my approach to preaching: the Word.

I don’t know that there is anything novel about my approach to preaching.

I’ve grown to accept the fact that my preaching seems to be qualified as “other” in the traditional categories, which is not a way of saying “really cool and unique” so much as me coming to terms with the fact that it may actually be a little weird.  The number of influences that I think I channel are broad.  They are people that would have never hung out at a singles bar and compounds that don’t belong in the same chemistry lab.

I think one of the ongoing struggles perhaps preachers always struggle to define is their relationship to the text.  Or maybe it is better dubbed the relationship of the Spirit to the text.  There are so many ways to approach preaching.  People start with questions like “what are the felt needs of this community?” or “what would make a really interesting series?” or they just start with the assigned text in the Lectionary (nothing wrong with that).  As a good Pentecostal boy, I always want to make sure I leave plenty of room for the Spirit, but I am very comfortable doing that within the context of a preaching series.  If ideas are not reinforced and don’t have an overarching structure, they will be forgotten–and I have never felt like a particular series has constricted me from preaching precisely what I believe the Spirit to be saying to our people on a giving weekend.

There is a general continuum where we tend to either be less attentive than we should be to the Word or less attentive than we need to be to do the Spirit.  Yet they are not in tension, and I don’t really find it a struggle anymore to make sure I’m attentive to both.  Sometimes, I will go in a more topical route-as I did in a series like “People from the Future,” “Cosmic Conflict,” “The Walking Dead,” or “Taboo” series.  My favorites truthfully are the straightforward exegetical series like the one I’m doing on Revelation.

In either scenario, whether I’m working through a book of the Bible or using a particular passage, I’m big on doing my homework.  I can riff as good as the next guy, but I want to really feel like I’ve got my head around what the writer was saying to the original audience. It is generally true that discipline is what really gives you the freedom to improvise well, and I find strangely that the “riffs”/Spirit-led rabbit trail stuff in my sermons flow best out of deep, thoroughgoing study of the Scriptures.  I just don’t think its responsible to ignore the grunt work–although as a guy who does take the Spirit seriously, that by no means my interpretive work is limited to what I feel like the text communicated “then” to early readers (more on that tomorrow, that’s the “Spirit” part).  But that’s where I start.  Pentecostal and Charismatic brothers and sisters: I’m all about the dynamic, lively and interactive ways that God uses Scripture–but don’t get lazy and skip this leg of the journey.  Too much irresponsible exegesis comes from not taking this part seriously enough.

Sometimes people ask me about good sturdy resources.  I’m all over the map for which sources I use commentary wise, and really picky.  I like to use a lot of IVP’s commentaries across various lines and subjects–they are generally well-balanced in terms of academics and application. At the baseline, the IVP Bible background commentaries on the Old and New Testament are great places to start for most any text.

There have been several in the Interpretation series of commentaries from John Knox Press I’ve really enjoyed (Richard Hays’ amazing entry on I Corinthians first and foremost).  The new series of Brazos commentaries have been interesting, as they have theologians who aren’t proper text scholars addressing the texts head on (Stanley Hauerwas on Matthew is my fave there).  I do refer to commentaries from the Anchor Bible and NICOT and NICNT series, which are big, meaty, and really allow you to feast on a text.  On the other hand, those are so academic, so largely detached from direct application–so there is a great deal of translation required.

I generally like anything commentary-wise related to Gordon Fee, John Christopher Thomas, NT Wright, Richard Bauckham, and Walter Brueggemann.  Wright’s For Everyone series is a wonderful stimulus to how to think pastorally about a text.  Thomas’ stuff on I John and forthcoming work on Revelation is terrific.  There is nothing written by Gordon Fee on a New Testament book I would not recommend, the same goes for Walter Brueggeman with the Old Testament.  I avoid anything remotely Dispensational in approach (if you don’t even know that word, count yourself lucky).  I avoid Matthew Henry.  In terms of Study Bibles, I avoid Scofield and Dake.  While I use these more devotionally than I do for sermon prep, I am partial to the Wesley Study Bible and the Renovare Spiritual Formation Bible.  Those of you who listen to my sermons there are a whole lot of other things that will go into the crock pot besides commentaries, but in terms of really coming to terms with the text itself, these are great places to start.