Wednesday, December 02, 2015

Against "Dogmatic preaching"

Preaching is the proclamation of God's Word by God's ambassador to people. True biblical preaching is the proclamation of God's Word from the actual words of God in the Scripture, for Scripture is the authority for the Christian mind and life. As such, it is very important how preaching is to be done, for, as the proclamation of God's Word, it is supposed to be authoritative, bearing upon all who hear it.

There are many ways preaching has been done throughout church history, some good, some not so good. But what I want to focus on here is a certain type of preaching that is practiced among those who focus on dogmatic theology, and thus the preaching can be called "dogmatic preaching." Such preaching often utilize a text of Scripture and exposit it based on theological concerns that have some relation to the text. In such preaching, the historical progression of revelation often takes a back seat, if taken into account at all. The text becomes a focus for theological consideration, and after the doctrines that have some relation to the text have been expounded, then application is made of these doctrines to its hearers.

Just as a caveat, this is not the same a preaching doctrines from the text. The difference is that dogmatic preaching downplays redemptive historical progression and concerns, if mentioned at all. Doctrinal preaching preaches doctrines that are shown to arise from the text, while dogmatic preaching uses the text like source material (if I may put it this way) for doctrines.

Just from the description and the contrast, it should be clear why dogmatic preaching is a problem. Assuming that the doctrine expounded is correct and orthodox, what is unclear is how the doctrine is actually biblically derived. The goal of preaching is to proclaim God's Word, but for that to be the case, what is proclaimed must be perceived to be from the Scriptures. But if one downplays the immediate context of the text, and omits the progressive nature of redemptive historical revelation, how can the doctrines being expounded be seen to be derived from the text, instead of being read into the text? If one flattens the text of Scripture such that there is no difference in kind when one preaches from the Old in contrast to from the New Testament, then the Scripture is used as a dogmatic source-book instead of revelation in history. Scripture loses its historical nature, and become transcendent (instead of revealing transcendent truths), as if the Bible were dropped directly from heaven to earth.

As a Westminster graduate, I obviously prefer redemptive-historical Christ-centered preaching, although not necessarily owning to anything and everything that calls itself by that name. I do not know if that is the best way of preaching, but what I do know is that, whatever style of preaching is used, the truths proclaimed must be seen to be derived from the text of Scripture. Failure to show how that is the case will at best not teach the hearers how to handle and interpret Scripture correctly, and at worst promote falsehood.

6 comments:

Jenson Lim said...

You will find that any preacher utilises a whole range of tools, of which, "dogmatic preaching", being one of them. From your description, that style (sometimes known as "topical preaching") is useful with those who are well versed in the Scriptures. For a younger congregation/church plant, the sensible route would be a good dose of "expository preaching".

PuritanReformed said...

@Jenson,

I have no doubt preachers use a variety of tools. I also recognize preaching is an art just as much as it is a science, thus there is no "fixed," "true" style of preaching.

That said, I do not think we should assume people in the congregation are all "well versed in the Scriptures." As Christians reach out, there should be new people coming into the church who are not knowledgeable in the faith. Furthermore, sermons should be able to appeal to those who are less intellectually inclined as well as children, so there always is a need to communicate explicitly from the text.

I would like to differentiate it from "topical preaching" because "topical preaching" normally involves having a topic at hand (e.g. marriage), and then choosing a text that speak about marriage and preach one's chosen topic from it. "Dogmatic preaching" on the other hand looks at the text, and let the text point out what doctrines are found related to it. "Topical preaching" also tend to be more towards life application, while dogmatic preaching tends towards preaching on doctrines.

Jenson Lim said...

Interestingly, printed sermons from a bygone era are mostly "topical sermons" or - to use your definition "dogmatic sermons". That was partly due to the general public being Biblically literate. In fact, what you just described ("dogmatic preaching") is what the late John Stott advocated.

My previous pastor suggested that I preached topical sermons during weeknight Bible studies, expository sermons on Sundays and lectures during special occasions. This gives the congregation (and preacher) a breadth of ministry... that was good advice which I cherish.

PuritanReformed said...

@Jenson,

are they "dogmatic sermons," or "doctrinal sermons"? I don't think I have a problem with preaching doctrines. Catechetical sermons are similar to "dogmatic sermons" in some sense, but at least for that you have the church's confession of faith and catechisms as THE template, which members are brought through in their membership classes (or at least ought to).

I don't think I would call a talk in weeknight Bible study a sermon, but maybe that's your style. An exposition on doctrines confessed and taught by the church for believers in my opinion isn't a sermon.

Jenson Lim said...

I would say both.

As for your comment about weeknight Bible Study, I did not say it would be in the format of a "talk" (what I loosely term as "lecture" - reserved for special occasions) but a sermon.

I think our definitions on the various terms are quite different - which is why I was started this thread. I did not mention "evangelistic preaching" - but that for another day. At the end of the day, as long as the church(es) are built up in the Christian faith and sinners are converted, our job is [largely] done. That, as you will find, is the real challange.

PuritanReformed said...

That's true, and I think reaching out to people who are increasingly brought up in a world devoid of actual Christian influence might mean we cannot take a lot of things traditional Christian have taken for granted.