The following is from an interview with David Allen, dean of the School of Theology at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, on a new book he co-edited,Text-Driven Preaching by B&H Academic. To watch additional video clips of the interview, visit www.swbts.edu/AllenQandA.
Q: There are many books out there on preaching. Why another book on preaching?
A: I think this book fills a niche that is not quite out there in two or three senses. First of all, this is a book that calls expository preaching back to its foundation and back to what genuine exposition is all about. Number two, this book covers the gamut of the history of great expositors of preaching, covers the spiritual life of the preacher, and also covers aspects of the actual methodology of how to do exposition, how to do text-driven preaching, followed by the practicality of how to deliver text-driven sermons and so forth. So, I think that the book is a worthy book that fills a niche out there. There are many good books on preaching. They vary in emphases, but this is a book that really zeros in on the vitality of text-driven preaching, and all of our contributors, regardless of the subject matter of their chapter, they are all committed to text-driven preaching.
Q: What is “text-driven” preaching?
A: Essentially text-driven preaching is the same as expository preaching, but the reason we use that term is that like the term evangelicalism, that term has become so broad that it covers so much that in the earliest days would have never fallen under the category of evangelicalism. Well, so has the term expository preaching. In more recent years, it has just become so elastic that there are things that actually fall under that category that may not really be expositional in nature. So, what we mean by expository preaching is essentially preaching that is driven by the text of Scripture such that the structure of the text informs the structure of the sermon.
Q: What was the author selection process like?
A: We wanted to have a book that could cover the gamut—not just having professors of preaching in it but actually have some pastors and actually have theologians and others that would be involved in it to give it a good, well-rounded perspective.
Q: How will this book help a young man in seminary or someone new in ministry?
A: The contributors of this book are all experienced preachers, and that in and of itself, just being able to glean from a dozen men who have experience in the pulpit is worth its weight in gold right there. In each chapter, whether you’re reading a little bit about the history of expository preaching, which Jim Shaddix covers, whether you’re reading Paige Patterson’s chapter on Aristotle’s rhetorical triad of logos, pathos, and ethos, or whether any of the chapters in between, a young man would benefit greatly. Second, this book can be used as a textbook because it basically covers the “How to” of doing expository preaching.
Q: How will this book help a veteran pastor?
A: Nobody ever arrives in preaching; we are all somewhere along the scale, learning more about how to do great preaching. There will be a number of things in this book that will not only reinforce what an experienced pastor already knows and does, but that actually would stretch him in some areas and give him some new ideas and new ways of going about doing great preaching.
Q: Are you encouraged or discouraged about the current state of preaching?
A: I am both encouraged and discouraged. I’ll begin with the negative first. I am discouraged when I see so much out there in the pulpits that is basically spiritual pablum, that is virtually devoid of biblical content.
So, yes I am discouraged by a lot of what I see. On the other hand, I am encouraged. And the reason I am encouraged is because I am seeing a younger generation of men who are now coming through not only our Southern Baptist seminaries but other seminaries as well who are actually committed to doing expository preaching and they are going out into their churches and beginning to do it. They’re realizing that some of the stuff that’s come down the pike in the last 20 or 30 years that was new and innovative is not really getting the job done. They realize that expository preaching is the way to grow a church and the way to grow Christians, and so they are committed to it.
Q: What cautions would you have for someone starting out in text-driven preaching?
A: I would encourage people who are beginning to do this and don’t have a great deal of background or experience in it to start small. You eat the elephant just one bite at a time. Start with a small book, a short book, maybe in the New Testament—a short book like Philippians, or even a short section of a book like the Sermon on the Mount, the three chapters in Matthew 5-7, would be great starting places for someone wanting to do a short series of expository sermons where they’re not getting bogged down in some highly technical or deeper texts. I would start with shorter books and get a couple of those under your belt, and then tackle books like Romans and Hebrews.
Secondly, text-driven preaching is not a straightjacket of preaching or a cookie-cutter approach. There are many ways to do good text-driven preaching. Sermon form can vary and yet still be faithful to the text and be considered genuine expository preaching. All of the aspects of creativity that are brought into the sermon should be a vital part of what we do. We shouldn’t get locked into a way of doing expository preaching.
Q: How do preachers balance content and delivery?
A: What we are about is a full-orbed view and vision for preaching, which we believe involves planning, preparation, exegesis and all of the traditional approaches or aspects of what we would call sermon preparation. But, also, good preaching involves the dynamics of delivery and all of the aspects that go along with the communication of the Gospel. It’s important to have something to communicate and to communicate it well. If we have something to communicate, which we do—the Gospel, but yet we are poor communicators of the Gospel, then we are actually going to hinder people from responding the Gospel, from understanding the Word of God. We stress both.
It’s important not to be so academic and so ivory tower and high brow so where your preaching is a mountain of information and is delivered like a lecture. That’s an extreme we’re trying to avoid. And, then we’re trying to avoid the other extreme, a lack of preparation: “Well, the Holy Spirit will tell me what to say, and I just want to be natural so that people will respond.” There’s this lack of preparation. Generally speaking, that doesn’t do much either.
A lot of times, people will pay close attention to the preparation of their sermon but not think through the implications of the delivery of their sermon. We stress both because we want people to be scintillating, interesting and creative in their delivery, and to use language well, even to think through how they’re going to say what they say in their sermon. There’s nothing in that that prohibits the role of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit can simply take that and enhance it. We believe in good, solid content, but we also believe in good principles of delivery.
Q: How does this book continue the legacy of Southern Baptist preaching?
A: It is reflective of the commitment of where the Southern Baptist Convention is now as a result of the Conservative Resurgence that has taken place in the convention since 1979. Now all of our seminaries are committed to the inerrancy of Scripture, and they’re all committed to the need of the exposition of Scripture in preaching. The preaching faculties of these seminaries are committed to teaching preaching in a way that fosters genuine exposition.