Four Ways To Exegete Your Text: Following Jonathan Edwards’ Practices


A couple of weeks ago I finished reading Douglas A. Sweeney’s, Edwards the Exegete: Biblical Interpretation and Anglo-Protestant Culture on the Edge of the Enlightenment (Oxford).

One of the take aways from this book for those of us who preach or teach the Bible is the four different ways Edwards regularly approached studying the Bible. The four ways are Canonical, Christological, Redemptive-Historical, and Pedagogical exegesis. Think of them as supplements you take to boost your daily nutrient intake. Do you take any or any combination of them each week during sermon preparation?

These four approaches supplement what we normally think of as exegesis: historical-grammatical-literary. Edwards helps us remember why we need to move beyond the realms of word, historical, and literary studies. Here’s what we gain and how our congregation profits from the results of the following four exegetical practices:

Canonical Exegesis: This shows how your preaching portion fits with other Scriptures. Look for times when other Scripture provide vital additional information for the interpretation of your preaching portion.  Your congregants will appreciate seeing how God’s revelation works together to create meaning.I don’t recommend the common practice of showing listeners other Scripture that say the same thing as your preaching portion.

Christological Exegesis: This shows how your preaching portion functions for the Church because of Christ’s death, resurrection, ascension, and dispatching His Spirit on those who believe. Your listeners will appreciate learning how all Scripture points to the grace of God in Christ. This will keep all sanctification efforts faith-based and help avoid the dreaded moralistic, self-help sermon application. And remember that when you remind the saints about the Gospel, any non-Christians in attendance get to hear the Good News too.

Redemptive-Historical Exegesis: This shows how your preaching portion is part of the meta-narrative flowing throughout Scripture. Your parishioners will profit from the times when you locate your passage in the Story of Redemption (creation, un-creation, recreation, new creation). They will begin to appreciate that salvation is something much larger than the personal, saved-to-go-to-heaven variety.
Pedagogical Exegesis: showing how Scripture guides faith and the Christian life; here we gain precepts for living life as a Christian. One of the great quotes from the book came from this section. It reminded me of my primary responsibility as a soul-watcher. Sweeney writes of Edwards:
“At the end of the day, however, he was a clergyman and teacher paid to unpack the text in a pedagogical way, with the formation of disciples at the forefront of his mind.” (p. 188)

Before Sunday I hope you will supplement your normal exegesis with one or more of these four approaches, all for God’s glory in the church and in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 3:21).


Preaching The Sensitive Gender Issue


Have you ever wondered how churches and pastors who believe in the authority of the Bible land the way they do on the same-sex issue? How can we read the same Bible and interpret it so differently?
I just finished reading Christopher R. Seitz’s heavy book, The Character of Christian Scripture: The Significance of a Two-Testament Bible. One unexpected benefit of reading the book was Seitz’s choice of the same-sex crisis in the American Episcopal Church (TEC) as his concrete example of what happens when people move away from the rule of faith (or fails to recognize that the OT functions theologically for the Church).
Seitz reports that both sides of the same-sex issue acknowledge that this boils down to “disagreement…over the interpretation of Scripture and the question of whether the Bible has something like a plain sense, in the case of same-sex behavior and in other areas” (p. 176). Seitz has followed the discussion over the exegesis of Scripture and homosexuality for over two decades and lists three phases that have occurred in that timeframe:
Phase One. It was believed that the Bible could be reevaluated and understood to be saying something that no one had thought it said up to that point. “Sodom was about inhospitality, not homosexuality; chapter 1 of Romans was about specific, exotic kinds of homosexual misconduct [as opposed to two people of the same gender entering into a loving commitment to each other]” (p. 176).
Phase Two. It was admitted that the Bible really did say what it was always understood to say [that homosexual activity was a sin]. But what the Bible was giving us “was a kind of rough guide on how to make decisions. Biblical people had to exercise judgment, and they went about this with certain flexible systems that allowed them to negotiate religious principles with changing times” (pp. 176-177). An example would be Acts 15 the decisions of the Jerusalem Council. Therefore, we have the opportunity with changing times to change our minds about what is biblical or the kind of morality God expects of His citizens.
Phase Three. The Bible does not speak to the issue of our modern-day same-sex attitudes and actions because our version of this was unknown in the times when the Bible was written. If we don’t have a word from God on the issue, then we’re left with listening to how the Spirit of God would have us respond today.
Ultimately, then, “there is sufficient confusion about what any text means, [therefore]…the only thing we can be sure of is what people report to be true in their present experience….The Bible looks like us. That is our interpretive conclusion” (p. 178).
So, I step back, take a look at that three-phase development, and ask: What keeps me from that position? I am reminded of what Barth described as “the strange new world of the Bible.” Without becoming too simplistic, go back to the very first part of the first phase. The reevaluation of the Bible was due to a clash between Scripture and cultural experience. I should expect the two views to clash. And I should preach God’s view with confidence and invite His people to inhabit His strange new world. I should not allow the presence of confusion about the meaning of God’s Word to move me to rely on present human experience to determine reality.

Preach well, including finding the balance of being careful and courageous about moving from the Bible to theology for the Church and all so God can receive glory in the church and in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 3:21).


Utilize This Resource To Add Practical Theology To Your Sermons


Two things have come together to create this post: reading Joel Green’s, Practicing Theological Interpretation and Trueman’s, Luther on the Christian Life.

Well, actually, three things. The third one is my discussion last week with a young pastor who will begin his first pastoral post in about a month.

Let me start with the third factor. In talking about how to gain depth for preaching, I mentioned how important it is to read theology. The temptation for pastors is to read only for church growth, leadership, or commentaries for sermon helps. Over the years I’ve discovered how important it is to find in-depth theological works. These aids are tremendously helpful as a supplement to what would be considered normal exegetical work.

One place you may want to turn is to ancient catechisms. Green writes, “a theological hermeneutic might be well advised to ask, ‘What do we see as we read Scripture through the prism of the creeds that we would not otherwise see?'” (p. 80). Just as the creeds help flesh out interpretation and application of Scripture, so do catechisms.

Take, for instance, Luther’s catechism. Our Theology Readers’ Breakfast just completed a study of Trueman’s book, Luther on the Christian Life. The entries contain an intriguing combination of theology and practical application–practical theology.

Luther’s catechism is especially helpful because as Trueman states, “Luther was the first author of a catechism in the history of the church who came to the task as a father.” (p. 111) He writes for his children. But listen for the combination of theology and practical application.

“You shall have no other gods.”

What does this mean?

Answer: We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things.


“You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.”

What does this mean?

Answer: We should fear and love God, and so we should not use his name to curse, swear, practice magic, lie, or deceive, but in every time of need call upon him, pray to him, praise him, and give him thanks.” (p. 111).

In both cases, notice that Luther begins with fearing and loving God. I would normally begin discussion of the first commandment with some minutes devoted to worshiping God. In the second case, notice the list of positive applicational actions.

So, as you study for Sunday’s sermon(s), ask yourself if anything in your preaching portion might necessitate some help from a good theology book or from an ancient catechism like Luther’s. And may our preaching contribute to God receiving glory in the church and in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 3:21).


A Sentence That Could Find Its Way Into Every Sermon: Part 2 of Preaching the Connection Between Faith and Obedience


I will not encourage moralism.

I will not encourage moralism.

I will not encourage moralism.

So, in order to accomplish this, I repeat the following sentence in virtually every sermon:

“When you trust Christ it changes the way you think about _____.”

Fill in the blank with whatever your preaching portion is describing or prescribing about the Christian life.

For instance, in preaching the parable in Luke 16 about the shrewd manager, I said, “When you trust Christ it changes the way you think about money. Faith in Christ creates a person who uses their money to make disciples.”

Jesus clearly teaches that His followers should use their money–God’s money–as shrewdly as the manager used his boss’s money. That’s why, in the parable, the master commends his manager for his shrewdness (v. 8). Then, in v. 9 we read, “And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings.”

So, I say to our faith-family, “When you trust Christ it changes the way you think about money. Faith in Christ creates a person who uses their money to make disciples.” I may want to spend a minute or two explaining how that happens. How is it that believing in Christ-crucified changes my view of money?

I want everyone in the house to know we’re Christians and that faith in Christ creates a person who does what Jesus says to do in Luke 16:9.

I will not encourage moralism.

I will not let my congregants forget they claim to be Christian, that it’s our unique faith that creates the desire and capacity to use God’s resources for His glory and for our ultimate good.

Before next Sunday, see if your preaching portion creates the need for you to say, “When you trust Christ it changes the way you______.” You may decide to word it slightly different. Either way, preach well so God receives glory in the Church and in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 3:21).



What I Learned from Preaching in El Salvador About the Connection Between Faith and Obedience


Michele and I enjoyed a profitable trip to San Salvador, El Salvador to visit a church plant we are privileged to be a part of. I had the privilege of conducting preaching workshops to area pastors and preaching in the church plant and the mother church. My translator, Edwin Garcia, was incredible (unlike Michele, my Spanish is horrible!).

But what I learned about the connection between faith and obedience was interesting.

Once during the preaching workshop and once during a sermon, it became very clear that I had to be crystal clear that faith in Christ creates the desire and capacity for Christians to act in ways the Scriptures demanded.

At one point during a workshop the senior pastor asked to comment. He was fearful that his parishioners were hearing a kind of salvation-by-works message. That’s because I was explaining the need to obey Christ’s teaching. He didn’t know that I hadn’t gotten to the part where I would say:

“Obedience to this teaching doesn’t make you a Christian. You do not become a Christian by doing this, you do this because you are a Christians. Faith in Christ creates the desire and capacity to do this.”

The pastor was relieved when I finally got to this point. I don’t blame him. But as I watched the faces of participants and congregants that week, I realized how important it is to show the connection between faith and obedience.

Take a look at your preaching portion for Sunday. If there are instructions which Christians are supposed to put into practice, ask yourself if you are being clear about the connection between faith and Christ and obedience. Every time I make this clear, whether in our faith-family or elsewhere, I see the light come on.

We’re not moralists, we’re Christians. We’re not saved by works, but by a faith that works. The default setting of our hearts is such that we need this reminder over and over again.

Preach well so God receives glory in the church and in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 3:21).


Focus On Intention, Not Meaning (although they’re connected)


I’m currently nearing the end of preaching through the Judges. The series is titled, The Salvation of Stubborn Hearts. A constant battle every Monday morning is discovering the intention of these narratives. How do these narratives function for the Church? That’s the question. And it’s more important than asking what a narrative means.

I’m assuming that when you try to identify a narrative’s meaning, you’re thinking about what it meant (past tense). As soon as you ask what a text means (present tense), you inevitably enter the realm of intention.

Earlier today I read an EHS paper written by one of my LBC colleagues, Greg Hollifield (Memphis campus). He was exploring how texts signal their intention. If you ever preach through Judges or any other OT narrative, for that matter, you will find yourself constantly thinking: “I know what’s happening in the story, but I’m not sure how it functions for the Church (you might word it in terms of how it applies).”

As you know, we have to know before Sunday. Preachers live in the realm of intention. Worship during the sermon can be defined as the Believer’s response to the revelation of God. That response coincides with the text’s intention.

So in Judges 2:6–3:6 the narrator supplies his sign of intention: “And there arose another generation after them who did not know the Lord…” (v. 2:10). Everything that happens after that, the people’s idolatry and God’s angry, but gracious response, is a result of His people’s meager theology.

The narrator determines the intention of the sermon which, in turn, determines corporate worship. When it’s all said and done, we can’t suffer from meager theology and live for the glory of God. We urge ourselves to study God and put His ways into practice. That’s the only way to keep a congregation from becoming “Canaanized.”

Way before Sunday, nail down the intention of your preaching portion. That’s more important than knowing what your text means.

For His glory in the Church and in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 3:21).


How Does God Speak To Us About Us From Judges?


I am currently preaching through Judges and have entered the final section (the last 5 bizarre chapters). I also just completed reading Joel Green’s, Practicing Theological Interpretation (geared more towards the scholar than practitioner, but still helpful).

I was looking for insight into how to read Scripture in a way that it functions for the Church (building faith). What follows adds to our recent discussion about whether you preach to your congregants about the Bible or about them from the Bible.

Green writes, “The question, then, is how to hear in the words of Scripture the word of God speaking in the present tense” (p. 5).

That’s not always easy in OT narrative sections like Judges 1:27–2:5. Seven times we read, “…did not drive out…” as in, “Manasseh did not drive out the inhabitants of Beth-shean and its villages…” (1:27).

God speaks to us through what happen to them, in this case, what God’s people repeatedly didn’t do. The key is to figure out how the repeated failure to drive out the inhabitants addresses us.

Green states, “…if this letter is to serve as Scripture for us, then we will allow it to tell us who we are” (p. 18).

This is a helpful angle when thinking about sermon application. So, what does it look like to allow Judges to tell us who we are? In this section of Judges it looks like a “go and do otherwise” lesson. God’s people didn’t drive out the deadly sinful influences. This is who we are apart from faith and obedience.

So, we say to ourselves and our folks: there is a wrong way to deal with temptation (vv. 1:27-36), God is not happy with that way (vv. 2:1-3), and we must change our ways (vv. 2:4-5).

And, if you’re wondering about a Christo-centric angle on this text, one is found in the Lord’s statement: “I will never break my covenant with you, and you shall make no covenant with the inhabitants of this land…” (vv. 2:1-2). God’s people broke their end of the deal; God did not. However, He did break His covenant with His Son on the cross. That’s why He never breaks His covenant with us.

So, let Judges tell us who we are and allow Christ-crucified to change us into His faithful people.

Preach well so God receives glory in the church and in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 3:21).


Finding Theology in the Middle of a Series of Wars (part 15 of preaching through Daniel)


Since I began preaching through books of the Bible in the late summer of 1991, I can count on one hand the number of times I wished I didn’t have to preach the upcoming preaching portion for Sunday. Daniel 11:1-45 was one of those times.

The chapter is filled with a list of kings, kingdoms, and power struggles. It’s the larger campaign God’s people are caught up in. According to God’s view of history, human beings are not inherently good. Knowledge and technology will not bring about a peaceful world. According to their recent TV advertisement, IBM is Building a Better Planet. Not according to chapter 11.

I found the details of these kings and kingdoms too tedious to elaborate on. I also did not find any broad categories that conveyed theology.

And sometimes those kingdoms take aim at us (cf. vv. 28, 30, 31, 32, 41, 44). This prepares us for persecution of the godly. And Daniel is all about urging us to remain godly in an ungodly world.

Thankfully, vv. 27, 29, 35 (“time appointed”) show us the history of our world under God’s complete control. He limits the length of their rules. God predicts the future because He controls the future. There is comfort in knowing that. This bolsters faith so we can wait, worship, and work hard for the kingdom until He arrives to clean house.

What I was looking for in the chapter was a description of what God’s people would be doing in the end. I found that in vv. 32-35. Especially important in Daniel is the character trait of wisdom. That was important at the very beginning of Daniel and it comes back to the front as the book comes to a close: “And the wise among the people…” (v. 33). Then there’s, “and some of the wise shall stumble…” (v. 35). Those verses teach us through example.

Ultimately, God’s elect who overcome at the end do so because they follow their Savior who is described as wise in Isaiah 52:13, “my Servant shall act wisely…”

If you ever get to preach Daniel 11, I hope this brief summary will help supplement your studies.

Preach well for the sake of His reputation (Ephesians 3:21).


Preaching Through Daniel (part 3): Choose an Applicational Theme


I was hoping these posts on preaching apocalyptic books like Daniel would relate to preaching other books. So far, so good.

Post #1 showed how the beginning and ending of Daniel provide clues to its message to the Church. Often, the Author/authors of the books of the Bible signal their intention at the beginning and end of a book (try this with Revelation).

Post #2 showed how the narrative of Daniel (chapters 1-6) leads the way for interpreting the visions (chapters 7-12). Again, the same goes for the early chapters of Revelation that contain the letters to the seven churches.

Now, before you begin preaching a series through any book of the Bible, select an applicational theme for the book. Let that theme provide continuity for the series. Let that theme be the focus for the series.

For my series on Daniel I selected: Remaining Godly in an Ungodly World.

If you decide to use a theme for your series through a book of the Bible, consider the value of an applicational theme. Every Sunday parishioners will hear how Daniel, for instance, functions for the Church. They will hear how Daniel’s theology affects them.

This will be especially important by the time you arrive at the visionary material. The tendency is to get lost in the impossible-to-interpret material. Keeping the applicational theme in focus will keep the sermon aimed at worship, not speculation.

The other alternative–doctrinal themes–have less impact. They provide information only. In many cases the title of your sermon series is the first exposure to your sermon. Better to lead them immediately to an act of worship than to pieces of solitary doctrine.

Before Sunday, even if you aren’t preaching through a book of the Bible, see if your sermon title is aimed at application, not simply information.

And preach a good sermon, will ya, so God’s reputation grows in the Church and in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 3:21).


Bolstering Faith: The Big Picture of Sermon Application

The big picture concept.

One thing that helps me prepare for each Sunday sermon is reminding myself of the big picture. It’s easy for me to get lost in the exegetical details and even the specific application of a preaching portion. For example, preaching on Titus 2:11-14, I could think that urging us all to welcome the grace of God as a personal trainer to transform us into the image of Christ is sufficient. That is what that Text is saying and doing: the grace of God trains us to say “no” to two things and say “yes” to more things.

But, there’s a bigger picture than that. In Luke 18:1-8 Jesus asks, “…when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” That’s what God is looking for now and later: saving faith, sanctifying faith. A good proof-text could be from Hebrews 11:6 “But without faith it is impossible to please him…”

Before Sunday, look at your application (locate what your preaching portion is intended to do to the Church). Ask how faith in Christ is linked to that application.

In the case of Luke 18:1-8, for instance, making sure we’re praying when Jesus returns inevitably means making sure we believe the Gospel. We pray to the degree we believe. Luke said, “And he told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart.” What do you think is the condition of my faith if I have lost heart? Right. If I’ve lost heart, I’ve lost faith first. Or, you could at least say that I’m struggling with my faith when I’m very discouraged.

One way to think of this is:

Every act of disobedience is first and foremost an act of unbelief.

That means in order to attack disobedience, we should first attack unbelief. The opposite is also true: every act of obedience is first and foremost an act of faith. So, to urge obedience, we should first urge faith.

Preach well for God’s glory in the church and in Christ Jesus (Eph. 3:21),