Bad Biblical Theology Leads to Bad Sermons

Over time, this bad biblical theology will undercut a congregation’s health—warping the message of Scripture and stunting a church’s growth in the knowledge of God.

Evangelical preaching has benefitted from the lectures, articles, and books reinvigorating the notion that every sermon ultimately must lead its hearers to respond to God’s free grace in the gospel. But no adjective fits better with preaching than “expository.” Why? Because faithful sermons exposit the text, and faithful exposition takes into account the text’s literary, historical, covenantal, and ultimately canonical context.

 

Much modern evangelical biblical theology is a gift to the church. It has successfully stemmed the tide of moralistic preaching in many churches and has provided useful theological resources to combat the most egregious theological dangers of our day, such as the prosperity gospel.

But I’ve also witnessed—and been guilty of—some bad uses of biblical theology. Over time, this bad biblical theology will undercut a congregation’s health—warping the message of Scripture and stunting a church’s growth in the knowledge of God.

All of us—not just preachers—should beware bad biblical theology. But what does exactly bad biblical theology look like?

1. Bad biblical theology leads to “Christ-centered” sermons that never make moral demands of the congregation.

The Bible is opposed to moralism, not morality. Regrettably, I’ve heard many sermons which confuse the two. I’ve even interacted with some preachers and seminary students who would wince a little if they heard a preacher rattle off commands to his congregation in the way Paul does in the epistles (cf. 1 Cor 16:13–14).

I appreciate the desire on the part of many pastors to avoid “moralism” and to emphasize the gospel as the agent of transformation in the Christian life. Yet it’s also the case that some preachers—particularly younger ones—need to embrace that preaching must also include appropriate exhortations for the congregation to respond to Christ’s climactic fulfillment of the Old Testament. The law “used lawfully” in gospel preaching (1 Tim 1:8) is both biblical and necessary.

For example, preaching how Jesus fulfills the Davidic Covenant and ascends the throne of Israel demands that we call people to bow their knee to Jesus the king. Preaching how Jesus fulfills the office of priest demands that we call people to trust in his sacrifice. Preaching Jesus as the prophet like Moses (Deut 18:15a) demands that we also tell people “to him you shall listen” (Deut 18:15b). Preaching Jesus as the fulfillment of the temple demands that we also teach people that Christ has poured the Spirit out on his church and expects us to preserve the purity of God’s dwelling through faithful discipleship and discipline. Preaching Jesus as the fulfillment of the law demands that we also tell people “don’t worship idols, honor your father and mother, don’t look at porn, don’t steal, don’t lie, don’t covet.”

Additionally, preaching how Jesus fulfills Old Testament types must include how the Messiah incorporates his people into that fulfillment. I’ve left many sermons, which masterfully demonstrated how Jesus fulfilled some Old Testament type, thinking, “Wow, isn’t Jesus amazing! I sure wish he had something to do with me!” It’s exhilarating to discover how every story in the Old Testament whispers Jesus’ name—how every promise, person, and pattern is ultimately fulfilled in him.

At the same time, we must remember that we are also a part of the story. Jesus is the true and better temple, but he gives his people that same identity (1 Cor 3:16). Jesus is the true and better Israel, but he incorporates those who put faith in him into the new Israelite community (Gal 6:16). Jesus rises from the dead, fulfilling types of resurrection in the OT (1 Cor 15:1–3), but his resurrection is a first fruit of what’s to come, guaranteeing our coming resurrection and offering a hope that should shape our everyday lives (1 Cor 15:58). Christ-centered preaching is unavoidably ecclesiological—he is the head, we are the body.

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