This is part two of a three-part blog series where we asked Dr. Steven J. Lawson some questions about expository preaching, current issues facing evangelicals today and Expositor magazine.
What are the main challenges today facing evangelicals today?
I do not think there is a one-size fits all answer for this because so many different Christians live in different parts of the world and are being confronted with different issues. So, there is not one critical issue that is facing the average Christian in the average church. Having said that, several things do come to my mind that rise to a high level of importance.
First, the evangelical church today tends to be non-theological. In other words, so many churches and ministries want to emphasize the practical aspects of Christian living, but they neglect the doctrinal foundations of the faith. This is like attempting to build a solid house on shifting sand. I believe that churches and ministries must put first things first and lay the foundation before they would build upon it. This necessitates the teaching of sound doctrine and the general framework of systematic theology.
My second grave concern for evangelicalism is having a high view of God, which is at the epicenter of systematic theology. I believe that the greatest issue facing the church in any century is a proper understanding of who God is. What is needed in the contemporary church today is a steady diet of the attributes and perfections of God. It is our high theology that produces high doxology. I believe that Theology Proper, which is the unique focus upon the person and being of God, is the lens through which we must see every other area of theology and life itself. Until there is the right knowledge of God, there will never be the right knowledge of self, nor the proper remedy applied to our own lives.
Third, I believe that evangelicalism today needs a stronger commitment to the sufficiency of Scripture. Today, the Bible is affirmed, but other secular sources are subsequently added to the message of the Bible as if they carry some measure of authority. While many affirm the inerrancy of Scripture, they neglect to assert its sufficiency. By the sufficiency of Scripture, we mean that the Bible is fully able, when accompanied by the power of the Holy Spirit, to carry out God’s redemptive purposes upon the earth. This must be recovered.
Explain why the doctrine of inerrancy is so attacked today.
The reason is very simple — it is unbelief. People do not accept the Word of God for what it claims to be: the inspired Word of the living God, because of their unbelief toward God. Ultimately, this is not a matter of scholarship, but lordship. At its root, a rejection of the inerrancy of Scripture is a desire to sit in judgment upon the Scripture. It is an attempt at self-elevation above the authority of God Himself, which is nothing more than pride and vanity.
The preaching of the Word of God must be at the very center of the life of the church. It can never have a supportive or secondary role, but must always be primary. It is the preaching of the Word of God that must define everything in the church. It is expository preaching that determines the worship in any church. The deeper we take people into the Word, the higher they will rise in worship. Expository preaching determines the spirituality of the lives of the members of a church. The Word of God is the chief instrument in sanctification. Therefore, preaching the Word should have the primary influence in conforming people into the image of Christ. Expository preaching equips people for ministry to do the work of God. Expository preaching causes the congregation to be united because it brings about oneness of convictions and oneness of thinking about virtually everything of importance. Finally, expository preaching launches the church into its work of evangelism and world missions. Everything is flowing out of the preaching of the Word of God.
Tell us why the glory of God in Christ is paramount in expository preaching, and why this is the need of the hour.
This is so critically important because the primary purpose of the written Word is to exalt and magnify the living Word. These two are inseparably connected. Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “We preach Christ and Him crucified” (1 Cor 1:23). To be sure, Paul preached the full counsel of God in every area of the disciplines of theology. Nevertheless, he could say, he preached Christ and Him crucified. How could this be? The answer lies in this, that the highest pinnacle of the preaching of Scripture is found in the person and work of Jesus Christ. Therefore, preaching the glory of God in Christ is to ascend to the summit of expository preaching.
Such preaching gives the greatest vantage point of the greatness of our God, who has supremely revealed Himself in the person of His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. To miss this is to miss everything. As Charles Haddon Spurgeon has said, in so many works, A sermon without Christ is an awful thing. It is like the day without the sun, the night without the moon, the ocean without water. It is a dry well that mocks the traveler. It is the fall without a harvest.
As the Word is preached, the Spirit of God must be powerfully at work in the life of the preacher. The Holy Spirit must be sharpening the focus of the preacher to more carefully understand the truth that he is preaching. His work of illumination and enlightenment must be accelerated as the preacher stands before an open Bible. In addition, the Holy Spirit must be deepening the convictions of the expositor. He must be persuaded of the veracity of his passage with greater intensity. This, too, is a work of the Spirit. The Spirit must ignite his heart with passion for God and for Christ as he preaches. The Spirit must be enlarging his heart for the spiritual good of those to whom he ministers. The Spirit must be bringing to the forefront of his mind truths that he had not yet anticipated saying. The Spirit must draw from his years of study and add to his preparation as he preaches. The Spirit also must restrain the preacher from saying certain things that are not immediately helpful or necessary. The Spirit must be guiding his word choices and enabling him to quote Scripture from memory as he preaches. The Spirit must help him as he makes his word choices, the mood of the verbs with which he speaks, and cause him to speak the truth in love. The Spirit must give the preacher a heightened sense of urgency as he brings the message. The Spirit must cause him to feel the immediacy of the moment as he speaks.
As the listener sits under the preaching of the Word, he, too, is dependent upon the Holy Spirit. The Spirit must give illumination and understanding of the passage of Scripture that is being presented. The Spirit must bring conviction of sin and an increased awareness of one’s need for Christ and His grace. The Holy Spirit must make the sermon intensely personal as though this message is intended for ‘you.’ The Spirit must both comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable as the Word is being preached. The Spirit must regenerate unconverted hearts and draw sinners to Christ. The Spirit must be raising the affections for Christ as the Word is preached. And the Spirit must be urging the listener to respond with steps of obedience to the Word that is preached.
Dr. Steven J. Lawson is President and founder of OnePassion Ministries, a ministry designed to equip biblical expositors to bring about a new reformation in the church. He also is the Executive Editor of Expositor magazine.
Expositor magazine, the print magazine of OnePassion Ministries, is a bi-monthly publication through which we desire to address the historical, biblical, and theological dynamics and practice of expository preaching.
OnePassion Ministries exists to ignite a supreme passion for God and His glory in all people throughout the world. As our name indicates, the strategic goal of this ministry is to enflame hearts with an all-consuming desire for Jesus Christ and His gospel. Our primary aim for believers from every walk of life is that they be revived and emboldened to live exclusively for the greatness of God. This intentional focus is to impart the knowledge of the truth by equipping pastors and church leaders, maturing lay people, and launching a new reformation in the church today. Most specifically, OnePassion is committed to training pastors in expository preaching that is firmly anchored in proclaiming God’s Word.
Contact OnePassion Ministries via email: firstname.lastname@example.org