I’ve lived in Thailand for about five years and have heard a fair share of preaching in Thai churches. I’ve heard local pastors in small congregations, specially invited preachers at large evangelistic events, and top church leaders at national gatherings. And while there are some fine godly men preaching good Biblical sermons, the majority of preaching that I’ve heard in Thai churches has been very disappointing. It’s not that they don’t use the Bible. They do. It is not that they are preaching blatant heresy. They are not. More often than not, I find sermons to be disappointing not because of what is there, but what is not there.
There is often not a serious effort to understand the context of a particular passage of Scripture but preachers seize upon a certain verse or phrase that stands out to them. And whatever that verse or phrase reminds them of becomes the main point of the sermon. Instead of explaining and applying what’s actually there in the Bible, the preacher’s own ideas are super-imposed over the text and filled in with their own experiences, and with general knowledge from their theology classes at Bible school. Instead of diving into the deep pool of the Word of God, preachers use a particular verse or phrase as a springboard to get where they want to go, ignoring what is actually in the text that they are supposedly explaining. So, at the end of the sermon, listeners may have gained some tips for living or some encouraging thoughts, but they have not understood the Bible any better than before. I am not against good advice or motivational thoughts but the point of preaching from the Bible is to understand what God has revealed in the Bible and what it means for us.
Don’t get me wrong. What I long for isn’t an atomistic dissection of Scripture that turns the sermon into an academic commentary on the Bible. And I am not after a certain preaching style as the only right way to preach. Whether a sermon has three points, five points, or one point is immaterial. What I long for is preaching that deals with the main point of a passage of Scripture, and shows how it relates to both the rest of Scripture and to the listener’s lives. Haddon Robinson, well-known preacher and teacher of preachers, defines biblical preaching as, “the communication of a biblical concept, derived from and transmitted through a historical, grammatical, and literary study of a passage in its context, which the Holy Spirit first applies to the personality and experience of the preacher, then through the preacher, applies to the hearers.” (Haddon W. Robinson, Biblical Preaching, 2nd ed., Grand Rapids: Baker, 2001, p. 21.) In other words, biblical preaching happens when a preacher can tell his listeners of the heights and depths of the greatness of God and His truth that is found in Scripture because the preacher has first taken the time to let those great truths work upon his own heart. The end result is what John Piper calls “expository exultation”.
In contrast to the above definitions of biblical preaching, I once heard a pastor preaching about John the Baptist from John 1, but I didn’t learn much about John the Baptist from his sermon. He used the passage as a springboard to tell the church about his own ideas for evangelism in the coming year. He opened the text, read the text, observed that John the Baptist pointed people to Jesus, and then went on to talk about how we as a church can point people to Jesus. To make the points that he made, the Bible was hardly necessary. But the story of John the Baptist provided a quick and convenient illustration and springboard to launch into explaining his own ideas. The pastor’s ideas were fine but if anybody in the congregation didn’t know who John the Baptist was, or what his role was in God’s plan of redemption, then they didn’t get any help from this sermon. And the tragedy here is that God’s people (and any visitors) missed out on what God wants to tell them in the pages of Scripture.
Of course, unbiblical preaching is hardly unique to Thailand. My own home country of the United States does more than its fair share of damage when it comes to preachers spouting off a lot of hot air instead of feeding the sheep. In terms of charisma and polished speaking ability, some of these unbiblical preachers may even get high marks and be very enjoyable to listen to. But when it comes to content, there is a serious problem - in Thailand, in the United States, and around the world.
In this series of posts (of which this is the first), we’ll be taking a look at...
Unbiblical Preaching - Part 1: Missing the Point
Unbiblical Preaching - Part 2: Moralistic Preaching
Unbiblical Preaching - Part 3: Allegorical Preaching
Unbiblical Preaching - Part 4: Gnostic Preaching
Unbiblical Preaching - Part 5: Consequences
Unbiblical Preaching - Part 6: Sources
Unbiblical Preaching - Part 7: Solutions