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Thursday, November 15, 2007

Preaching Sola Scriptura

Whether Calvinist or Arminian, Cessationist or Pentecostal, Paedobaptist or Credobaptist, Dispensational or Covenantal, you have felt the effects from the Reformation. Even the Roman Catholic church has been forced to respond, though they remain in signficant error.

No matter what protestant background you come from, one of the greatest areas of influence is in the preaching. This can be seen even by the arrangement of the furniture in the auditorium. The table for the "sacraments" has been moved, and the "pulpit" became the centerpiece. While the furniture is insignificant (our church does not have a literal pulpit) that attitude is. We gather around the Word of God, to hear the Word of God and apply the Word of God. We have the Reformation to thank (at least in part) for helping remind us that the Word of God is central to our corporate worship. However, much of contemporary preaching ignores the heart of the Reformation (the "five solas") as they deliver their homily.

As time permits me, I hope to tackle each of the solas, as they regard to preaching.

Sola Scriptura

The Bible, the whole Bible and nothing but the Bible. The first time I remember seeing this phrase was leaving the auditorium (which has since become the gym) of my grandmother's church. At the time, I remember a rush of courage flowing through me. It seemed like such a bold, right, strong statement to make. Yet, I must admit that later on I started to find the statement embarrassing. Assuming it was borrowed from our judiciary process (Swear to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth...an odd connection it seemed for a non-swearing tradition), it just seemed like another example of Christians borrowing something from the world, slightly adapting it, and calling it creativity. I have since come full circle in my view, cherishing the motto.

Like all things theological, a banner, sign or poster will not fix the problem...especially if we are not preaching Sola Scriptura.
Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep;...1 Corinthians 15:1-6
About four months ago, I was sitting with a group of pastors and preaching came up. Since this has become a great love of mine, I enthusiastically began to plead with my brothers to preach Christ exalted. In shock, one brother stated, Well, I think you can preach Christ, but it doesn't have to come from a particular passage. To my shame, I offered no rebuttal, for by the time I recovered from such a statement, the conversation had moved on.

It's interesting to see Paul's appeal to the church in Corinth. Near the end of his letter, he reminds them of that which is most important. His message is gospel-centric (the gospel which I preached to you--v1). His message is Christocentric (notice, he does not say the death of Christ, placing the authority on the event or action, but instead says Christ died, keeping our attention on Him). Yet, we cannot ignore, his message is also Bibliocentric.

According to the Scriptures--Paul is not asking the Corinthians to believe the gospel due to Paul's persuasive abilities. He is not calling on them to even research the facts or recollect the events as they witnessed them. He drives them back to the Word of God to develop their confidence. How do we know Christ's death was for our sin? We are told so. How do we know He would be raised three days later? Again, we are told (and Jesus grounds His claim in Old Testament authority).

In fact, it is worth noting Paul's pattern.
    1. He states the fact.
    2. He draws the authority from Scripture.
    3. Then, he appeals to exterior evidence.
In our culture, we could expect one to make the claim, but then be driven straight to the evidence to prove the point. We would run to achaeology. We would appeal to logic. We would quote contemporary authors. All of these things we would do to try to convince a person of their need for Christ. But a person does not need to be convinced of the facts, they must be called to submission to them. And quite frankly, you and I do not have the authority to call any person to submission. It must generate from the Word of God alone.

Christ is the Word of God and every preacher is solemnly charged to present Him as such. We can claim to preach the Word. We can enter the pulpit with Bible in hand. We can even read from it during the message. Yet, our message may not be stemming from the authority the Word of God alone can provide. The following are some principles to preaching with sola scriptura in view:

Expositional preaching--It is impossible to establish the Scriptures as the authority when we place it in submission to our own thoughts. It is not enough to dance from text to text, proving our opinions. Our messages must be born out of the text itself. This means the bulk of our preaching should be lectio continua. And in the moment we determine a topical message is necessary (which, contrary to what some believe, I do allow for, though do not regularly recommend), we should only speak from what a particular Scripture says about the topic. (This does not mean we avoid cross references, or avoid an approach based on the "whole counsel of God," but it does mean that their should be a primary text that is determining our points, subpoints and even application.) To do anything else is to claim that Scripture is the authority...and that you should see it as such because I said so.

Christ centered preaching--Just as it is improper to present Christ without Scripture, it is equally improper to present Scripture without Christ. To say Christ is not central to a text is to ignore a critical text (John 5:39 among others). It is also to ignore the authority of Christ, who gave us our hermeneutic. If we claim to preach the Word, but deny preaching the Word who became flesh, we deny the true meaning (and thus the authority) of the text.

Incorporate Biblical Language--In our era, contextualization has become the buzz word. Certainly, we all contextualize to some extent, for we not only preach in the language, but often in the dialect of our audience as well. However, our call is not to conform the Scriptures to the audience, but for the hearer to be transformed by renewing our mind. Part of this process means our people must develop a biblical vocabulary. This does not mean etherial language which our people cannot comprehend. But it does mean using biblical language, and defining it for our people. Part of thinking biblicallly is seeing the beauty of the language the Bible employs.

Search the Original Language--Often used as the "great intimidator" by pastors, the languages should be used to make the Bible more accessible to men, not less. In our preaching and teaching class, we were reminded this week that John Calvin preached in French from the original Hebrew (Old Testament) or Greek (New Testament) text. Yet, rarely did Calvin ever utter "the greek here says..." or even pronounce the word in greek. We should not use it it intimidate our people (making it seem we are the only ones able to "decipher" the Bible), but should share it in a practical way. But to show the Scriptures as authoritative, we should handle them with the respect demanded by searching out the original language.

Encourage Bereans--Similarly, our preaching should never isolate us from questions. Our people should be encourage to come to us and question our meaning or interpretation. (Just not during the message, thus creating confusion.) We must preach in such a way that reminds people that the Word (not the preacher) is the authority, and that if we are not accurate to the Word, we (like our congregants) need to repent and celebrate the grace of God. Yet, we often preach in such a way, or parade around our credentials, scaring the body from ever investigating what we say. Yet, those who are more noble-minded search out the Scriptures. We encourage our people to see the authority of the Word of God when we call them to hold us accountable to it.

Equip Bereans--Therefore, it should be our intention that our body becomes more and more skilled in their understanding of the Word. We should seek to not only provide the ministry of the Word, but teach them how to engage the Word. As languages are important in preaching, we should also teach their importance in personal study. This does not have to be intimidating, for we can introduce them to things like a Strong's Concordance or websites like biblestudytools.net or studylight.org (each allows you to explore the original languages). We should seek to be the training ground for workers unto the harvest field, which we should be praying for. We remind them that we are not the authority due to our degree, title or "special annointing." We simply serve as ministers of the Word, the Word which is equally available to them.

When we see the glory that God would be willing to condescend to present Himself to us in written and living form, we then realize the question is not "Can I preach Christ without using a text?" but the question becomes:

Why would I want to? Then we realize it is not enough to say The Bible, the whole Bible and nothing but the Bible. We also realize it is critical that we preach the Bible, the whole Bible, and nothing but the Bible.


  • At 10:13 PM, Blogger Darby Livingston said…

    Another excellent post. Another Greek tool that is new is the Resurgence Greek Project at www.regreek.com/reader.

  • At 10:20 PM, Blogger Brad said…

    "And in the moment we determine a topical message is necessary…we should only speak from what a particular Scripture says about the topic. To do anything else is to claim that Scripture is the authority...and that you should see it as such because I said so."

    Do you have a single passage upon which you base this particular view, or should we just see it as such because you said so?

  • At 10:27 PM, Blogger Brad said…

    Wow. What a jerk. I should first have let you know that I think this was a fantastic post. Keep up the good work, brother.

  • At 11:25 PM, Blogger danny2 said…


    shouldn't you be writing an article of your own?

    and to answer your question...no. (i believe i have several passages that present this perspective. but to cover that here--you'll have to trust me, i do plan to address it--would either clog up this meta or distract from the sola series on the blog.)

  • At 7:21 AM, Blogger Brad said…

    I knew you'd burn me on that one.

    Perhaps I either didn't make my point clearly enough, or perhaps I misunderstood your original point, but I took the line I quoted to say that if you base a message upon an single passage it carries the authority of scripture, but that if you base it upon several passages it carries only the speakers authority.

    Have I misread you?

  • At 8:31 AM, Blogger danny2 said…


    you're right regreek looks great!


    certainly cross references help us preach the "whole counsel of God's Word." i don't know that i've ever preached a message that didn't examine other texts. but i strive that those text support the primary passage.

    however, when not basing a message out of a particular passage, but equally out of multiple places i believe you introduce greater difficulties, such as:

    1. i must have a concordance like memory to know all the passages we must examine.
    2. i may be tempted to ignore passages that deal with my topic, but not in the way i wanted.
    3. or, i may try to preach every single passage and every exposed angle to the point that i actually say nothing at all.
    4. greater possibility that i preach what i already know about a topic, rather than preaching what i have learned from a passage about the text.
    5. i does lack some authority...for when you preach, your audience is thinking, "why those 5 points? could there be a 6th or 7th point he's not telling us about?"

    during the preaching workshop, i've shared 4 different lists from preachers why they believe lectio continua is the primary Christ exalting way to preach. i post those in the future.

  • At 9:00 AM, Blogger Brad said…

    One more attempt and then I’ll go back to hoeing my own row:

    I’m sure that you have lots of pastors’ lists and lots of passages to support the practice of lectio continua, and I'm not expecting you to list them here and now. My problem, however, is that, based on your own premise (that views derived from multiple passages lack authority), lectio continua must itself be held to lack authoritative scriptural basis. No?

  • At 9:27 AM, Blogger danny2 said…

    i'll get there.

    is there a passage that screams out "preach straight through?' no.

    but does an examination of the texts show us our attitude should be completely be in subjection to the Word and that in part requires lectio continua? i think so. (just not going to give them to you now.)

  • At 9:33 AM, Blogger Brad said…

    Fair enough.

    So, has your fourth guy come through and given me another week? or is Tuesday the end of the line for me?

  • At 10:00 AM, Blogger danny2 said…


  • At 4:21 PM, Blogger Brad said…

    Sounds ominous. I'll double my efforts.

  • At 5:32 PM, Blogger Dave B. said…

    As per the whole topic thing...

    I (not scripture) would say that in practice and philosophy one passage @ a time lends itself to keeping the listener in focus and the preacher in subjection to the word.

    Personally i think topical messages take 10 times as long to prepare.

    In personal practice if we cover a topic it's in a series which we deal with each portion of scripture on a separate basis to see what it is saying.

    On the devil's advocate thing... (which i know danny will answer "but that was inspiration not preaching" but i'll throw it out there anyway)..... Rarely does the Nt ever present a chuck of Ot from one source on one subject. The author of Hebrews (which most would agree is the standard midrash construct) uses and cites many passages often back to back.

    This said, the synagogue practice (someone correct me if i'm wrong) was to read from a portion of scripture consecutively each day thus maintaining a continual reading / teaching practice.

  • At 11:45 PM, Blogger danny2 said…


    But that was inspiration, not preaching!

    there, now that we got that very valid arguement out of the way, let's consider some other things (i plan to tackle this in detail in the future):

    1. what makes us think we have the exact transcripts of the messages in the gospels/acts?
    2. even if we do have the transcripts, what makes us think we could possibly preach with the same authority/understanding/power/etc as Our Savior, Jesus Christ?
    3. And really, what makes us think we are equipped to preach like the Apostles (notice, capital "A")?
    4. What if there are texts that show expostitional preaching?
    5. Is the completion of the Canon a significant enough event that it would change the way one may preach before and after?

    and many many more. as i said, i'm looking forward to getting into that with more detail down the road.


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