Some guys are telling stories from the comfort of a stool. Others are ranting about politics or psychology. Many are waxing eloquent about pop culture and exploring the benefits of modern technology. These well-intentioned fellows may hold an audience and they may attract a crowd. But one thing is for sure: they’re not preaching.
David Helm sets the record straight in his excellent book, Expositional Preaching. Four sections make up this book which is a part of the 9Marks Series
“Contextualization in preaching is communicating the gospel message in ways that are understandable or appropriate to the listener’s cultural context.”
Helm is quick to admit that contextualization is necessary in a solid expositional preaching ministry. However in many pulpits, contextualization has eclipsed the Bible. The author helps preachers understand some of the tendencies that can overrule the authority of Scripture in the pulpit.
One instance that is explored is the popular devotional practice, Lectio Divina which has origins in the Roman Catholic church. This questionable practice places more emphasis on the subjective which ends up marginalizing theological knowledge: “Lectio Divina advocates a method that is spiritual as opposed to systematically studious. It substitutes intuition for investigation. It prefers mood and emotion to methodical and reasoned inquiry. It equates your spirit to the Holy Spirit.” Simply put, this devotional practice ignores exegetical tools and sound hermeneutical methodology. Let the preacher beware! Lectio Divina is only one example which is cited. Readers can investigate the other pitfalls for themselves.
Second, the author alerts preachers to the importance of biblical exegesis which should drive every sermon. Unfortunately, many preachers are bypassing this crucial aspect of sermon preparation and moving directly to application which is in the final analysis, a deadly mistake.
The overriding theme that emerges in this chapter is the importance of knowing the Word of God and understanding the original intent of the author. But Helm warns, “Exegesis is not enough. Done in isolation, exegesis alone can lead to preaching that is either overtly intellectual or merely imperatival.”
The author encourages a robust adherence to biblical theology and systematic theology as these disciplines inform the preaching task. In particular, systematic theology offers at least three advantages:
1. It holds you in the faith.
2. It helps you connect to the gospel from particular genres.
3. It hones your ability to speak to non-Christians.
Finally, a positive case is advanced for contextualization. Now that the preacher has done his exegetical homework, using the tools of biblical and systematic theology, and sound hermeneutics, he may advance to work on contextualization. He is concerned here with three important elements:
1. The makeup of his audience.
2. The arrangement of his material.
3. The application of his message.
The great strength of this book is its brevity. The author clearly defines his terms and sets preachers on a course which is determined to lead to fruitfulness in the pulpit which will serve many congregations well in the future. More comprehensive treatment may be found in Lloyd-Jones work, Preaching and Preachers and John Piper’s, The Supremacy of God in Preaching.