Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Three Types of Preaching

Dr. Derke P. Bergsma, Professor Emeritus of Practical Theology at Westminster Seminary California, has written a very helpful article on the three types of preaching, based on sermon content. He lists them as Moralistic Sermons, Doctrinalistic Sermons and Redemptive Historical Sermons. In each case, he explains what each does and also points out whether or not we should adopt it. To illustrate his point he takes the story of Joseph and shows how each of these types of preaching would interpret it. Thus he has reasons to not recommend merely Moralistic and Doctrinalistic sermons. He thus makes the case for why all preaching ought to be redemptive historical in nature.

Regarding Moralistic sermons, Dr Bergsma explains it as one in which we are involved in “discerning ethical teachings from biblical examples”. In this approach, the story of “Joseph serves as a powerful model of one who resisted temptation even when it cost him a prison term.”  Dr. Bergsma says, “One might call this approach a search for biblical guidelines for godly living. It is motivated by a sincere desire to encourage people to be more pious, loving, kind, generous, and faithful in their Christian lives.” Along with this commendation, however comes his reasons to not recommend it as the sole form of preaching in the church, the main objection being, “The Bible should not be treated as a source book for moral advice. That is not its purpose. It is the infallible revelation of God's gracious determination to save a lost world. It records God's saving purpose in real history, culminating in the life, death, and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ in the light of whom all Scripture must be understood. Where moral admonition appears, as it certainly does, it must be clearly recommended as the response of gratitude from the Lord's redeemed people.” He has another 5 reasons to this list of objections against moralistic preaching.

Dr. Bergsma regards Doctrinalistic sermons as one which is attempting to discover “doctrinal implications from biblical texts”.  In this approach, “the biblical account of Joseph's experiences demonstrates the doctrine of providence.”  Dr. Derke admits that “Much preaching in churches that align themselves with the Reformed tradition has historically been of the doctrinalist approach”, however lists three major reasons as to why preaching in the church ought not to be merely doctrinalistic.  His reasons are, first of all, it tends to view a clear “understanding of Christian doctrine as an end to itself rather than to provide a life-changing and God-honoring body of truth.” Thus it can lead people to the danger of forgetting the fact that “knowledge of the truth, crucially important though it is, may never be a substitute for the humble surrender of one's heart to the Lord Jesus Christ.” Secondly, it tends to view “individual doctrines in isolation from the larger body of biblical teaching.” Thus the centrality of Christ in all of Scriptures’ doctrines is not sufficiently brought about in merely doctrinalistic preaching. Thirdly, Dr. Bergsma argues that this approach “easily tends to lose sight of the organic nature of Scripture.” Thus the coherence of the Bible story-line found only when  the centrality of the gospel is appropriately stressed, is lost in this approach. It thus makes the Bible a “static document” from which one merely distills “doctrinal teaching from individual texts”. However the Bible is “the infallible account of God's saving acts unfolding in salvation history, from bud to flower, from promise to fulfillment.” and our preaching ought to recognize this structure of divine revelation.

Redemptive Historical preaching is exactly that; preaching which takes into account “the essential nature of the Bible”. Dr. Bergsma explains, “The Bible is God's revelation of his saving purposes in real planet earth history, culminating in the life, death, and resurrection of his only begotten Son, Jesus Christ. Every text in Scripture is part of the unfolding of God's sovereign plan to redeem a lost world, a plan that reaches its fulfillment in the person and work of the Savior. Therefore, the fullest meaning of a particular text can be discerned only in relation to him who is the Word made flesh. And obedience to the ethical demands of any text is possible only in dependence on the power and grace of our divine Savior. No sermon is complete unless its place in the history of redemption, which centers in Jesus Christ, is clarified.” Hence this approach can also be called “Christ-centered preaching from all Scripture”. In this approach thus, “Joseph's experiences become part of the grand drama of divine redemption. Joseph is himself an object of God's grace, who is chosen by God to be an agent for the preservation of a covenant people through whom the Savior of the world, in the fullness of time, would be born. Joseph is thereby an imperfect type and shadow of Jesus, who is the ultimate preserver and deliverer of a covenant people. Joseph's salvation-and ours-is secure only in Jesus. Whatever noble character traits he exhibits are the evidence of grace in his life, traits that are common to those whose desire it is to please God and who are submissive to his providential will. We, too, are eager to please God as the response of gratitude for what he has done for us in Christ. Even our desire to do God's will has its source in him whose will it is our delight to do.”  Dr. Bergsma concludes his article with a list of four recommendations for doing redemptive historical preaching in our churches.

Evaluating Sermons  Read

[1] Dr. Derke P. Bergsma, Evaluating Sermons, Modern Reformation Nov./Dec. 2000 Vol. 9 No. 6 Pg 25,28-29

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