For me, few things are more exciting than studying the Word of God and considering how to apply and communicate God’s truth to others. Following a pattern set forth by Ezra (7:10), to study the Word, apply the Word, and teach the Word, is a glorious privilege. And yet, few things are more daunting or discouraging!
For all the gold that we find in Scripture (Psalm 19:10–11), we must communicate it with lips of dust. Therefore, we should not be surprised when we struggle to do so. In fact, discouragement and difficulty is a preacher’s common companion. As Paul queried about the ministry of the new covenant, “Who is sufficient for these things?” (2 Cor 2:16). The answer is, “No one is sufficient” Therefore, we must trust God and his Spirit to accomplish what we cannot.
At the same time, we should learn a thing or two about preaching the Word over time. For instance, this summer as I preached on the Psalms, I learned that sometimes it is exceedingly beneficial to use visual aids. As someone committed to expositional preaching, it has been my conviction to employ word pictures not visual aids. But this summer, as I preached through the Psalms, I learned that sometimes word pictures are best captured through visual imagery.
On the Use of Visual Aids
In the back of his book, The Flow of the Psalms, O. Palmer Robertson has five charts that detail his organization of the Psalms. These charts helpfully and graphically display what words often fail to capture. Like the titles (not the superscriptions) given to Psalms in modern translations, these charts are interpretive, not inerrant and authoritative. They help show where torah psalms stand next to royal psalms (e.g., 1–2, 18–19, 118–19), or where Solomon’s second psalm (Ps 127) stands in the center of the Psalms of Ascent.
In short, his book is immensely helped by these visual displays. And for people who may not see the order and arrangement brought forward through the original language, these graphical charts are important for getting a handle on the Psalms.
Similarly, we sometimes need to do the same thing in our preaching and teaching. Especially if you preach larger sections of Scripture, it may be necessary (pedagogically speaking) or at least helpful to include visual aids. In other words, as I learned this summer, in trying to summarize the movements of Book 1 (Psalms 1–41), I was confronted by the fact that it was just too much data. So, one of our fellow elders (Ben Purves) took the sermon notes and put them into a infographic. His work on the visual aid made a huge difference. And as we continued through the series, these infographics became a regular staple. Here are the first two; you can see the rest on them here.
When the Ears Need Help from the Eyes
Over the years, I have occasionally used Powerpoint and other means of communicating biblical truth. In the classroom especially, I love drawing pictures to illustrate truth. And in personal conversations, I will often make stick figure images on napkins. (This is one reason why I love the Three Circles tract). However, in the pulpit, I am less inclined.
The reason is because I want people to be looking at the text and to learn how to see the shape of the text and the imagery of the Scripture. Because I am convinced that the Bible is our all-sufficient source of light and life, I intentionally fight against our image-based culture. I want people to see Christ with their ears, not their eyes, because I believe that our ears are the organs designed to receive God’s Word.
By giving us a book, God has inspired words not images. That is to say, the way we see the image of the invisible God is through the language of the Bible. And thus I want to give attention to the grammar of the text more than the creativity of the artist. Still, with that being said, I believe there’s a place to use images to help communicate and synthesize truth. In other words, sometimes our eyes can help our ears.
Because of my commitments to the verbal form of the Bible, I don’t think multi-media presentations will be a normal part of my preaching. But when sometimes, especially when expositing larger sections of Scripture—something that we must do to help explain the whole counsel of God—I see the value and vitality of using graphical images. For that reason, I believe visual aids, rightly employed, can be a valuable tool for expositional preaching.
What do you think? How have you used, or refused to use, visual aids in preaching? are there other best practices you’ve seen or used in expositional preaching? I’d love to hear and share, as we preachers of the Word continue to rightly unite proclaim the word of truth.
Soli Deo Gloria, ds