My first daughter was born in May. The thing about babies is that it’s hard to understand what they want. They do not know how to speak. All they can do is cry. We try to understand who they are and what they want based on our experiences with her.
Many Americans view the world from a postmodern perspective. In postmodernism, truth is found in the experience of the individual and society. There is not a single standard where truth is found. Postmodern people apply this same principle to God. Individuals can discover what God is like by their feelings and life experiences. A god who does not speak words is comfortable because he cannot make demands and ask questions that are clear and specific. However, do we worship a God whose primary means of communicating about himself is through our personal experiences and feelings? According to Scripture, the answer is no. We serve a God who speaks human words. If our God speaks, then this impacts how we preach. Let’s first look at how Scripture describes God speaking before answering how this changes the way we should preach.
Scripture describes God as being able to speak human language. First, God is shown to be capable of speaking human language. The Old Testament narratives are filled with stories where God spoke words that were audibly heard, sometimes by many people at once (e.g. Deut 4:10–19). Idols are denounced for not speaking. The implication is that God can speak (Cf. Ps 115:3–8, Isa 41:21–28; Jer 10:5; 1 Cor 12:2; 1 Kings 18:26–29). The prophets and the apostles are also described as speaking God’s words. Therefore, Scripture is clear that God primarily communicates who he is not by feelings or internal inclinations but by human language. Second, God can speak because he is the author of language. People are made in the image of God (Gen 1:26–27). So, it’s likely that our ability to speak reflects God’s ability to speak. Furthermore, God, not humans, is the creator of the world’s languages (Gen 11:1–9). If God is the author of human language, it is safe to assume that He can communicate using human language as well. Finally, the ultimate example that God can speak is Jesus. The Gospels show Jesus speaking in order to communicate who he is and what he wills as the Son of God. Jesus claimed to speak as God and said the Father spoke to him (John 17). He is described as God’s very Word, especially at creation. Jesus not only spoke revelation but is God’s communication to humanity (John 1:1–4; Heb 4:12). Therefore, Jesus is the ultimate example that God speaks.
Not only does Scripture show that God speaks, but it also shows that when God speaks, things happen. God created, controls, and sustains the world by his speaking (Gen 1, Ps 147:15–18, Heb 1:3). God’s word is effective at bringing life or death (Deut 30:19–20). God’s word convicts people in ways human words cannot (Jer 23:28–29). Finally, God’s word alone has the power to save (Rom 10:17; Rom 1:16). God’s speech is connected to his character. Since God has power, his words have power. Since God is eternal, his words are eternal. Since God cannot err, his words cannot err. Since God has authority, then his words have authority. In sum, not only is God capable of speaking, his words carry the authority and power of God behind them.
Paul says in 2 Timothy 3:16 that all Scripture is “God-breathed.” In other words, God speaks through Scripture to us. This has several implications for preachers. First, preachers should preach Scripture because it has divine authority, truth, and power. Since Scripture is God speaking, it has the same power and qualities as God’s speeches described in the section above. Since God has authority, cannot err, and changes hearts; Scripture does, too. The closer a preacher stands on a biblical text, the closer he stands on the authority, truth, and power of God.
Second, preachers should preach Scripture because we do not worship a God that we cannot know. It is important to believe that God speaks because, if God does speak, then we would be wise to listen to what he has to say. Preachers should not speculate about who God is or what he wants for us or our churches. God has spoken to us. We should not give our opinions or our point of view. God has spoken his point of view. If God has spoken to us in Scripture about himself, then there is never a need to veer from Scripture in order to preach our personal opinions or speculations. People want to know more about what God thinks. They do not want to know more about you think.
Finally, preachers should not only preach what God said but also how he said it. If we believe that all Scripture is inerrant and authoritative, then we must believe that the way Scripture was written is inerrant and authoritative as well. In other words, the spirit and structure of Scripture are just as inerrant and authoritative as the content. Text-driven preaching, then, seeks to convey how God speaks in the Bible and not just what God speaks. Text-driven preaching presents the text by conveying the substance of the text using the structure and spirit of the text.
Since God’s Word alone can change hearts, preachers who want to change hearts should stick as close as possible to God’s Word. Since God’s Word has authority, preachers who want to preach with authority should stick as close as possible to God’s Word. Since God’s Word is the only means of saving people, then preachers who want salvations should surrender to preaching God’s Word. Preach what God said in the way God said it because we serve a God who speaks.
Mike Mills is Senior Pastor of Greensport Baptist Church in Ashville, Alabama.