topical without being at the same time expository, is to make a religious speech or address rather than a sermon. Donald Miller in his book "The way to Biblical Preaching" says that truly Biblical exposition is limited only by the broad principle that the substance of one's preaching should be drawn from the Bible.
If that premise is true, then it follows that all true preaching is expository preaching, and that preaching which is not expository is not preaching. At best it is a religious speech or address or lecture.
Marvin Vincent in his book, "The Expositor in the Pulpit," said that the phrase "expository preaching" properly covers all preaching. Exposition is exposing the truth contained in God's Word, that is, laying it open, putting it forth where the people may get hold of it. The truth or falsity of this view depends on one's conception of what preaching is.
Miller said that if a sermon is what one writer has defined as "a disquisition on some moral or spiritual truth in which the preacher sets forth his own heartfelt convictions and by which he hopes to interest the intellect, awaken the conscience, and touch the hearts of his hearers," then it may be a man-centered affair from start to finish with no relationship whatsoever to the Word of God set forth in Holy Scripture.
Thus one could give a religious speech without drawing the substance of his preaching from the Bible. But so could a Buddhist, a Mohammedan, a Hindu, or a pantheist. They, and countless others, have a body of "moral or spiritual truth" which they hold with "heartfelt conviction" and by which they hope "to interest the intellect, awaken the conscience, and touch the hearts" of all who will listen.
Unfortunately, much so-called Christian preaching is just lecturing or giving a religious speech and nothing more.
If your goal is to lecture or give a religious speech on some moral or spiritual truth in which you want to set forth your own heartfelt convictions or stir up the intellect of your hearers or awaken their conscience or touch their hearts then the religious speech or lecture might be a sufficient avenue of address.
And even teaching, no matter how Biblical in content, accurate in interpretation, or coordinated in its presentation is not expository preaching, if it does not bring the Word of God down to the plane where men live and with the unction and the power of the Holy Spirit challenge them with its claims.
Strictly intellectual teaching of the Bible may possibly have a place on the lecture platform, in the seminary classroom or in the Bible conference or where the need exists mainly for instruction in the letter.
But even under these circumstances it is questionable whether spiritual fervor or concern for the needs of the hearers, which are vital elements of preaching, may be neglected.
But if your goal is to bear witness to the unique action of God in Jesus Christ as it is set forth in the record of that action, the Bible, so that the judgment and redemption enacted in those historic deeds become current realities of the soul, then only genuine Bible preaching (expository sermons) will do.
It must be based on a serious wrestling with the Word of God in the Scriptures, until its substance is controlled at every point by the record of the unique redemptive acts of God in the history of Israel and of the early church. Unless preaching involves a serious wrestling with Biblical truth, it is not preaching at all.
Other than the fact that a religious speech is not a real sermon in the first place, When one has to come up with his own material, he tends to run out of material. If all the preacher does is look into the Bible for ideas to preach on, then comes up with the points and supporting material himself, it becomes laborious over the years to come up with fresh ideas.
However, if the Bible itself is the source of your material, you will never run out of material. Blackwood, in his book, "Preaching From the Bible," said that in view of such varied materials, why is a man's preaching from the Bible likely to be notable for sameness, tameness, and lameness? Such pulpit work is a misrepresentation of God's Holy Book.
Blackwood goes on to say that the Bible itself is like a land of hills and valleys. During any one year, or any one quarter, the minister should lead his friends into various parts of this enchanting country. If he tarries with the same congregation for ten years, which is probably long enough, his pulpit work should keep on being different every time he preaches.
If he is such an exceptional man as to linger in the same parish forty years and still not wear out his welcome, he should find in the Scriptures more material than he needs to keep from undue repetition of the same sermons, or even the same kinds of sermons. In short, the more one preaches from the Bible, the more one finds to preach.
Another disadvantage of the religious speech is that the speaker tends to be dishonest with the text. Martyn Lloyd-Jones in his book, "Preaching and Preachers" says that the first thing you have to deal with in preaching a truly Bible sermon is that you have to deal with the meaning of your text. At this point there is one golden rule, one absolute demand, and that is honesty.
You have got to be honest with your text. He meant by that, that you do not go to a text just to pick out an idea which interests you and then deal with that idea yourself. That is to be dishonest with a text. We must be honest with our texts; and we must take them always in their context. That is an absolute rule.
Many preachers are always looking for "ideas" because they want a theme, an idea, and then they philosophize on that, giving expression to their own thought and moralizing. That is utterly to abuse the Word of God. You must take your text in its context, and you must be honest with it. You must discover the meaning of the words and of the whole statement.
To do this, the first thing a preacher has to do is to learn to talk to his texts. They talk to you, and you must talk to them. Ask questions like, Why did he say that? Why did he say it in this particular way? What is he getting at? What was his object and purpose?
Put questions to your text but don't force anything upon it. It would be better to sacrifice a seemingly good sermon rather than forcing a text.
Be honest with your text by arriving at the main thrust, the main message of the text. Don't read the text and springboard into a religious speech from your own mind or the mind of someone else.
Let the text lead you and teach you. Listen to it and then question it as to its meaning, and let that be the burden of your sermon. Then and only then will it be a sermon and not just a lecture or religious speech.
According to Unger, there is a vast difference between preaching the Bible and using the Bible as a springboard from which to jump into a discussion of one's own thoughts.
It is one thing to utilize the Bible as a sourcebook to furnish the content of the message. It is quite another thing to employ it as a mere "textual repository" to supply germinal ideas to develop human impressions and opinions for a religious speech.
There is a chasm, too, between preaching the Bible and discoursing "about" the Bible. Strictly speaking, the contrast between the pulpit procedure is the difference between preaching and lecturing.
Unger said that preaching is the glory of the pulpit and when men behind the sacred desk abandon preaching for lecturing or pure teaching the glory fades.
Unfortunately, nothing is practical about a religious speech if it is supposed to be a Bible sermon. If it is supposed to be a Bible sermon, make sure it is an expositional Bible sermon and not just a religious lecture or address.
If, however, one is to give a lecture or religious address as an expert or if one is to share his own philosophical views about religion or the Bible, the religious speech may be a valid form of speaking.
But make sure to let your audience know that this is you speaking and not necessarily God speaking since your material does not come directly and completely out of the Word of God.
We must remember that real preaching, expository preaching, comes straight out of the Bible passage from which we are preaching. Alfred Garvie said that the Christian preacher will aim at being an expository preacher, though not necessarily in the narrow sense of always expounding in detail a passage of Scripture.
He will, however, aim at being an expository preacher in the broad sense that even when he deals with a subject, that subject will be connected by no forced exegesis, but by natural affinity with his text, and that the context historically studied will determine his treatment of his text.
What is insisted on, says Miller, is that the thought of the sermon should come naturally out of a passage of Scripture and that it should be controlled at every point by adequate historical study of the larger setting of which it is a part, so that the true meaning of the passage shall guide the thought of the preacher in every detail of his development.
James Coffin Stout said that an exposition of any portion of Holy Scripture is such a setting forth of the truth or truths contained therein as shall justly reflect its teachings. In other words, this includes the passage's inter-relations with the surrounding thoughts, its dependence on them, its outgrowth from them, and its application from start to finish.
Let me remind you that Donald Miller says that expository preaching is an act wherein the living truth of some portion of Holy Scripture, understood in the light of solid exegetical and historical study and made a living reality to the preacher by the Holy Spirit, comes alive to the hearer as he is confronted by God in Christ through the Holy Spirit in judgment and redemption.
A sermon may be life-situational, doctrinal, evangelistic, or ethical, and still be expository if its approach to the subject is rooted in the Scriptures, and it throws true Biblical light on the contemporary scene.
If this broad definition of expository preaching be accepted, then it remains true that all real preaching is expository preaching; for if a pulpit discourse does not embody the elements included in the definition, it can hardly be classed as a sermon, but becomes rather a lecture or an address.
Donald Miller gave us a good example of the religious speech or springboard sermon. He said that the only discernable connection between the text and the sermon was in the title and the word "drift" in the text suggested the title.
This topical approach, which had nothing to do with the text, was merely the logical arrangement of certain ideas in the preacher's mind gathered around a figure of speech vaguely suggested by the Biblical passage and then constructed into a religious speech.
But it must be asked whether a Christian pulpit is the appropriate place for such an exercise. And dare we call it a sermon? Or is it just a possible lecture or religious speech?
The Ebb Tide
Hebrews 2:1 "Pay the closer attention...lest we drift away."
Many powerful currents are moving through modern life which are sucking us away from our moorings. Drifting with these currents, we are headed for possible destruction.
I. We are drifting away from Love.
Since Christian love is the essence of democracy, we are likely to lose our political heritage in hatred of others.
II. We are drifting away from Faith in the Future.
Our cynicism in many realms testifies to this.
III. We are drifting away from Faith in God.
This is evidenced by the fact that Brooklyn, once the city of churches in the days of Beecher, Talmage, Cuyler, and Storrs, now has an average attendance in each church of little more than 160. If a decline such as this continues, Protestantism may die out.
We must stop our drifting because it may lead to destruction.
More examples of Springboard Sermons later.
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