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What Does It Actually Mean To Just Preach the Bible?

preach the bible

The way our Sunday worship services look today is certainly not what the first century church experienced. There was no stage, podium, band, or designated building. Even the concept of Sunday as the only or primary day of worship would be foreign to the earliest generations of the church.

So are we doing it wrong today? Do we need to return to house churches, with no production of any kind, and conversational preaching?

Though there is much to learn from the early church, one of the pillars of the evangelical movement is the authority of Scripture over the authority of tradition. So we must be careful not to allow tradition to adjudicate the will of God. We have to always be willing to check our own gauges and determine whether the expectation placed upon the current church comes from tradition or Scripture.

One particular area where many Christians seem to get these lines crossed is in regards to preaching. Often, preachers and pastors are judged on whether they “just preach the Bible.”

There is a lot packed into this one phrase, and depending on who you talk to, it might mean something different.

I imagine just about every preacher’s desire is to convey scriptural truth. But what does it mean for someone to actually preach the Bible? Are there clear indicators when someone is or isn’t preaching the Bible?

Most often when someone levies the claim that a preacher doesn’t preach the Bible, they are merely disagreeing with the preaching style. So it’s helpful to understand the different styles of preaching that are most common today in order to assess whether style alone makes a sermon biblical or unbiblical.

Topical/Themed Preaching

Let’s start with the most highly disputed style of preaching first.

Topical preaching is essentially taking a topic or theme and preaching on what the Bible has to say about it. Oftentimes, a church will decide on a themed series that will run a few weeks, and each sermon will relate to the overall theme. This has become a very popular approach to Sunday morning preaching, particularly in larger churches. This style of preaching will typically pull from several different passages where the selected theme can be found.

The critique of this style of preaching is that it’s “not expository” and “human-centered.”

However, I won’t list expository preaching as a style, because it’s not so much a style of presenting a sermon as it is the way you look at the biblical text. Expository preaching has one goal in mind: make the message of scripture clear. That can be done topically.

John Stott describes the goal of expository preaching as, “…[expounding] Scripture is to bring out of the text what is there and expose it to view. The expositor opens what appears to be closed, makes plain what is obscure, unravels what is knotted, and unfolds what is tightly packed.”