Last week, at David Prince’s blog I had the chance to share a word with aspiring theologians on why preaching is a necessary goal of theology. In thinking through that article, I landed on five ways preaching improves theology. Space did not permit the inclusion of those, so I include them here, to help give impetus for challenging young theologians to preach the Word.
Five Ways Preaching Improves Your Theology
First, preaching demands you to prove your doctrine from the text.
It is easy to take for granted the doctrines we believe. In academic circles, careful theologians can footnote G. K. Beale’s view of the temple or reference Tom Schreiner’s interpretation of 2 Peter 2:1 when proving a point of doctrine. But in the pulpit, we are naked with only the word of God as our defense. Therefore, we must make our points from the text in a way that a multi-generational, multi-educational audience can understand and embrace. In other words, preaching keeps theologians honest with the biblical text and demands regular exegesis, which in turn improves theological formulation.
Second, preaching raises real, practical questions.
There are innumerable questions that theologians have asked and answered in the past. Knowing the history of doctrine is an important part of growing in the faith. However, as culture changes and new situations arise, theologians who preach are forced to grapple with new questions and applications of God’s unchanging truth. By contrast, thelogians who only encounter problems in books are less effective in equipping the church with good theology. Preaching, especially in the context of their local church, affords the theologian a regular, real-world context for the faith once for all delivered to the saints.
Third, preaching humbles the theologically-informed.
Nothing will humble you faster than preaching. There is a marked difference between book knowledge and pulpit knowledge. Yes, there is the old adage that you won’t really know a subject until you teach it. That applies to preaching, too, but there is more. Preaching with attentiveness to theology will prove to you how little you know, how deep God’s word really is, and how much theological jargon substitutes for true knowledge. Indeed, preaching done with a right heart serves to humble the theologian and make sure that he loves God and his neighbor, not just the doctrines he knows.
Fourth, preaching grows your biblical knowledge.
I suspect that one reason why some (younger) theologians don’t want to preach is because they haven’t figured it all out yet. The energy that drives the theologically-minded to tackle Karl Barth’s Church Dogmatics is the same force that can cause a young man to avoid the pulpit. In the former, inquisitiveness drives learning; in the latter; perceived uncertainty (i.e. incompleteness of thought on a doctrine) delays preaching.
Be encouraged: In regards to the biblical knowledge necessary for preaching: biblical incompleteness is not the same thing as biblical ignorance. It is encouraging (not to mention necessary) to remember that you don’t have to parse the Greek like John Piper or master the Puritans like Mark Dever to serve the church on the corner with forty-five hungry saints. Preach where God will let you; study diligently and you will grow in your knowledge. God may surprise you, too; by faithfully preaching where you are today, God may further your giftedness to preach in larger platforms. That, of course, is up to the Lord; our responsibility, like that of Philip in Acts 8, is to faithfully declare the gospel wherever we find ourselves. In the long run, nothing will grow your understanding of God’s truth like a regular schedule of preaching.
Fifth, preaching reveals your theological error.
Finally, preachers make errors. And the more they preach the more errors they will make. But the more errors they make in the beginning, the less errors they will make in the end.
This is true with regards to oration and delivery, but it is also true with doctrine. It is impossible for a preacher to look back on a passage, a series, or season of preaching and not think, “I blew it.”
We must when we preach pay careful attention to our life and our doctrine (1 Tim 4:16). Nevertheless, preaching is a means of sanctification for the preacher in that it invites the correction of biblical literate Bereans and (hopefully while still in the study) it reveals points of doctrine that need to be changed or fine-tuned by the details of Scripture. In this way, preaching does not minimize theological precision; done rightly, it will always maximize theological understanding because biblical exposition is constantly exchanging the biblical theology of Wesley, Edwards, and Warfield for the more biblical theology of Isaiah, Paul, and John.
Theology and Proclamation Should Always Go Together
All in all, the best theologians are preachers. And the best preachers are solid theologians. In Scripture sound doctrine and proclamation are not divorced, and they ought not to be in our lives as well. This is true for the veteran pastor and the aspiring theologian.
Brothers, listen carefully to Paul: Be diligent to the study the Scriptures as an approved workman, but do not neglect the gift of your theological training or understanding—preach the Word! And if you don’t feel comfortable preaching, ask God for grace to proclaim his truth. As any sound theologian knows, it was by grace that you understood the truth (1 John 2:27); it is by grace that you might proclaim his word. If God gave you grace for the former, he can give grace for the latter.
For more theologically-minded resources on preaching, keep a regular eye on David Prince’s blog. He is pastor-theologian par excellence, one who has challenged me and modeled for me how to relate theology and preaching, preaching and theology.
Soli Deo Gloria, dss