Dr. Mike Miller – Foundations of Preaching graphic

What is preaching, and why do we do it?

Many are the articles, books, and lectures dealing with the practice of preaching. In fact, I’ve written a few articles myself and delivered quite a few lectures concerning various aspects of preparation and delivery.

A lot of ink has also been spilled concerning foundational elements, but such is less exciting (or profitable). However, none of our practical advice or vocational effort will be of much significant if we are not right and resolved  when it comes to our underlying convictions. That’s why I decided to write a short (hopefully readable) piece on the theology and philosophy of preaching.

First, what do I mean by those terms? Our theology of preaching is what we believe the Bible says about preaching. Our philosophy has to do with how those beliefs are fleshed out in the real world—how we put our beliefs into practice.

Theology

Since this is a brief article, let me give five basic and foundational truths I believe the Bible teaches about preaching.

  1. Preaching is biblical. In both the Old and New Testaments, preaching of some kind is God’s primary means of declaring His words and His will. The Old Testament words for prophet and prophecy (nabi and nebuah, respectively) come from the root for “bubble up” or “boil over.” The idea is that the words of God pour forth from the mouth of the prophet. The rarer word, nathaph, translated “to preach,” has as its root the idea of “dropping” words in the direction of something or someone (see Ezekiel 20:46; 21:2). The New Testament is replete with the preaching, using such words as kerusso (to proclaim or announce), katangello (to announce news), euangellizo (to announce good news), and parresiazomai (to speak boldly).
  2. The Word of God is the content of preaching. In 2 Timothy 4:2, Paul solemnly charges Timothy to “preach the word!”
  3. Preaching should be Christcentered. Comparing himself with other preachers, Paul said to the Corinthian church that his preaching was not filled with “plausible words of wisdom,” but that he had resolved to “know nothing . . . except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:1-5). He later affirmed that the message he delivered “as of first importance” was nothing other than the Gospel (1 Corinthians 15:1-5).
  4. Preaching should endeavor to glorify God. Not only do we see throughout Scripture that everything should be done to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31), but Paul actually says that the message of Christ is “the gospel of the glory of the blessed God” (1 Timothy 1:11). If we are preaching the Gospel, the ultimate end is that God will be glorified.
  5. Preaching is a spiritual endeavor. Paul said that the Gospel is “the power of God for salvation” (Romans 1:16). He also said that he preached the Gospel “in demonstration of the Spirit and of power” (1 Corinthians 2:1-5), and in Ephesians 6, he requested prayer “that the words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel.”

Philosophy

Based on this theology of preaching, we can develop a philosophy of preaching. In other words, we can come to some conclusions about how preaching ought to be practiced based on what the Bible says about it.

  1. Because preaching is biblical, it is essential to the church. This means that preaching must be practiced in the church. Moreover, because preaching is so central to the proclamation of the Gospel and the glory of God, it should be the primary driver and focal point of Christian worship. We can practice this when we give preaching its proper place in our gatherings.
  2. Because the Word of God is the content of preaching, expository preaching is best. I define “expository preaching” as the contextual proclamation of a text within its context. Every sermon must be grounded in a biblical passage, and the original meaning of that passage must be proclaimed, explained, and applied. Any preaching not derived from a biblical passage will not carry the power and the authority of God’s Word.
  3. Because preaching should be Christ-centered, all preaching should be Gospel preaching. This does not mean that every sermon needs to be from a passage that explains the Gospel, but every passage must be preached in light of the crucified and risen Christ. We do not preach good works or good advice. Even when calling our people to obedience and righteousness, we must do so as we announce the good news of the finished work of Christ on our behalf.
  4. Because preaching should endeavor to glorify God, God must be magnified. God, not man, must be the hero of every sermon. We need to tell people about God, and we need to do so rightly so that He is shown to be glorious in all His attributes.
  5. Because preaching is a spiritual endeavor, the preacher must walk in the Spirit. We must walk with God ourselves, and we must bathe the whole work of preaching—from conception, to preparation, to delivery—in prayer. And then when we stand to preach, we must trust the Holy Spirit to accomplish the work of the preached word.

As I said, this is a brief summary of a theology and philosophy of preaching. I know much more could be said, and we could certainly spend much time on how all of this gets worked out in our various preaching ministries. Nevertheless, I hope I’ve given at least a starting point in thinking about and doing the holy task to which God has called us.


6 responses to “Dr. Mike Miller – Foundations of Preaching”

  1. Paul Naylor says:

    Dr. Miller,

    Thank you for taking the time to develop and share this insightful word. I particularly appreciate your point about the “proclamation of a text within its context.” God gave us His holy word in context so, when we preach it this way, it is powerful and the original meaning and intentions are communicated. It also encourages the hearers of the sermon to read the Bible for themselves as they recognize how they would have been able to learn something from reading a passage of Scripture, even apart from the preacher’s explanation. This helps to communicate your fourth point, that God, not man, is the hero of every sermon. The audience walks away not thinking, “what a great preacher,” but, instead, “what a great God!”

    Grace & Peace,

    Paul Naylor, Pastor
    First Baptist Church, LaPlace, Louisiana

  2. Dr. Miller,
    Thanks for this brief explanation. I have one question concerning which I would love to hear your thoughts in the future: How might the above-listed theology/ philosophy of “preaching” be altered (if at all) had this blog been written on the theology/ philosophy of “teaching.” I choose “teaching” not to suggest that teaching has no place in preaching, as if the two were opposites. I mean rather to seek your opinion on whether there ought to be differences in the standard approaches to small group discussion preparation and delivery versus congregational sermon preparation and delivery.
    My specific purpose for asking this is an attempt to understand and develop a more effective means for inspiring and training lay leaders in our local church (namely in student ministry) to effectively lead Sunday school classes and small group discussions. There may or may not be an answer to the specific question I’ve asked. I’ve always enjoyed your wisdom. If you have time, I’d enjoy reading your thoughts.

    Cleve Mallory, Student and Music Minister
    Bethsalem Baptist Church, Billingsley, Alabama

    • Mike Miller says:

      Cleve,

      I think a theology and philosophy of teaching would be quite similar. We need to distinguish between teaching and preaching, of course, as the lines are sometimes blurred. While all preaching should teach, not all teaching has the same elements of preaching. I know I am simplifying things, but think of the difference with regard to purpose. The purpose of teaching, essentially, is to impart information. The purpose of preaching is to bring about change. Like I said, this is a simplification, and some overlap will certainly be found, but this is what I see as a fundamental distinction.

      So, having said that, when we look to Scripture for a theology of teaching, we also see that it is biblical. However, instead of the clear command to “preach the word,” we see various commands to teach certain doctrines, principles, and practices (see 1 Timothy 4:11; 6:2 and 2 Timothy 2:2; and Titus 2:1-5). Again, we see overlap, since all preaching should also be sound in doctrine, and all teaching should have the Bible as its primary source. However, whereas preaching should be grounded in a text (preach the word), teaching might also be of a more systematic nature since it is primarily concerned with imparting knowledge. For example, a preaching series might be from a specific biblical book, proclaiming a passage in each message. A teaching series, however, might cover certain doctrines or other topics, with the content drawn from numerous biblical passages that inform the particular topic.

      Therefore, for theology point 1 above, I would say that teaching is biblical, but different passages and words would be used to substantiate this point (such as the Great Commission). For philosophy point 1, I would say that teaching is essential to the church as well, but since the proclamation of the Gospel is not the primary function of teaching, it would not be the focal point of Christian worship but would take place in other settings in our effort to fulfill the Great Commission.

      For point 2 of theology, I would say that the Word of God is the content of teaching, but for philosophy, I would say that various forms of teaching can be acceptable to impart the knowledge of certain doctrines, practices, and principles.

      As for point 3 of both theology and philosophy, I would affirm that all teaching must be done in light of the Gospel. Points 4 and 5 would stay the same.

      Please know that I’ve only given very brief answers here, but I hope this helps. I’d love to hear any more feedback from you or anyone else reading this blog.

      Mike

  3. Billy Puckett says:

    This may be slightly off topic, but how do you know if you have the gift of preaching? What marks, characteristics or outcomes would we see in the work of a gifted preacher?

    • Mike Miller says:

      So much of any calling is subjective. Someone with the gift of preaching will have a burning compulsion to proclaim God’s Word (see Jeremiah 20, for example). This can only be recognized by the individual, but it is real. When a man is called to preach, he cannot escape it. He knows he must preach.

      However, much of the calling is objective as well, meaning that we can consider some observable factors. For one thing, what does the body of Christ say? A person called to preach should have the affirmation of the spiritually mature people in his life, most notably his elders and mentors. He should also be a person with an obvious walk with Jesus. Preaching is about more than ability. Character is also essential. In order to assess a true calling, a person must be spiritually healthy. Moreover, someone called to preach will demonstrate aptitude. This doesn’t meant that he must be the most dynamic preacher around, but it does mean that he is able to get the job done. He can exegete the Word, organize it into sermonic form, and declare it in a way that hearers can understand it. These skills can be sharpened, but if God calls someone to preach, He will surely gift him with the ability to do so.

      To be sure, more could be said, so I’ll just ask if anyone else has anything to add.

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