I read a post this morning that brought a tear to my old eyes.
When I was a student at Southwestern back in the dark ages, before the CR took hold, I had two preaching classes. (If you are feeling defensive of Southwestern, please read to the end!) The first was taught by a professor whose doctoral dissertation had been a denial of the doctrine of inerrancy. The second, the one I liked best, was taught by a professor who was later fired by Southwestern for inappropriate behavior. I did not exactly get the best of the best. I am thankful for the homiletical training I had at Dallas Seminary that drilled into me the principles of expository preaching – what is now being called “text-driven” preaching.
Homiletics at Dallas Seminary
At Dallas, our preaching classes were part of our third-year Greek classes. We were assigned an exegetical paper on a passage that dug deeply into the Greek text, did word studies, pursued textual difficulties, outlined the passage, and even graphed the sentences. The result was a 14 page, single-spaced document. From that paper we then constructed a sermon. Greek exegesis produced textual exposition.
My assigned text was 1 Corinthians 2:1-5.
And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. 2 For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. 3 And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, 4 and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, 5 so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.
The passage is easily structured. Paul says (verses 1-2) that he knew only Christ crucified, foreswearing lofty rhetoric. He demonstrated (verses 3 and 4) the Spirit’s power in the midst of his own weakness. Verse 5 tells why he did that. His desire was that their faith would rest on God’s power not man’s wisdom. So, Paul’s motivation was to build a ministry based on God’s power (v 5), so he (vs 1-2) preached Christ and (vs 3-4) relied on the Spirit’s power.
When I preached the text, I started with Paul’s motivation in verse 5. He was driven by a desire to build a church in Corinth founded on God’s power not his own personality, eloquence, wisdom, or strength. Having established that, I said that Paul focused on two things, and explained that he preached the crucifixion and he relied on the Spirit. I sat down believing I had handled the text pretty well. I will never forget his words.
Dave, I don’t know if you have noticed this, but verses 1-4 come before verse 5.
Psssss….That sound was the deflation of my pride. He was making a point that day. Follow the text. Be faithful to the text. Did he go overboard? I think so, but he succeeded in making me remember the point 40 years later. The more I stick to the text the better off I will be. The people who hear me need Christ and the Spirit’s power not my wisdom. Preach the text. That lesson stayed with me.
What is sad is that back in the day I had to go to a non-SBC seminary to get trained in text-driven preaching.
Then I transferred to Southwestern and I was taught to find a text to use as a springboard for my ideas. Three points and a poem. Alliteration was often more important than textual fidelity. One education class even told us that preaching was out-of-date and ineffective and should be abandoned. The guy was a great quick-draw artist but he had little respect for preaching the text.
Blogging Battles and a Moment of Hope.
Through the last decade it is safe to say that in most of the blogging battles I’ve been a part of I’ve been on the other side of the fence from Southwestern Seminary. They were ground zero for the Baptist Identity movement and I was devoted to its destruction. (Some of the BI folks, strangely, are now among my closest friends). I disagreed with several actions taken by Dr. Patterson and position held by key faculty at the seminary.
But today I read a blogpost by a young man who followed me on Twitter. I still have a small enough following on Twitter that I sometimes do a little “creeping” on people who follow me. I found that this young man, Aaron Halstead, a student as SWBTS, had a blog, so I clicked through and read his most recent post – from June 21, “Is Text Driven Preaching Boring?” It is an excellent article. Keep writing, Aaron. Mike Leake can only produce so much content daily.
But reading his post filled me with hope for the SBC.
Many pronounce the decline and fall of the SBC, blaming this group or that, targeting someone or some group for attack or exclusion. I often get caught up in those battles – the flesh is strong. And certainly, there can be no doubt that the SBC is not seeing statistical progress as we would like to. The CP is down. Numbers are down. Division is up. We are certainly not all we should be.
But there are some very good things going on in the SBC, and the emphasis at our seminaries on text-driven preaching may be one of the best things.
This all hit me when I read Aaron’s post this morning. I thought back to the education I received on preaching at Southwestern (which may not have been typical of everyone’s experience there, but it was mine) and the much better education that Aaron and others are receiving at Southwestern. I can tell you a few things from personal experience.
Since I was elected president of the Pastors’ Conference, there has been one entity leader who has stood above all others in graciousness, offers of helpfulness, and support for our little endeavor. Of course, the Executive Committee has given us inestimable assistance – we couldn’t do it without them. And the Caskey Center at NOBTS is our partner in this project and they have given us great support from the beginning. But no one, on a personal level, has gone out of their way to be gracious and supportive as Dr. Patterson and his wife.
We have planned a colloquium with the speakers of the PC and Southwestern is hosting it. Dr. David Allen will be the primary host of that as I understand it. We are going to gather for a couple of days and study the book of Philippians together at my alma mater – the first time I’ve been back in about 150 years. I’m looking forward to it.
But when I read Aaron’s post about the text-driven preaching that Dr. Allen is teaching, it struck me. We can argue about Calvinism. We can disagree about Dr. Moore’s comments on Donald Trump. But as long as the SBC is training young preachers to honor the text and preach it their people on Sunday, I am convinced we are doing good things.
There is every reason not to give up on the SBC. There is every reason to pull back from the edge of division and splintering. Are our personal grudges and petty differences worth the damage we will do to a nonpareil world missions program (even slightly smaller than it was) and a seminary system that is producing the kind of preachers I’ve been listening to recently?
Is everything great with the SBC? Of course not. But I was amazed at how many competent and faithful Bible expositors we had to TURN DOWN to reach our magic number of 12 for the Pastors’ Conference. All of our seminaries are teaching young preacher-boys not only to honor the text but also to PREACH it.
So, we are a long way from perfect, but I am thankful that Dr. Allen is teaching preaching at Southwestern and producing young preachers like Aaron Halstead. The same thing is happening at Midwestern, Southern, Southeastern, Gateway, and New Orleans. Each puts a different spin on the preparation, has different theological and stylistic biases, but they are all teaching text-driven preaching.
Praise God from whom all blessings flow!
So, I accept that the SBC is not perfect. Dr. Patterson may say something next week I will disagree with (as, perhaps, may Dr. Mohler or Dr. Moore). But if the SBC continues to produce pastors who honor the text every Sunday, preach Christ crucified and rely on God’s power, perhaps we have every reason to hope that God is not finished with us yet.
Please, brothers and sisters, let us not burn the house down while there is still so much inside that is valuable!