|  May 24, 2024

The following article is part of a series of articles that will explore necessary disciplines for preachers. As the title of the series suggests, these disciplines act as foundations for effective preaching.

I came to Christ my junior year in high school and was called to preach my senior year. I immediately went to see my pastor who said I would be preaching my first sermon in one month and he gave me three of his sermon outlines to work from. I loved this guy, so my life of preaching began with topical messages.

However, sometime during my early years of college the Holy Spirit impressed on me to preach from Mark 6 and to stay on the narrative of Jesus walking on the water without moving to any other passage. I did exactly that and have never wavered except for special days or occasions or conferences. I was doing what we call text-driven preaching without having any idea of the concept or the title.

Since then, I have worked through this idea in PhD work and have addressed the concept via friends and fellow pastors in the country. As a result, I have come to see that the objective teaching of scripture aligns with the concept of text-driven preaching completely. There are four scripture references that speak to this issue well.

First, 2 Peter 1:20-21 from the ESV states: “Knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.”

Second, Nehemiah 8:8 states: “They read from the book, from the law of God, clearly, and they gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading.”

The third is Jesus’ response to the Sadducees when they tried to argue the inanity of the resurrection. He argued they did not know the scriptures nor the power of God. In Mark 12:26 Jesus states: “And as for the dead being raised, have you not heard in the book of Moses, in the passage about the bush, how God spoke to him, saying, I am the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob?”

The fourth is in Isaiah 55:10-11 where speaking about the word of God he states: “so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.”

It is clear when looking at these four that my need as a preacher is to stay as close to what the text is saying as possible. If it is God’s word and not my own that accomplishes God’s purpose, then it is clear I must preach the text as the Holy Spirit has written it. This means down to even verb tenses as it is the verb tense of Jesus’ statement with the Sadducees that wins the argument. Nehemiah shows us the idea of taking a text and making its meaning, truth and application, as clear as possible. Since the Holy Spirit wrote the bible I must be aligned with the text if I desire His anointing.

Otherwise I become one who preaches what I think God is saying instead of what He is actually saying in the objective word of scripture. If God honors His word, then it must not be my ideas in the pulpit but rather His. It is the reason we teach text-driven preaching here at SWBTS. It is not because we are trying to align with a particular preaching style, but rather we desire every graduating student to open the word of God with accuracy and integrity. It is the spirit, substance and structure of each text that needs to be worked through so the integrity and the true meaning of the text is revealed. In other words, I preach it exactly as the Holy Spirit wrote it. God honors His word in miraculous ways when it is accurately preached.

This is seen in the book of 1 Samuel where it is said that God did not let Samuel’s words fall to the ground. It is based there on the fact that the Lord was with him. If I desire the Lord to be with me in my preaching, I must be as close to the meaning of a text as I can possibly be. This is why we teach text-driven preaching at SWBTS.

I remember W.A. Criswell basing the success of his ministry on his preaching through the books of the bible in an expositional way. I spent my 43 years in the pastorate doing the same thing as best as I could. This type of preaching revealed two different responses during my ministry. Those who desired depth with Christ stayed, but those who did not left. Over time that created a healthy church that was a joy to pastor.

As I am writing this article, I just got this from a former student via email: “I am starting to see the slow steady effects of almost two years of text-driven preaching.” God’s word preached accurately always has the blessing of the Holy Spirit behind it. That is the reason that I pray this for every student that leaves the corridors of SWBTS. God always blesses where He is honored!

Chris Osborne is Professor of Preaching and Pastoral Ministry at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Category: Blog Post

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