Why is Pastoral Preparation Necessary?

Though the spiritual disciplines are the means by which one grows into a state of maturity in holiness, all believers must ascribe themselves to these disciplines and especially pastors. Peter expressed the necessity for spiritual growth when he commanded those under his leadership to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18); Likewise, Paul instructed Timothy to “be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim. 2:1). These commands – indicate that their readers are to be in continuous growth and strengthening in the knowledge and grace that comes from Jesus Christ. Such strengthening and growth for the believer comes from the spiritual disciplines, and the pastor who sees the disciplines as important will see growth in his spirituality. 

Pastoral Growth by Discipline

As the pastor’s growth ultimately is contingent upon his participation in the spiritual disciplines, he must be habitually involved in the disciplines of Bible intake, prayer, meditation, service, and evangelism. Though the disciplines are the foundation upon all of the pastor’s ministry, it is primarily the foundation upon which pastors can preach faithfully the Word of God. Faithful biblical preaching flows from the pastor’s soul and reaches the hearts of those to whom he is preaching. Since the disciplines prepare the pastor’s heart to engage exegetically and homiletically with the Word of God when the pastor neglects the spiritual disciplines, his sermon preparation becomes lacking. 

For this reason, the disciplines should be the primary in the pastor’s life, because the disciplines are the means by which pastors are to grow in holiness. Growth in holiness is a biblically warranted necessity for all who profess their loyalty to Jesus Christ, so this includes the pastor as his life as a believer. However, it also includes the pastor’s different activities in which he pursues to prepare his sermons. Thus, the spiritual disciplines necessitate the pastor to address his own soul before he ever constructs a sermon.

The pastor’s soul is cared for in four specific areas: his devotional life, prayer life, study habits, and leisure time. The pastor’s devotional life is necessary, because in it the pastor immerses himself in the Word of God. Like every other believer, the pastor must engage his mind and heart with the biblical text through intake, prayer, and meditation. Each of these methods of devotion to God are for the purpose of knowing (mind) the Word and internalizing (heart) the Word. Furthermore, the knowledge of God through the Word and the internalization of such truths in the Word are what affect the wills of all believers, especially those who lead God’s church through the pastoral office.

Nonetheless, the disciplines are not the only avenue through which pastors should prepare their soul to preach. A pastor’s study habits, and leisure time are a necessity throughout the weekly tasks of pastoral ministry. Studying for sermons entails more than simply thumbing through the biblical text and/or a few commentaries. Studying for sermons takes time so the pastor can determine the meaning of certain discourses in Scripture while also aiming to apply the propositions of these passages to those who will hear them proclaimed. Applying pericopes to a specific congregation takes devotion and diligence in the study. Studying is also necessary for the construction of one’s own sermons. If a pastor is to preach at all, he must aim to preach his own sermons which result from his personal devotion to Jesus Christ.

So, for a pastor to correctly prepare his own heart to preach, he must do so by the disciplines of expository preparation. The first way in which the pastor disciplines himself to prepare his own heart to preach is by his own submission to Christ. Right belief always informs right living, and this method of living is the foundation upon which all growth in holiness builds itself. The way to holy living is through one’s commitment to the Lord Jesus himself, which entails a relationship with him. 

The second way pastors discipline their hearts is through prayer. Prayer is the dependence upon the Lord Jesus Christ for the power to live the Christian life. However, it is also the dependence upon the Lord Jesus for the power to prepare sermons through the power of the Spirit. These first two disciplines are the bedrock of all other disciplines. However, they are also the underpinning of the pastor’s sermon preparation as he disciplines his heart to preach.

A third discipline for pastors to prepare his heart to preach is through the act of biblical meditation. Biblical meditation is the internalization of biblical truths to morph one’s life into the image of Jesus Christ. Meditation assists a pastor to think like one and to form habits of spiritual maturity to grow in the Christian life. Fourth, the discipline of Bible intake allows the pastor to meditate on such dialogue from Scripture. Without a consistent intake of God’s Word, the pastor has no message to proclaim to a congregation. Therefore, a consistent intake of God’s Word entrusts the pastor with a consistent message of truth each week.

A fifth discipline in the preparation of sermons is the pastor’s own sanctification. A pastor’s becoming like Christ must be his foremost activity for his lifetime. It is the pastor who will be the model of godliness for those under his leadership. The pulpit is one way in which the pastor can emulate a sanctified lifestyle to those in his congregation. Thus, the discipline of sanctification is modeled through the pastor’s preaching. Therefore, a sixth discipline for expository preparation is biblical interpretation. Biblical interpretation is not simple task, but it is a necessary one, nonetheless. It is through biblical interpretation that true application can be extrapolated. Therefore, it must be done with integrity and precision. A seventh discipline is the theological instruction for pastors as they prepare to preach. Preaching is theological and therefore, it compels the pastor to become a theologian. Preaching communicates the truths of God through the intense study and interpretation. However, it does not require a formal degree, but a devotion to the Lord Jesus Christ. Then can the eighth discipline of application be formed by the pastor. Yes, biblical interpretation and theological instruction are, in fact, necessary for a sermon.

 However, a sermon is not complete without application. Unless the listeners are hearing how theology and biblical truth can change their hearts toward Christ Jesus, there is no sermon. However, application can only come to fruition through a ninth discipline of observing life with one’s congregation. Observing life is Murray Capill’s term for building relationships with one’s congregation. Thus, the pastor can only know the situations of those in his congregation if her is to spend time with them building relationships. These disciplines allow the pastor the opportunity to sit in his office and consider the weight of preparing a sermon that is biblically centered and worshipful to the Lord. Though biblical teaching is good, teaching is informational. Preaching, however, should be transformational. It must transform the heart of the pastor, and as the pastor preaches those same truths will transform the hearts of those who hear.

The Necessity of Expository Preparation

Therefore, the spiritual disciplines do matter to the pastor for not only his own soul, but also for his heart as he prepares to preach. It is the application of the disciplines that will navigate the pastor toward holiness in order that his sermon preparation is done with integrity and devotion rather than out of obligation. Thus, expository preparation focuses on the preacher because all holiness, godly living, soul care, sermon construction, and sermon delivery begin with the pastor and his heart. If the pastor is focusing on his own heart during preparation, the sermon will come from a heart submitted to God and devoted to proclaiming Christ and him crucified. However, if there is not expository preparation, there can be no expository preaching. Therefore, the pastor must endeavor to prepare his own heart to preach so he can preach Christ. Expository preparation manifests itself in this mission – preparing a pastor’s heart to preach for the glory of God. May all who preach love the God which they proclaim.

Soli Deo Gloria.

Preaching as Worship – Part 3

Preaching as Worship

Since preaching is an act of worship, the pastor stepping up to the sacred desk to preach must be reverent and serious, because preaching hangs eternity in the balance for all who hear. The task of preaching alone brings its own difficulties to overcome. However, another task of the pastor is to be the worship leader for each service, because the Word of God directs our worship. Thus, if the pastor tries to make worship an effect rather than a lifestyle of glory and honor to God, he loses the centrality of the Word of God in worship. But it could possibly cause the pastor to lose biblical centrality in his preaching and preparation. Thus, here are four reasons why the pastor can never lose the Bible as his central component to preaching in worship

The Gospel is Good News

Paul David Tripp explains that one of the most crucial elements to understanding the gospel is understanding that the gospel is for all people when he writes “No one gives grace better than a person who is deeply persuaded that he needs it himself and is being given it in Christ.” Hence, the pastor preparing himself to preach by allowing himself to come under the authority of the text will then give the best presentation of the gospel because he has first had his affections transformed by the Lord Jesus Christ himself. The gospel has several components to its makeup, and they are the following.

First, man is fallen and without Christ. It is not secret that mankind is in a predicament spiritually. This predicament comes from the fall in Genesis 3 where Adam and Eve disobeyed the commands of God and placed their fleshly priorities above God’s standard of living. This disobedience thereby affected all their posterity (Rom. 3:23) and has left each human being in a state of sinfulness separated from God.

Second, in the person of Jesus Christ, God came down to humanity to save them from their sins. Jesus Christ, the Son of God who is truly God and truly man, came to earth, lived a perfect life, and died the death for human beings in their place which does two things that manifests themselves in the next two components.

Third, those who believe in Christ are justified. Justification by faith alone is the doctrine upon which Christianity stands or falls. If justification is denied or ignored, Christianity is demarcated to mere moralism. Mankind is innately sinful and the only remedy for such sinfulness is a perfectly divine being who can pay humanity’s debt in their place. Because humanity is sinful, they cannot make their way toward God in any fashion (John 6:44). Yet, because God is holy, he must judge all sinfulness. However, God in his kindness sent his Son to pay the penalty for human beings so they can know him. In other words, Jesus Christ’s death justifies sinful humanity before God (2 Cor. 5:21). 

Fourth, those who are justified are so because of substitutionary atonement. Substitutionary atonement is the only viable belief for a follower of Jesus Christ; it is the only biblical option to satisfy the wrath of God for the sins of humankind. This component of the gospel is also an important factor to note because it understands the death of Christ to be a literal death for sin, not a mere example of God’s hatred of sin. Instead, the wrath of God due human beings was poured out on Christ through his death on the cross in order that humanity might gain access to the Father through Him. 

The gospel is good news because it has nothing to do with human beings, but only is possible by the work of God in the lives of human beings through His Spirit. This gospel is the only message worth proclaiming, and pastors must get it right as they preach.

Preaching is Proclamation

In the grand scheme of preaching, a vitally important aspect is proclamation. To proclaim the message of the gospel is the evangelize. “‘Proclaim’ is complementary to the more specific term ‘evangelize’ (euangelizomai) or the phrase ‘announce the good news,’ which contains within its meaning the object that is announced or proclaimed—the good news.” Since the purpose of all Christian life is to be witness for the Lord Jesus (Acts 1:8), the pastor witnesses to the Lord  through Christian proclamation. Though there is a difference between preaching and evangelism, the two cannot be separated in the life of the pastor. The pastor must be adamant to never lose the priority of his own personal evangelism because of his life in Christ as a believer himself. However, the proclamation to those under his preaching every week must be a bit different. 

Preaching, unlike evangelism, is geared toward believers (for the most part). The purpose of preaching is to proclaim the gospel to those gathered as the body of Christ. Therefore, most (if not all) of the audience of which the pastor is preaching will be believers. Hence, there is a necessity for the gospel to shape how one lives. However, if unbelievers are present – which is a likely possibility – pastors must always aim to preach Christ crucified and risen for our salvation. 

Salvation is brought about by proclamation (Romans 10:17). Preaching is the proclamation of the good news of Jesus Christ to those gathered as a body of believers (1 Cor. 2:13). Both methods of proclamation ascribe the Lord glory because they are both warranted practices of Scripture. But most importantly, preaching is worship because it exults God as the sovereign Being who does everything for his own glory and our good.

Preaching is Exultation

The ultimate goal of all things done in the church is the glory of God. Even creation itself ascribes to this purpose. The psalmist exclaims, “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork” (Ps. 19:1). Piper gets it right in declaring that God delights in all he does. He writes, “If God is not under constraint by forces outside himself to act contrary to his good pleasure, but rather acts only out of the overflow of the joy of his boundless self-sufficiency, then all his acts are the expression of joy and he has pleasure in all that he does.” Piper’s comments on God taking pleasure in all he does helps his readers understand the magnitude of God delighting in himself in all of his glory. Therefore, preaching is done for God’s glory because it is God’s Word in which God delights. This is the heart of exultation – understanding the purpose of corporate worship as the “visible, unified knowing, treasuring, and showing of the supreme worth and beauty of God.”

Conclusion

In summary, worship is the goal of all that is done within the local church and within the lives of believers. Our lives, according to the apostle Paul, are living sacrifices to God as our act of worship (Rom. 12:1-2). However, to truly understand what it means to worship, one must begin with the Scriptures. It is the Bible itself that is the foundation of the truth that is communicated. The Bible is true because it is God’s revealed Word to humanity, but also because it coheres with reality; it is rational. To worship God in Spirit and truth is to worship him as the Creator and Sustainer of all things. This also will fill the sermon’s content which alone is worship to God because it is a regurgitation of his Word to his people so they will live for his glory in worship to him.

However, for a pastor to truly understand and lead a worship service, this process must begin in his own heart. The worship leader (that is, the pastor) should be immersed in the Bible to apply to himself first, then he can effectively apply it to his hearers. The application spans itself into many different areas to include the way he studies, why he studies, and the sermons he preaches. Then, once the pastor understands the weight of preparation, he can then proclaim the good news of the gospel in a worship service for the glory of God.

Preaching as Worship – Part 2

Worship Begins in the Pastor’s Study

While worship is the aim of preaching, The Holy Scriptures is the essence of biblical preaching, therefore, all that that Bible sets out to do is what preaching will accomplish.[1] The Scriptures testify to the authority of God’s Word when one preaches them faithfully and correctly. However, the preparation for preaching begins much earlier than when the pastor stands in the pulpit on Sunday as must prepare himself through soul care and spirituality. He must also prepare and construct his sermon according to biblical standards of expository preaching. Furthermore, all of these steps are acts of worship to God made manifest through the pastor’s personal life. Thus, a pastor must take explicit and intentional action to prepare sermons, while regarding all that is done as worship to the Lord.

A Reformed View of Preaching

Preaching cannot be seen as a weekly task to be taken lightly but it must be approached with much caution and humility. However, in many evangelical pulpits, preaching has lost its importance. Sad to say, many churches focus more upon music and the “culture” of the church rather than aiming to be guided by the Word of God in all areas of life (which would include such things as culture and music). Nonetheless, preaching is where all of this begins, for it is the proclamation of God’s Word, and God’s Word is what governs the doctrine and practice of the local church. Thus, preaching must aim for the following elements.

First, preaching must aim to communicate the knowledge of God in regard to salvation. The Bible repeatedly speaks of salvation as the “knowledge” of God (Is. 33:6; Jer. 3:15; Luke 1:77; Rom. 2:20; 1 Cor. 12:8; 2 Cor. 4:6; Eph. 4:13; 1 Tim. 2:4; Titus 1:1), therefore, it is necessary that those who are under the instruction and proclamation of the Word of God to not only hear, but to understand what is being proclaimed. Otherwise, salvation is not possible because knowledge of God involves understanding. It is the task of preaching that affords a pastor the opportunity to convey the truth of the Bible as understandable so those hearing the proclamation can be understood and understanding will lead to salvation.[2] Nothing ascribes worship to God more than the saving of those who are lost (Luke 15:10).

Second, preaching must implore the congregation to think biblically with the desire of worshipping God. Once salvation has occurred, the purpose of preaching is to entreat the congregation to think biblically about the way in which they live. Genuine spirituality that is born out of love for God expands to all of life. Thus, to think biblically is to immerse one’s self in the Word of God so much that it affects the way they live their lives. This is not only the calling of pastors but is the calling of all Christians.[3] Therefore, Christians must think biblically – this is a must! In a world of constant relativity and indigenous disgust for Christianity, it is absolutely essential for Christians to make the center of life God rather than themselves.[4] In other words, living and thinking biblically is living with Christ and his cross at the center of our lives.[5] This, of course, does not imply that life will be prosperous with large bank accounts or massive amounts of property. Instead, it infers that the lives of believers, who are faithful and committed to Christ, will be lives of leisure and freedom because the believer is honoring God’s pursuit of him through Jesus Christ.

Third, preaching must invoke theologizing. Theologizing, essentially, is the act of doing theology for one’s self. All believers are not called to glean their doctrine from others who have done the work for them. Paul says believers should “work out [their] own salvation with fear and trembling” (Phil. 2:12). McGrath shows the importance of theology: “Pelagianism is the natural heresy of zealous Christians who are not interested in theology.”[6] Those who are not interested in theology (pastors included!) must understand that Christianity is a religion of the heart, will, and mind. Therefore, the Christian mind is necessary for the pastor standing in the pulpit each week, and for his hearers. Theologizing, especially in preaching, is to instruct the congregation to apply the deep truths of Scripture to all of life for the glory of God.[7]

Each of these steps for pastors do not come without hard work. It takes rigorous activity and devotion to develop and deliver Christ-centered, God-honoring, and Spirit-filled messages that glorify God and edify the believer. For this reason, the pastor must take time out of his week to develop and deliver his sermons.

A Plea to Study

Since preaching is the focal point of every worship service, preparing for each service accordingly must be a vital element of the pastor’s weekly activities. Though the pastor coming under the Word of God is a necessity for faithful preaching, there is a distinct difference between a pastor’s personal life as a believer and his task as a pastor of a local congregated body. Hence, the pastor must engage in the spiritual disciplines through a personal activity in the Word, but the question deals with how this aspect of instruction and conviction bleed into the construction of sermons.

Every pastor must aim to be a biblical theologian – that is, they must aim to discover how each text they preach fits into the grand narrative of Scripture.[8] The task of biblical theology seeks to make sense of the entire Bible as one comprehensive story, which entails exegeting specific passages in light of the story of Scripture.[9] Therefore, as the pastor aims to interpret the biblical text, he must also continue to keep forefront the story of redemption as Scripture unfolds for him through a specific passage. Interpretation through the process of exegesis is rigorous and takes time to think through the difficulties of biblical truth. There are times when the Bible does not make sense to the human mind. Thus, the pastor must work through these issues to exhort his congregation to salvation, thinking biblically, and to do their own theology.

If the truths one preaches never first apply to the one preaching, it will be difficult to effectively apply the same truths to those who are listening. Therefore, a rigorous study schedule is of the utmost priority. Pastors must study to perform faithful exegesis. Pastors must study to settle the confusion between biblical passages. Pastors must study to apply the truth in Scripture to themselves first. Pastors must study to see how Scripture can mold them into the person of Jesus Christ. Pastors must study to exhort those in the congregation to such a standard of living that is conveyed from God’s authoritative and infallible Word. The purpose of studying is to show how even the pastor’s life when he is not at church is an act of worship to God. Therefore, the pastor must emulate this worshipful attitude and persona within the study each week.

A Plea to Preach Your Own Sermons

Because the purpose of studying is such a personal act of worship, the way in which one prepares and constructs a sermon is important for pastoral study. The importance of preaching your own sermons and not copying from another is a direct result of one’s belief about the preeminence of preaching as worship to God.[10] The simple fact that a pastor would preach someone else’s sermon to the congregation shows the uncertainty of calling within their own life. Otherwise, they would preach and aim to do it with faithfulness and courage, and, most importantly, through their own words. This act, however, is often an intentional act from pastors.[11] One author declares, “There can be no accidental plagiarism any more than there can be accidental bank robbery!”[12]

One specific way in which pastors tend to overlook the necessity of preaching one’s sermons is a lack of applying the biblical truths of their sermons to themselves first. Ignoring such an act is the final stroke before a pastor resorts to someone else’s material. The Puritans expressed such importance in application.[13] Pastors must return to such practice of prioritizing self-examination! The days are evil, Paul says in Ephesians 5:16, so we should “make the best use of [our] time.” Making the best use of our time does not allow for pre-written sermons from other pastors because of misguided priorities (that is, prioritizing other things over study and self-examination). It is a disloyal, unfaithful injustice to the Lord Jesus when pastors make excuses to avoid sermon construction and preparation.[14]

Yet, the most important aspect to this plea is understanding the limit placed on worship when one is preparing to preach. True biblical worship is not brought about by pious actions and behavior. Instead, biblical worship is brought about through the heart.[15] Worship involves the affections and so must our preaching. As it was defined in chapter 3, this is the essence of experiential preaching that was emulated by the Puritan preachers. The pastor must align his own affections to the biblical warrants of which he will proclaim, then implore those under his preaching to do the same with their affections, as well.[16]

As pastors are they must prepare for this task by understanding the worshipful nature of sermon construction and sermon delivery.


[1] Piper, Expository Exultation, 160.

[2] Lloyd-Jones, Preaching and Preachers, 39-40.

[3] Beeke, Reformed Preaching, 71.

[4] David Wells does a wonderful job explaining the necessity of what it means to think biblically in a world that is post-Christian. To study the problem of postmodern thought in Wells, see David F. Well. The Courage to Be Protestant: Truth-lovers, Marketers, and Emergents in the Postmodern World (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2008).

[5] Peterson, Long Obedience, 57.

[6] McGrath, Mere Discipleship, 112.

[7] Beeke, Reformed Preaching, 70.

[8] Piper, Brothers, We Are Not Professionals, 92.

[9] “The Place of Biblical Theology” The Old Testament Student, Vol. 3, no. 6 (Feb. 1884), 200.

[10] For a short, but fruitful discourse regarding preaching your own sermons, see Scott M. Gibson. Should We Use Someone Else’s Sermon?: Preaching in a Cut-and-Paste World (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2008).

[11] I would be amiss to claim that every pastor does such a thing intentionally, for young ministers with no experience may have not been taught proper ways to construct a sermon. However, most pastors who commit such an act, I believe, are one’s who do so intentionally because our age in immediacy has brought about laziness in the processes of study and sermon preparation.

[12] Randy Corn, “A Few Borrowed Words About Plagiarism” Free Will Baptist Theology, accessed December 9, 2019, https://www.fwbtheology.com/a-few-borrowed-words-about-plagiarism/.

[13] Gibson, Should We Preach Someone Else’s Sermon?, 65.

[14] To read on about excuses preachers make, Gibson’s book, Should We Preach Someone Else’s Sermon?, lists a few. See, Gibson, Should We Preach Someone Else’s Sermon?, 61-63.

[15] Piper, Brothers, We Are Not Professionals, 257.

[16] Ferguson, “Preaching as Worship,” 99.

New Year's Resolutions: Yay or Nay?

I don’t know about you, but New Year’s resolutions often creep up in my thoughts and mind every year around mid-December. Weight loss plans often flood my mind after eating the kitchen clean and vacationing with my in-laws. Often, as well, I find myself looking for ways to improve my spiritual habits as a believer in Jesus Christ. There are so many thoughts that run through anyone’s mind (especially mine) as a new year approaches and begins. So, with those thoughts, I though it would be fitting to share a blog post regarding my past year and how I believe I will aim to improve in 2020.

New Pastorate

Most of our friends know this, but 2019 was my first full year as a senior/lead/whatever else you call them pastor. In other words, I transitioned out of student ministry in September 2018 – you can read about that here. With that being said, January 1, 2019, began my first full year in the pastorate and, to be completely honest with you, I was scared out of my mind. I have never been the one to preach three to four times per week in my entire years of ministry before September 2018 (6 1/2 years in youth ministry), so I had some questions and insecurities (still do!) when it came to preaching every week and managing my time.

At every other church at which we’ve served, I have always worked with other staff members. However, at Arbor Grove – our current church, I am the only paid staff member in the church. So, being the only staff member has really challenged me on the everyday challenges of time, scheduling, productivity, and sermon preparation. Not to mention, I have never preached in front of a congregation every single week. Though I did study theological studies and pastoral ministry in college, my confidence in my preaching abilities tends to scale downward rather than upward. So, there was quite a bit of challenging times for me because I was the guy who must be prepared every week to speak to God’s people gathered together to worship.

Continuing Education

Not only was I entering the first full year of the pastorate, but I was also entering the final year of my first Masters degree. Continuing my education has been a constant goal of mine since I graduated college with my undergraduate degree. So, in December 2019, I finished my first Masters degree from Welch College with a 93 page thesis on applying the Spiritual Disciplines to sermon preparation. If you would like to see a copy of this thesis, you can download it here (please do not feel obligated to read it!).

Also, I will begin pursuing my Master of Divinity at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary this year! I am excited because this degree was the first goal I had in college when I knew I wanted to continue my education.

A New Year, A New Goal

So, my goal/resolution/aim is to know God. Knowing God is not a goal for one year, it is a goal for a lifetime. To be a better preacher, I must to know God. To be a better pastor, I must know God. To be a better student, I must know God. To be a better husband and father, I must know God. To be a better friend, I must know God. To be the Christian God has revealed for me to be through his Word, I must know Him. A goal for all believers this must be!

New Goal

So, dear friends, may this be our goal!

“But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”

Matthew 6:33, ESV

Blessings to you and yours in 2020,

Ben

3 Necessities of Christmas

As Christmas seasons come and go, no season goes by without a bit of personal reflection. The food, fun, family, friends, and, of course, the presents are all wonderful additions to the season, however, sometimes even Christians forget the real reason for celebration.

Now, I want to be clear. The statement above is not meant to be a repetitious run amok of the season itself. Though it is possible for people to forget the true meaning of Christmas, it seems also that many evangelicals have re-embraced the season of Advent so they can continue to honor the reason for the season, so they say.

A Back Story

To be a bit vulnerable with you as a reader, one of the things I struggle with as a pastor is “special day” sermons, i.e. Christmas, Father’s Day, Mother’s Day, etc. For lack of better terms, it seems as though you can only say so many things about Fathers, Mothers, and so on. Yet, the other day my wife and I were sitting in the living room talking and she asked me if I was going to be preaching a Christmas sermon, to which I replied, “No.”

She continued to ask why I was not going to preach a sermon as such and exclaimed, “It’s not Christmas without a Christmas sermon!” I replied that I was just going to continue my series in the Sermon on the Mount, because like any good preacher, I wanted to continue my sequential exposition of the Matthew 5-7.

But then came the day for sermon preparation, and guess what? The Lord led me to Matthew 1:21:

“She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”

This verse was my text for this past Lord’s Day, which was titled, “3 Necessities for Christmas,” and they are as follows:

The virgin birth

“She will bear a son.”

The first necessity of Christmas begins with the virgin birth of Christ. Isaiah prophesied that God is going to give a sign – which means pledge or covenant (interesting!) – and that sign will be the virgin-born baby. God is a covenant making God, and the sign of Christmas is yet another instance of God’s pursuit of humanity through pledging his grace and love to us through revelation.

The virgin birth is a necessity because it shows us that Jesus is the Messiah. There have been many different heresies throughout the history of the Church regarding the person of Jesus Christ and all have been given a fair treatment by councils and synods to reclaim and repeat that Jesus Christ is the Messiah whom God has sent to save the world. In other words, he is not only the Messiah who saves, but he is also the self revelation of God himself. Al Mohler posits,

The virgin birth does not stand alone as a biblical doctrine, it is an irreducible part of the biblical revelation about the person and work of Jesus Christ.”

The virgin birth is necessary because it not only solidifies the Messiahship of Christ, but also the authority of the revelation of God.

Incarnation

“…and you shall call his name Jesus.”

Not only is the virgin birth a necessity for Christmas, but so is the incarnation – that God came in flesh to ransom humanity for his glory. This concept is portrayed in the name often given to Jesus – Immanuel: with us is God!

While taking a church history class in seminary, I was driven to a love for the scholastic theologian, Anselm of Canterbury, and specifically his work, Cur Deus Homo. The purpose of Anselm’s work was essentially to prove the necessity for Jesus Christ, the Godman, as the only being able to pay for the sins of humanity and deliver them from sin’s bondage. So, Anselm argues that the person to redeem humankind must be truly God and truly human. He says,

“…man owes to God for his sin something which he is incapable of paying back, and cannot be saved unless he repays it.”

Essentially, then, Anselm argues that the only true way to redeem humanity is through someone who has no sin and must give his life up for those who do possess the disease of sinfulness.

Redemption

“…for he will save his people from their sins.”

The result of the coming of our Messiah through the virgin Mary? Redemption. I shouldn’t have to say much here. So here is what I will say:

It is Christ and Christ alone who can save!

Conclusion

To conclude, here is a quote from Charles Spurgeon from a sermon called “The Incarnation and the Birth of Christ”:

“He has not been a secret and a silent person up to this moment. That new-born child there has worked long ere now; that infant slumbering in its mother’s arms is the infant of to-day, but it is the ancient of eternity; that child who is there hath not made its appearance on the stage of this world; his name is not yet written in the calendar of the circumcised, but still though you wist it not, ‘his goings forth have been of old, from everlasting.”

Merry Christmas from the Campbells

Preaching as Worship – Part 1

Worship of the triune God is the essence of life as a believer in Jesus Christ. Worship in the believer’s life means that he is to align his volition with the prescribed method of worship in Scripture.[1] The lifestyle of a believer manifests one’s worship of God as the worth of God is evidenced. Therefore, Christian worship is more than mere singing or being involved in a local church; it is a lifestyle of manifesting the glorious work of grace by the triune God in one’s life.[2] The transformation that takes place in a person’s life at regeneration begins the life of devotion and commitment to God. Yet, this devotion to God is not forced upon a believer, but it is a natural outflowing of his union with Jesus Christ.[3]

However, a sizable portion of Christian worship comes in one’s commitment to a local church. And provided within one’s commitment to the local church is a weekly proclamation of the gospel through the preaching of the Word of God. This notion, of course, commences an important aspect to introduce this chapter and it is that we should never isolate preaching from worship. Preaching is an element of worship; it works in coherence with singing, prayer, liturgy, confessions, and ordinances.[4] Yoder explains the importance of  preaching when he describes it as  the “public address form of ministry in which a word from God intersects with a human need,”[5] Thus, as the sermon expounds on God’s message to his people,  preaching must be maintained as the focal point of a worship service.[6]

Therefore, this chapter will demonstrate how preaching is the primary activity in worship  by examining the  truthfulness and authority of the Scriptures, by describing a posture of worship through the pastor’s study, and by describing the act of preaching as worship through glory to God, proclamation, instruction, and exultation.

Worship begins with the Scriptures

Though the Bible is not the only means for the revelation of God’s self to humanity,[7] it is, however, the primary means through which God reveals his justifying, saving grace to a fallen world.[8] “How shall they hear,” Paul writes, “without a preacher” (Romans 10:14, emphasis mine)? Paul’s aim in this passage is to make preeminent the notion that preaching as the primary means through which the gospel of grace is proclaimed. In other words, Paul aims for his readers to comprehend the magnitude of trustworthiness of the Scriptures because it is God’s truth that is proclaimed when one preaches. Comprehending the magnitude of God’s worth through his revealed Word is the essence of biblical worship. So, then, how we comprehend this truth is extremely important.

Truth is the condition upon whether biblical interpretation succeeds or fails, because biblical interpretation is the direct explanation of the Word of God, the source of all truth.[9] This proposition brings to light the notion that truth only comes to the seeker when he correctly interprets the truth revealed from God. Jesus told asks the Father to “sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth” (John 17:17). If this proposition is accurate, then one must examine how it relates to biblical worship that is only brought to fruition through the discovery of truth.

The Bible as Foundation of Truth

Because truth is the assembling of facts as they are experienced through reality,[10] a pastor must understand the rationality and realistic nature of the Bible itself. The ultimate test of truthfulness of Scripture is its coherence with reality. So, regarding the Bible, one must seek to justify the Bible as truth rather than fairy tales or fiction. Therefore, one does this in two different ways: affirming God as the ultimate truth-Giver and proposing the Bible as God’s revealed Word.

The existence of God must be rationally interpreted through the lens of how truth is realized. It is not enough to simply “prove” God’s existence through a certain apologetic argument, though these means can be sufficient to “prove” God’s existence. Instead, a more fully orbed approach to ascertain the existence of God is through rationalizing the knowledge of truth; he is the sovereign truth-Giver. The penultimate method for discovering truth is by properly understanding which particulars cohere the most with reality. Some would argue that truth can be determined by each person individually, but this is actually not the case. Instead, truth must be justified/warranted belief.[11] Justified belief stabilizes itself in the notion that every person searches for truth with presuppositions. In other words, every person in the world has a way in which they view the world. further explains how one justifies a belief by a multitude of criteria – presuppositions, beliefs, and coherence with reality.[12] Thus, the Bible must be the foundation of truth in worship.

The Bible as God’s revealed Word must be the starting point for the pastor who is to preach in worship. The Triune God has revealed himself to us by communicating within himself to humanity. The Father speaks to the Son, the Son speaks to the Father, and both to the Spirit and the Spirit to both.[13] Peter declares that “men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:21), so the process of the Bible being understood as God’s Word begins with God revealing himself to the apostles by his Spirit, then succeeds to how the apostles witnessed the full revelation of God himself in the person of Jesus Christ. In essence, God is a communicator; therefore, God has communicated to humanity by his Word through his relationship with humanity, and through Jesus Christ, the Godman.[14] Therefore, God’s truth is reality.[15]

Since the Bible is God’s revealed Word to humanity, it must be of utmost priority to the one who will prepare to preach. The essence of preaching is the proclamation of God’s revealed Word to a gathered assembly of believers. Therefore, the Bible must be the foundation of all that is done in a worship service, from the singing to the preaching. 

The Bible as Basis of Content

Because the Bible is the foundation of all things true, it must serve as the content for all sermons. The Bible is the supreme source for content in the sermon, because the Bible is the source of life for a believer. It is described as “profitable,”  in 2 Timothy 3:16. Paul is reminding Timothy that “the basis of its profitableness lies in its inspired character.[16] If a pastor has a spiritual foundation (built upon the disciplines of expository preparation), then the Bible will be prevalent throughout his sermon’s content. The truth of the Bible resonates with the pastor, because his delight is in the Word of God and this brings about clarity throughout the sermon construction process. This clarity for the pastor is a result of a healthy regimen of expository preaching in his weekly habits. Jason K. Allen explains how this process was beneficial personally in his spiritual development. He recalls that during his early days of ministry this weekly preaching was the most influential element to his growth.[17] Thus, a pastor will fill his sermon with the Bible in three distinct ways.

First, the Bible must be the source of all knowledge and content in the pastor’s sermon. There is no sermon apart from the Bible. So, for a preacher to preach effectively and for his preaching to serve as worship to God, he must approach the Bible, study the Bible, write the Bible (through notes), think on the Bible, pray through the Bible, and then preach the Bible. If a pastor is to ascribe all glory to God during his sermon, he must understand the nature of preaching as declaring Christ to a gathered congregation for the one purpose glorifying God.[18] Thus, the pastor should impregnate his sermons with the Word of God rather than aiming to quote well-known scholars or try to use excellent rhetoric to persuade the congregation to action. God blesses faithfulness that labors with the text to declare its correct meaning and interpretation. Therefore, the pastor must leave the content to the Bible and the conviction to the Spirit, for this is their roles as divine aids in preaching.[19]

Second, the pastor must fill his sermon with knowledge from his Bible study. As a pastor studies his Bible personally, sermonically, and intellectually, he must read the Bible with the end goal of worship. While Piper is correct when he says  that the ultimate aim of all Bible reading  is the “the worship of God’s worth and beauty,” we would also say that this is the goal of preaching as well [20] Therefore, as a pastor aims to worship God in his preaching, he must mold the content of his Bible study into the manuscript that will become his sermon week after week with the goal of acknowledging God’s worth and beauty. Therefore, the pastor must allocate time in his week to allow the content of his study of Scripture to be molded into the sermon itself. 

Third, the Bible contains language that must be studied and communicated. The Bible is the penultimate way in which God has provided sinful humanity a way to know him. Calvin proffers that the Bible is God’s expression of love and grace toward God’s elect to bring them nearer to him.[21] However, the Bible was not written by infallible authors, so their language is not precise, for they were human beings moved by the Spirit of God.[22] Since the authors of Scripture were normal human beings, their language is sometimes vague and difficult to interpret. Therefore, as the pastor desires to worship God in his preaching, he must endeavor to study the language of the Scriptures so he can communicate the truth of God effectively and, correctly.

Nevertheless, the pastor cannot truly communicate such a book with “language barriers” unless he believes in the authoritative nature of the Bible. Therefore, the Bible as authoritative is necessary for true biblical worship because it is the governing force behind all worship elements.[23] This is the foremost principle within the Regulative Principle: The Bible governs all activities during a gathering of believers in worship to God.

The Bible as Authority

 Augustine explains how meaning can sometimes be dependent upon the person when he writes, “What is time? If nobody asks me, I know; but if someone asks me, I don’t know.” Thus, words and meaning are important for establishing the divine authority of the Bible.

When God acts, he acts through his spoken Word. This is how God created the world (Gen. 1) and also how he gave us Scripture (2 Tim. 3:16). Paul conveys, “All Scripture is breathed out by God” (2 Tim. 3:16). According to Forlines, God’s word is a crucial element to understanding the divine nature of Scripture and its inspiration. Scripture is a product of the very breathe of God. Therefore, it is divinely given to humanity.[24] Words and meaning do have distinct characteristics but they also do have a close relationship with each other for learning and communication.[25] Because preaching is a communicative act and deals with how the congregants can learn the Scriptures, its words must be translated and interpreted carefully and correctly. If biblical interpretation is done ineffectively, the congregation’s learning ability can be disparaged. Therefore, the pastor must pay close attention to the way in which he prepares sermons because if biblical truth is incorrectly conveyed, it will limit the application of truth to the hearers.

The Bible and its authority are the most important elements for preaching, because anything otherwise is not preaching according to biblical standards. Therefore, we must not be timid in our proclamation of such truth, and one should proclaim these truths with authority because those who preach stand in the stead of Christ as they speak. In a sermon on biblical infallibility, Spurgeon says, “Modesty is a virtue, but hesitancy when we are speaking for the Lord is a great fault.”[26] This is advice that all pastors must heed when they stand behind the sacred desk. Biblical authority is emulated through the act of preaching and all pastors must understand the weight of such a task in worship. However, the element of preaching in worship does not begin when a pastor opens his Bible on Sunday morning getting ready to preach. Instead, it begins in his office while he prepares and constructs his sermon.


[1] Calvin, Institutes, 63

[2] For a more detailed description of worship, see Timothy M. Pierce. Enthroned on Our Praise: An Old Testament Theology of Worship (Nashville: B&H, 2008). Though Pierce defines worship exclusively from the Old Testament, there is much New Testament application within his work. He uses Old Testament law and tradition to sustain New Testament worship through the fulfillment of promise through the person and work of Jesus Christ. He describes worship as an “ascription of worth” alongside a “relationship between creation and Creator.”

[3] Peterson, Long Obedience, 50.

[4] John Piper. Expository Exultation: Christian Preaching as Worship (Wheaton: Crossway, 2018), 16.

[5] June A. Yoder, “The Sermon as Fulcrum: The Role of Preaching in Worship” Vision 10, no. 1 (Spr. 2009), 37.

[6] Ibid., 39.

[7] For further study on this topic, see John M. Frame. The Doctrine of the Word of God (Phillipsburg: P&R, 2010).

[8] For a more detailed take on God’s self-revelation through Scripture, see Forlines’s chapter on revelation in The Quest for Truth (Nashville: Randall House, 2001), or Part 2 of John M. Frame. The Doctrine of the Word of God (Phillipsburg: P&R, 2010).

[9] Kevin J. Vanhoozer, “Lost in Interpretation? Truth, Scripture, and Hermeneutics” JETS no. 48 vol. 1 (March 2005), 89.

[10] Ronald H. Nash. Life’s Ultimate Questions: An Introduction to Philosophy (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1999), 228.

[11] For a more detailed study of knowledge and justified belief, see Frame. The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God (Phillipsburg: P&R, 1987); Alvin Plantinga. Knowledge and Christian Belief (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2015).

[12] John M. Frame. The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God (Phillipsburg: P&R, 1987), 104-122.

[13] Frame, The Doctrine of the Word of God, 42.

[14] Forlines, Quest, 46.

[15] Piper, Expository Exultation, 161.

[16] Donald Guthrie, “Pastoral Epistles: An Introduction and Commentary,” vol. 14, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1990), 182.

[17] Jason K. Allen. Letters to My Students: On Preaching. (Nashville: B&H, 2019), 35.

[18] Beeke, Reformed Preaching, 62.

[19] Meuer, “What Is Biblical Preaching?”, 187.

[20] John Piper. Reading the Bible Supernaturally: Seeing and Savoring the Glory of God in Scripture (Wheaton: Crossway, 2017), 62. Though Piper’s aim throughout this work is geared toward reading the Bible for its worth in the life of a believer, it is not difficult to see how this concept also relates to the preaching of the Word of God.

[21] Calvin, Institutes, 26.

[22] Frame, The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God, 216.

[23] For a more detailed study of the “Regulative Principle,” see Ligon Duncan, “Traditional Evangelical Worship” in Perspectives on Christian Worship: 5 Views, edited by J. Matthew Pinson(Nashville: B&H Academic, 2009), 99-124.

[24] Ibid., 43.

[25] Forlines, Quest, 49.

[26] C.H. Spurgeon, “The Infallibility of Scripture,” Spurgeon Gems, accessed December 9, 2019, https://www.spurgeongems.org/vols34-36/chs2013.pdf.

Disciplines for Expository Preparation – Part 3

Theological Instruction in the Preparation of Sermons

Preaching is a message from God; therefore, it is theology. Since theology is always present in preaching, it is “God talk.”[1] Peter exhorts his readers always to be ready to give a defense for the hope that is in them (1 Peter 3:15), and this requires a foundation of doctrinal certainty. In other words, Peter encourages those to whom he writes to defend the gospel to which they have devoted themselves. It is from this word defense (apologia) where our English word “apologetics” comes.[2] Therefore, a defense of the gospel necessitates theological knowledge. If pastors are to correctly interpret and understand the doctrinal truth of which is contained within the biblical text, the only result when one preaches is “theology coming through a man who is one fire.”[3]

Lloyd-Jones states that the chief end of preaching is to give people a sense of God and his presence.[4] Since God and his presence are understood and experienced through His Son, Jesus Christ, preaching must be Christological. For preaching to be Christological, it must be centered upon and solely focused on Christ.This was the message the reformers proclaimed, Solus Christus. Joel Beeke affirms that if one loses any sense of Christ in their preaching, the substantial tenant of Christianity is forsaken.[5]

Such theological instruction in preaching requires an attitude of devotion to God and his Word, focusing upon learning all truth contained within Holy Scripture. It is similar to Packer’s method of theologizing which involves developing one’s theological framework from the Scriptures rather than from another scholar’s work.[6] Therefore, theological knowledge does not only come from Bible colleges or seminaries – though such formal education is beneficial to those who can obtain it. Instead, theological knowledge should begin with one’s study of the Bible. Hence, this knowledge that comes from one’s study of the Bible should translate into every facet of one’s preaching. Tom Nettles offers a similar approach in his principles for preachers: 1) preaching should propagate doctrine, and 2) preaching is the product of doctrine.[7]

In other words, Nettles is suggesting that preaching is doctrinal from its beginning. Doctrine and theology fuel the sermon and fill it with content. Thus, an absence of doctrine is no sermon worth preaching. The propagation of doctrine is the beginning of the pastor’s efforts to develop and construct a sermon. However, the development of doctrine in the exegetical stage of preparation does not fizzle out as the process moves forward; instead, it stays the course throughout until the pastor closes his Bible on Sunday evening. Thus, the necessity of theological instruction is to instruct a congregation in the knowledge and truth of God.

Pastors do their congregation a disservice when there is an absence of theological instruction in their preaching. Many pastors spend their time looking into cultural trends and fads that, they believe, aid in their preaching. However, they neglect the notion that God’s Word is sufficient to fill the content for their sermon. Yet, many congregants do not understand the weight of theology, so they ignore it altogether. They ignore the reality that knowledge of anything at all is knowledge of God.[8] Consequently, what many Christians they do not understand is that the very nature of Christian truth is theological. This reality does not imply that preaching ought to be incomprehensible. Instead, it aims to strengthen its content with biblical truth rather than stories or material from popular culture. The Bible is sufficient to fend for itself; therefore, pastors must do, as Spurgeon says, “give a clear testimony to all the doctrines which constitute or lie around the gospel.”[9]

The centrality of the gospel in theological instruction must be the goal of every pastor as he proclaims the message of God in Christ each week. However, the reality one must realize is that theological instruction is gibberish without application.

Application in the Preparation of Sermons

If a pastor’s sermon lacks application, his sermon is void of the characteristics necessary for Christian proclamation.[10] Expository preaching in general is absent unless there is application of exposed truth to the hearers. York explains, “Our job is more than just explaining the text. Our job is to make it vibrant, fresh, and accessible.”[11] Application is accomplished best by having a central idea in which to communicate the entire sermon in one short sentence. Some scholars call this a central theme,[12] while others name it the big idea.[13] Regardless of one’s terminology, the sermon should have one main proposition explaining how the passage of Scripture relates to the listener.

An important exhortation to aid pastors in applying their sermons is to preach from their hearts to the hearts of their hearers.[14] The application of the biblical text should affect the pastor before it ever applies to those under his proclamation. The pastor’s heart must be like the psalmist who declares, “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Ps. 139:23-24)! Only truth that applies to the heart of the pastor will more readily apply to the listener.[15] The Puritan preachers embody this principle in the most substantial ways. They were conscious of every single effort to reach the heart of their congregation by the format of which they proclaim the gospel.[16] Thus, the goal of preaching is so the Word of God will be at work in the pastor, which will translate to the working of God in the hearts of the congregation (1 Thess. 2:13). However, for the pastor to apply biblical truth correctly to his hearers, he must be present in their lives and be able to observe how his congregants live.

Observing Life in the Preparation of Sermons

Observing life is a phrase claiming that pastoral leadership comes best by characterizing relational ministry with his congregation.[17] When pastors are shepherds, they understand the necessity of spending time with their sheep. Shepherding is never successful if there is no time spent with the sheep of which they are in charge. Therefore, pastors must spend time with those under their leadership and care.

Unless the pastor is spending adequate time with his people, he will have difficulty applying his sermons to those sitting in the pew. This type of preaching is what the Puritans of old call experiential preaching.[18] Capill proffers the same advice to his readers with a probing question: “If we can’t connect the dots between biblical truth and life as it really is, what makes us think our people will after the sermon?”[19] Thus, the observation of life is necessary to apply the sermon carefully to those under his watch and care.

Conclusion

The disciplines for expository preparation are necessary for the pastor’s soul care, but they are also necessary to aid in the pastor’s construction of his sermon.

Though this list of disciplines is not exhaustive, they do prompt pastors to step back and take an honest look at their sermon preparation. Submitting himself to Christ through prayer, meditation, and Bible intake will allow the pastor to begin his sermon preparation with a clear mind and a pure heart because it will focus on growth in holiness that is only aided by the Spirit of God.

However, once the spirituality of the pastor is in full view, his sanctification is the focal point of his spiritual life. The sanctification of the pastor is necessary for the pastor to embody the faithful yet fruitful Christian life. This, then, will allow the pastor to interpret the Bible with pure motives and without sinful presuppositions as he exegetes the text he will be preaching. Yet, the pastor must not only search for the meaning of the text, but also the theological underpinnings detailed within. Only then can the pastor apply the sermon to his listeners. By building relationships with his congregants, he can determine the most appropriate ways to communicate the text from his heart to the heart of his listeners because he has observed life with them.


[1] Robert R. Smith, “Theology, Preaching, and Pastoral Ministry” in Theology, Church, and Ministry: A Handbook for Theological Education (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2017), 340.

[2] Henry George Liddell et al., A Greek-English Lexicon (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1996), 208.

[3] Lloyd-Jones, Preaching and Preachers, 110.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Beeke, Reformed Preaching, 402.

[6] McGrath, Mere Discipleship, 113.

[7] Thomas J. Nettles. The Privilege, Promise, Power, and Peril of Doctrinal Preaching (Greenbrier, AR.: Free Grace Press, 2018), 5-6.

[8] John M. Frame. The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God (Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 1987), 128.

[9] Spurgeon, Lectures, 74.

[10] R. Scott Pace. Preaching by the Book: Developing and Delivering Text-Driven Sermons (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2018), 50.

[11] York and Decker, Bold Assurance, 7.

[12] Ibid., 139.

[13] Robinson, Biblical Preaching, 31-48.

[14] Vines and Shaddix, Power in the Pulpit, 320.

[15] Pace, Preaching by the Book, 51.

[16] For a wonderful and clear presentation of the Puritans and their application of Scripture, see Beeke, Reformed Preaching, 369-384.

[17] Capill, The Heart is the Target, 81-96.

[18] For a definition of experiential preaching, see Beeke, Reformed Preaching, 23-42.

[19] Capill, The Heart is the Target, 90.

Disciplines for Expository Preparation – Part 2

Sanctification in the Preparation of Sermons

Pastors must be moving toward holiness through the process of progressive sanctification. That is, they must be spiritually maturing in the gospel of Jesus Christ. Joel Beeke proffers, “The holiness of a minister’s heart is not merely an ideal; it is absolutely necessary for his work to be effective. Holiness of life must be his consuming passion.”[1] This process is similar to how Paul instructed the Corinthian believers to “Be infants in evil, but in your thinking be mature” (1 Cor. 14:20). Maturity is the goal of the Christian life. Sinclair Ferguson relates the situation in which the Corinthians found themselves to babies on Christmas day playing with wrapping paper rather than the gift they had received.[2] They are completely enamored with the wrong thing. In other words, if pastors are ignoring the sanctifying grace of God in their life, it will not be present in their sermons. Thus, this lack of presence will then translate to their congregation. When there is no personal sanctification in the pastor, it will result in a lack of sanctifying activities in the lives of congregants.

Therefore, the sanctification of the pastor is an indispensable activity because one needs it in order to exemplify it to their congregation. The spiritual disciplines allow the pastor to pursue godliness while progressively becoming more and more like Christ himself, all while emulating for the congregation what true spirituality looks like in everyday life. The disciplines are the foundation that sanctifies the pastor through the Word. The result, however, is that the spirituality of the pastor will filter into his sermons. When this goal of Christlikeness is the priority, the sanctification process will always be primary.[3] Here are two reasons why this process should take primacy in the pastor’s life.

First, this earthly journey is a pilgrimage preparing us for the life to come. Jesus told his disciples that the only way to get to the Father was by Him (John 14:6). The term pilgrimage is a necessary term to comprehend because it conveys the idea that the Christian life is a marathon, not a sprint. Eugene Peterson communicates great wisdom to his readers that Christian maturity is never realized in life by immediate action and results. Instead, we mature over long periods through the processes of life.[4]

Thus, the pilgrimage in which pastors find themselves during their lives must be fueled by an intentional pursuit of holiness, for this is indeed what defines sanctification.

Second, sanctification is the lifelong pursuit of holiness. This lifelong pursuit of holiness is more than merely trying or aiming to be holy. Forlines notes that this process speaks of a relationship between a person and God rather than mere morality.[5] In other words, holiness does not come from merely being a moral person. Unbelievers can be a “good moral” person without an ounce of dedication to God. Therefore, a prerequisite to holiness is, of course, a relationship with God. This communion with the Lord is what makes a person Christlike. Furthermore, this union with Christ comes through faith, which is the condition of regeneration. It is not the other way around. Otherwise, sanctification precedes regeneration and justification, which is a biblical impossibility.[6]

Thus, for pastors to experience the sanctifying work of Christ in their life, they must devote their entire selves (mind, heart, and will) to Christ and allow His Spirit to guide their lives as they live and lead the church of God. Pastors must integrate their growth in holiness into their sermon preparation because it is vital to emulate for their congregants what it means to live the Christian life. Congregations need to hear (and see!) that the Christian life is achievable, and pastors must be the embodiment of such truth. Bridges notes, “Just as He delivered us from the overall reign of sin, so He has made ample provision for us to win the daily skirmishes against sin.”[7] In other words, Christ gives us victory and o\pastors must be the personification of the victory believers are promised through Jesus Christ.

In order to become sanctified, one must learn the truth by the Word of God (through Bible intake, prayer, and meditation), and must practice it through their actions. Forlines’s total personality provides the most logical conclusion for such statements: truth must be “understood by the mind, experienced and felt in the heart, and acted upon by the will.”[8] It is through these means and to this end that pastors must devote themselves as they grow in the grace and likeness of our Lord Jesus Christ.

This growth not only manifests itself through actions and attitudes of the pastor’s personal life, but the pastor will also actualize them in his sermons. Therefore, the sanctification of the pastor plays a primary role for the sermon preparation each week in his life because these first five disciplines – submission to Christ, prayer, meditation, Bible intake, and sanctification – supply the power needed to complete the next four disciplines dealing intricately with sermon preparation, beginning with biblical interpretation.

Interpretation in the Preparation of Sermons

According to Shaddix, proper interpretation draws out the meaning of a passage and correctly epitomizes it.[9] Haddon Robinson, however, claims that in order to do correct exegesis, the pastor must read the passage to correctly understand the meaning contained within.[10] In other words, exegesis/interpretation ensues when the pastor proclaims to his people what God says in his Word.[11] Correct exegesis is necessary because, without it, the pastor will proclaim a message out of line with biblical teaching. It is as Robert Thomas says, “if the explanation of what the author meant is missing, so is the heart of Bible exposition.”[12] Thus, to correctly exegete a passage of Scripture, a pastor must discipline himself to understand the meaning and themes of a passage so he can accurately convey and proclaim them to his congregation.

Understanding the meaning of a particular text is not an easy task. However, it is most necessary for the proclamation of the Word of God because it serves as spiritual direction for those who hear it.[13] Therefore, exegesis, before the construction of a sermon, is necessary because the Bible “does not lie open before us. It does not simply appear as God’s word but as God’s word in human word.”[14] To further this notion, Norman Geisler posits that though the Bible is, in fact, the Word of God, it is also the words of human authors – it is considered a theanthropic book.[15] Robert Plummer writes, “Note, Luke does not say, ‘I prayed and the Holy Spirit brought to my mind the stories of Jesus to write.’ Luke was a historian – engaged in real historical research. Nevertheless, as an inspired companion of the apostles, Luke was also God’s revelatory agent.”[16] Because the Bible is a book of divine revelation through the words of men, the truths contained within it must be meditated upon and diligently interpreted so the pastor might achieve correct interpretation.

However, achieving correct interpretation does not come without a cost. Biblical interpretation is the most difficult and most time-consuming effort of sermon preparation.[17] In the words of Martyn Lloyd-Jones, pastors must aim to be honest with the text. The Doctor notes that directly approaching a biblical text to pick out an idea in which interests them would be dishonestly approaching the Bible.[18] He observes that analyzing and philosophizing a text is “utterly to abuse the Word of God.”[19] Thus, to correctly interpret the Bible, the pastor must diligently discipline himself to study the Word, he must understand the magnitude of preparing sermons, and he must always consider the weight of communicating divine truth as spiritual direction to one’s congregation.

Nevertheless, interpretation is just one meager step in the preparation of sermons. Once biblical interpretation has occurred, many other pieces of the sermon must be placed into the material used for construction. One specific piece which cannot be ignored is theological instruction as a part of one’s proclamation of the Word of God.


[1] Beeke, Reformed Preaching, 67.

[2] Ferguson, Maturity, 12.

[3] Sinclair Ferguson. Devoted to God: Blueprints for Sanctification (Edinburgh, NSW: Banner of Truth, 2016), 7.

[4] Peterson, Long Obedience, 17.

[5] Forlines, Quest, 222.

[6] Ibid., 235-236.

[7] Jerry Bridges. The Pursuit of Holiness (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 1978), 71.

[8] Forlines, Quest, 239.

[9] Shaddix and Vines, Power in the Pulpit, 181.

[10] Haddon W. Robinson. Biblical Preaching: The Development and Delivery of Expository Messages (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1980), 66.

[11] Hershael York and Bert Decker. Preaching with Bold Assurance: A Solid and Enduring Approach to Engaging Exposition (Nashville: B&H, 2003), 19. (hereafter, Bold Assurance)

[12] Robert L. Thomas, “Exegesis and Expository Preaching” in Rediscovering Expository Preaching, ed. John MacArthur, Jr. and the Master’s Seminary Faculty (Dallas: Word, 1992), 181

[13] Lauren F. Winner, “Preaching as a Spiritual Discipline” Sewanee Theological Review 57, no 4 (Michaelmas 2014), 520.

[14] Siegfreid Meuer, “What is Biblical Preaching: Exegesis and Meditation for the Sermon” Encounter 24, no 2 (Spr. 1963), 183.

[15] Norman L. Geisler, “Introduction and Bible” vol. 1 in Systematic Theology (Minneapolis: Bethany House, 2002), 253.

[16] Robert L. Plummer. 40 Questions About Interpreting the Bible (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2010), 33.

[17] Roy B. Zuck. Basic Bible Interpretation: A Practical Guide to Discovering Biblical Truth (Colorado Springs: Victor, 1991), 10.

[18] Lloyd-Jones, Preaching and Preachers, 212.

[19] Ibid., 214.

Disciplines for Expository Preparation – Part 1

Although the primary spiritual disciplines – Bible intake, prayer, meditation – are biblically warranted practices, there are other disciplines in the life of the pastor that must be typified for the pastor to prepare to preach. Preparing one’s self to preach is, most definitely, a spiritual priority because the ill-prepared preacher is not only lackadaisical in his sermon preparation but is also in danger spiritually from lacking to discipline himself for godliness. Thus, both spiritual and homiletical preparation is necessary for these two reasons.

First, both correlate with the pastor’s soul. In his work, Edwards on the Christian Life, Dane Ortlund declares that Jonathan Edwards expressed the soul as active, not passive. In other words, Edwards summarizes one’s soul as the human itself, not merely one part of the human.[1] Of course, this is not only demarcated in Edwards’s writings but many other great theologians as well.[2] When a pastor prepares his soul for the task of preaching, he disciplines himself by the spiritual practices warranted from the Word of God. Nevertheless, when a pastor is pursuing the construction of his sermon through hermeneutical techniques, he is also disciplining himself for godliness by using his skillset to prepare his sermon adequately.

Second, sermon preparation should be an outflow of the pastor’s soul care. The spiritual life of the pastor should be the source from which the sermon obtains its content. Of course, this does not indicate that pastors must only preach their Bible reading plans each year, but the vitality of their spiritual life permeates the content of their sermons. Grace received always results in grace given. Therefore, a pastor’s sermon preparation is to be an overflow of his spiritual life because it transfers the truths of Holy Scripture from his heart to the heart of the congregation. Joel Beeke writes that preaching “often grows out of the preacher’s own experience of Christ in the midst of his sorrows and sins.”[3] Beeke indicates that the pastor’s own life experiences are what fuel his preaching. Thus, a pastor’s ministry is to be an overflow of his spirituality. This chapter, then, will be an examination of disciplines regarding the pastor’s sermon preparation.

The Disciplines of Expository Preparation

Pastors need not only focus on the spiritual nature of sermon preparation; they must also not fail to neglect the homiletical characteristics of sermon composition. Although these disciplines do not fall under the category of “spiritual disciplines,” they are, however, disciplines of which pastors must prioritize in order to prepare their sermons for the glory of God. Thus, this chapter demonstrates nine different disciplines for the pastor to apply in his method of preparing his sermons.

Submission to Christ in the Preparation of Sermons

Because the pastor is first a believer, his vocational undertakings begin with his submission to Christ. In other words, what pastors devote themselves to is what will be made manifest through their lifestyle and conduct. This is a foremost perspective for all pastors to understand – their values and beliefs dictate how they live and what they do.[4] Therefore, the pastor’s submission to Christ must be of first importance because how pastors act are the results of what they value, to whom (and to what) they are loyal, and what they believe. Thus, pastors must do as Jim Shaddix recommends – they must never lose God in the sermon preparation process.[5] Losing God in one’s sermon preparation is the result of a lack of submission to Him. Eugene Peterson declares, “God doesn’t change: he seeks and saves…we listen and follow.”[6]

If a pastor begins his preparation faithfully and thoroughly, he must begin in submission to Jesus Christ. Jesus entreats all people, especially pastors, to come to him and find rest.[7] Submission to Christ is not only resulting from respect, reverence, awe, and worship – although all there included in as much. Submission to Christ also comes when we cast our cares at his feet to find our identity and rest in Him (Matt. 11:25). Charles Bridges explains that for ministers to be involved in such a spiritual task (pastoral ministry), they must possess spiritual character to administrate such duties.[8]

Therefore, pastors must submit themselves entirely to Jesus Christ, the author, and perfecter of their faith (Heb. 12:2). The pastor’s faith is rooted and grounded in Jesus Christ through his submission to him. So, the question of how to submit to Christ must be addressed. 

The pastor’s spiritual life is based solely on his union with Christ. Therefore, the pastor must actualize his spiritual life in two ways. First, submission to Christ involves devotion. God’s desire is for us to know him (Heb. 4:12). So, it is not possible to know God if one is not devoted to God. Knowledge of God does not come from sporadic interaction with His Word, nor does it come from one’s own experience or reason. Knowledge of God comes from one’s absorption of God’s Word.

Second, submission to Christ means forsaking all sinful activity in one’s life. Human beings definition of themselves is at odds with the way Scripture defines them. In the words of David Wells, “Americans, as we have seen, do not believe in original sin.”[9] Otherwise, humanity often discovers that sinfulness is the problem that keeps all believers from submitting their entire selves to Christ. The apostle James writes, “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (James 4:7). Therefore, when submission to God is a foremost priority, one finds a new perspective on life.[10] When submission to God is the essential facet of the pastor’s life, nothing else is of any value, for God becomes all that he values. Thus, when God becomes all one values, the pastor’s life is marked by the overflow of such values.[11]

Hence, submission to Christ is the first and necessary step to disciplining one’s self for expository preparation. Preparing one’s soul to preach begins with Christ, but it also extends to actions resulting from one’s devotion to the Lord himself.

Prayer in the Preparation of Sermons

 The most critical element for the preparation of sermons is the pastor’s prayer. This section will address the importance of prayer and its nature in the pastor’s preparation. Spurgeon notes that if a pastor prays with any other attitude other than an ordinary Christian, he is a hypocrite.[12] Otherwise, pastors are to pray as ordinary people, for that is who they are. The most elemental purpose of this ordinary type of prayer is to understand the necessity of utter dependence upon the Lord Jesus for pastors as they prepare and as they preach. Preaching, though done through human effort, is never done only by human effort, but by divine empowerment. Thus, pastors ought to outperform every person in their church through prayer.[13] Hence, prayer is not merely an act of mere devotion; it is “the Christians vital breath and native air.”[14]

Prayer is more than an act of mere devotion or spiritual habit; it is the most vital element of any believer’s life, and especially the pastor’s life. Prayer is petitionary, intercessory, communicative, and, most importantly, indispensable for all people who claim to be in communion with the Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, as they prepare to preach, pastors must be people of prayer. The preparation of sermons – following the care of the pastor’s soul – must be bathed in prayer. Spurgeon taught that the prayer closet is the best place for study because the Author of Scripture is the most profitable teacher, even better than those who comment on such truth.[15] In other words, pastors must not neglect prayer as they prepare their souls and sermons. Luther was busy and still prayed; so can we.[16]

If pastors, through their submission to Christ, are dependent upon Christ for their strength to preach, they will understand that the power of Christ living within them is the only means through which ministerial accomplishments are made manifest. Joel Beeke looks back in time to Thomas Boston, a Puritan theologian, who advises that if pastors want to follow Jesus’ example to be fishers of men, they must first follow his example of much prayer.[17] Thus, pastors must be on their knees in prayer long before they engage in the duties of pastoral ministry. This is the attitude of Jesus and must also be the attitude of all pastors.

Therefore, prayer is more than mere communication between you and God. It is “a relationship which cultivates an awareness of the presence of the Heavenly Father.”[18]

 Nevertheless, an awareness of the presence of God during prayer should lead the pastor to devote himself to the Lord through profoundly thinking about the truths of God Word.

Scriptural Meditation in the Preparation of Sermons

Scriptural meditation is another discipline that must manifest itself in the life of the pastor and his sermon preparation. Charles Bridges states, “It is important also to cultivate this habit in the bent of our own work – that is, that a Preacher should think as a Preacher – marking everything (like any other man of business) with the eyes of his own profession.”[19] To “think like a preacher,” as Bridges would suggest, is to consider what biblical meditation is, then to apply these types of habits to your life.

The definition of biblical meditation comes best from the prophecy of Jeremiah: “Your words were found, and I ate them, and your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart” (Jer. 15:16). This eating is metaphorical of someone consuming physical nourishment.[20] Calvin writes that biblical meditation in the life of a believer is what yields the best and sweetest fruit spiritually.[21] The question, then, is how pastors meditate on the Scriptures that produce the best and sweetest fruit. Here are two considerations for such a question.

First, meditation is necessary for sermon preparation because it prompts the pastor to indulge his mind and heart in the Word of God. Meditation begins with the pastor’s pursuit of Christ through submission to Christ and prayer, but it also extends to the pastor’s consumption of the Word of God. A desire for the Word is necessary for pastoral ministry (1 Tim. 4:13), but it is also necessary for the preparation of sermons. This is what Paul meant when he writes that we are to “know nothing more among [us] except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2). In other words, the content of our preaching is to be nothing more than Christ Jesus and his crucifixion to save the world from sin. Robert Picirilli notes that this is the only topic worthy of emphasis in Paul’s preaching, and must be the case in every pastor’s preparation.[22]

Hence, a pastor only knows and emphasizes Christ and him crucified when he is engrossed in the Word of God, for it is the sole means through which pastors can know Christ Jesus. The Word of God is also how our minds are challenged and shaped to think biblically.[23] Therefore, pastors must actively be pursuing knowledge of the truth that can only be found in God’s Word, for it is the foundation of their ministry.

Second, after immersing one’s self in the Word, a pastor must internalize the truth in which he finds. Biblical meditation is not achieved unless the truths considered are internalized and lived out. In summarizing the spirituality of Leroy Forlines,[24] Barry Raper notes that little familiarity with truth does not sanctify one’s life, but “truth must be understood by the mind, embraced by the heart, and obeyed in life.”[25] In other words, the way the Bible is lived out is through the means of meditation. Meditation leads to an internalized faith that characterizes itself through the life of an individual. Therefore, pastors must probe the text as John Stott recommends – like a bee with spring blossom, a hummingbird and nectar, a dog with a bone, and a cow chewing his cud.[26]

So, meditation is more than merely reading and re-reading a text, for many can read a text and gain nothing from it. Instead, it is the internalization of the Word of God in the life and ministry of the pastor so that when he preaches Christ, lives can be changed by divine power. This internalization, however, cannot be undertaken unless the pastor has a specific time and method for Bible intake.

Bible Intake in the Preparation of Sermons

The pastor must be consciously aware of his Bible intake, for it is the source in which he can attain godliness; one cannot attain godliness unless one knows God through his Word. Thus, the pastor must be consistently engaging with the biblical text to know God. Hosea writes that he desires “the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings” (Hos. 6:6). Burnt offerings, in the Old Testament, were heartless sacrifices from the children of Israel in place of faithful obedience.[27] God delights in his children faithfully obeying him rather than them offering up burnt offering-like actions out of mere obligation. The psalmist echoes such an idea in Psalm 147: “the Lord takes pleasure in those who fear him, in those who hope in his steadfast love” (Ps. 147:11). Those who truly fear God will obey him out of reverence and awe and will seek to know him rather than do merely what is commanded in Scripture. Thus, pastors must look unto the Lord for godliness and growth that one achieves through faithful obedience

The pastor’s Bible intake, in specific regard to his sermon preparation, plays an intricate role as well. Jim Shaddix and Jerry Vines proffer that preaching is not a sermonic option, but a sacred obligation because God has spoken through his Word. Therefore, we must preserve the spoken word of God that is contained in our Bibles, so pastors might proclaim it correctly to those who listen.[28] Thus, without the foundation of Holy Scripture, pastors have no basis for proclaiming the Lord Jesus to their congregants correctly. Hence, a consistent Bible intake is necessary. The only content worth sharing in a sermon is the Word of God. It is sufficient to change hearts because it is God’s authoritative Word that is inerrant and infallible. Thus, the preacher must impregnate his sermon with the content of the Word of God because the Word alone is powerful to save sinners (Rom. 1:16-17). Unless the sermon is full of the Word of God, it is not a sermon at all. Spurgeon posits that if pastors would give their people the complete, raw truth of the Scriptures, their fruit will soon be actualized because pastors are faithfully shepherding the flock of which they have been entrusted.[29]


[1] Dane C. Ortlund. Edwards on the Christian Life: Alive to the Beauty of God (Wheaton: Crossway, 2014), 158.

[2] For further study on the soul as the full human being, see Sinclair Ferguson. Devoted to God: Blueprints for Sanctification (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 2016).; C.S. Lewis. Mere Christianity (Nashville: Harper Collins, 2001).

[3] Beeke, Reformed Preaching, 39.

[4] Carrol B. Freeman, Sr., “The Spiritual Discipline in Personal Formation” The Theological Educator 43 (Spring:1991), 94.

[5] Jerry Vines and Jim Shaddix. Power in the Pulpit: How to Prepare and Deliver Expository Sermons (Chicago: Moody, 2017), 317.

[6] Eugene Peterson. A Long Obedience in the Same Direction: Discipleship in an Instant Society (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2000), 11. (hereafter, Long Obedience)

[7] Sinclair B. Ferguson. The Whole Christ: Legalism, Antinomianism, & Gospel Assurances – Why the Marrow Controversy Still Matters (Wheaton: Crossway, 2016), 171.

[8] Bridges, The Christian Ministry, 26.

[9] David F. Wells. The Courage to Be Protestant: Truth-lovers, Marketers, and Emergents in the Postmodern World (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2008), 191.

[10] McGrath, Mere Discipleship, 4.

[11] Allen, The Preacher’s Catechism, 36.

[12] Spurgeon, Lectures, 42.

[13] J. Oswald Sanders. Spiritual Leadership: Principles of Excellence for Every Believer (Chicago: Moody, 2007), 99. (hereafter, Spiritual Leadership)

[14] Ibid.

[15] Spurgeon, Lectures, 43.

[16] Sanders, Spiritual Leadership, 100.

[17] Beeke, Reformed Preaching, 81.

[18] Freeman, “The Spiritual Disciplines in Personal Formation,” 96.

[19] Bridges, The Christian Ministry, 209.

[20] James Swanson, Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains: Hebrew (Old Testament) (Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997).

[21] Calvin, Institutes, 128.

[22] Robert E. Picirilli, “1,2 Corinthians” in The Randall House Bible Commentary (Nashville: Randall House, 1987), 28.

[23] McGrath, Mere Discipleship, 10.

[24] Forlines has much to say regarding the spirituality of one’s life through the mind, heart, and will – what he calls the “total personality.” To further review Forlines’s theological approach to spirituality, see Forlines chapter on Sanctification in The Quest For Truth (Randall House, 2001). 

[25] Barry Raper, “Sanctification and Spirituality” in The Promise of Arminian Theology: Essays in Honor of F. Leroy Forlines (Nashville: Randall House, 2016), 112.

[26] John R.W. Stott. Between Two Worlds: The Art of Preaching in the Twentieth Century (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1982), 220.

[27] Oscar F. Reed, “Hosea” in The Beacon Bible Commentary: Hosea through Malachi (Kansas City, Mo.: Beacon Hill, 1966), 55-56.

[28] Vines and Shaddix, Power in the Pulpit, 60.

[29] Spurgeon, Lectures, 78.

Book Review: The Apologetics of Leroy Forlines

Free Will Baptists owe a debt of gratitude to F. Leroy Forlines, for it is from his mind and mouth that our doctrine has been so clearly conveyed to the world. Along with Robert Picirilli, J. Matthew Pinson, and others, Forlines soars as the leading theologian for what he has coined as Classical Arminianism.

Forlines is no stranger to theological scholarship, in fact, he is the foremost theologian of Free Will Baptists. While others mentioned above are well-know and accomplished scholars, it was Forlines who has historically (that is, the last five decades or so) been the chief communicator of such truth.

This book, The Apologetics of Leroy Forlines, is festschrift-like, similar to Randall House’s publication, The Promise of Arminian Theology: Essays in Honor of F. Leroy Forlines.[1] However, it is not necessarily essays for Forlines’ honor, but a chapter of tribute from J. Matthew Pinson, arguably Forlines’ most accomplished student and mentee, and chapters reprinted from Forlines’s systematic theological work, The Quest For Truth. Therefore, this post is written for the purpose of review of this new publication, and what follows will be an honest review of positive and negatives from the book itself.

Forlines on Empiricism

In all fairness, I do not think (no would I confer that Pinson would posit as much) Forlines claims to be an apologist. However, the discipline of theology often necessitates a philosophical/apologetic type of thought process in order to systematize theological ideas and doctrine. Thus, in his own way, Forlines is an apologist of sorts because of his theology of knowledge and ethics, but also because of his epistemological approach to theology which is made manifest in his work, The Quest For Truth.

In the first chapter written by Pinson, it is made inherently obvious that Forlines does not aim for apologetic writing, but instead is in search of truth – a view of which I believe should be prioritized in the field of apologetics. In other words, Forlines’s approach to apologetics deals much with epistemology and, honestly, the critique of empirical practices to arrive at truth. Pinson notes that Forlines claims empiricism only arrives at so-called truth by what Forlines names, “sense data.”[2]

Of course, Forlines – like Francis Schaeffer – claims that every human being has an upper story and a lower story of knowledge[3]. The lower story deals with particulars – things like mathematics, science, etc. The upper story deals with universals – knowledge of God, morality, and the meaning and purpose of life. Forlines describes empiricism as a worldview that only uses lower story knowledge and never transfers to the upper story, and, thus, argues that a worldview with no upper story knowledge will never achieve knowledge of God because knowledge of God only comes through divine revelation accessed through upper story knowledge.

Forlines on General Revelation

All believers, especially those in Free Will Baptists circles, would do well to read Mr. Forlines’s commentary on Romans. His dealings with Romans 1 and General Revelation are second to none. Pinson describes Forlines’ approach to such a topic in this way:

Forlines prefers the term general revelation to the term natural revelation because all revelation from God is supernatural…So, while God has clearly revealed Himself in all of creation so that He is immediately known by every human being, this revelation is primarily an immediate knowledge of God, not one that is developed by the use of reason…General revelation makes people responsible for their moral actions before God, because they know implicitly what is right and wrong.

Forlines conveys the idea, specifically in his commentary on Romans, that human beings do not obtain such knowledge of God after an experience with Him, but instead have innate knowledge of Him (to an extent) because they are image bearers.

Forlines on Testing Worldviews

Yet, the most powerful apologetic of Leroy Forlines is not in his theological approach to revelation, but is, in my opinion, in his assertion that every worldview must be tested to see whether or not it corresponds with reality. Forlines states in The Quest for Truth, “..we dare not accept a worldview that our reason tells us fails the test of rational consistency.”[4] In a more understandable conclusion, Forlines understands that all endeavors in search of truth are not embarked upon without some presuppositions.

Forlines does not aim to show God’s existence through his apologetic approach – this would be synonymous with an evidential approach to apologetics. Instead, Forlines shows “that belief in God is reasonable.”[5] Forlines approaches this line of thinking through what he calls “Christian Rationalism” – the idea that because humanity has innate knowledge of God through general revelation, then we can form rational thoughts about God without any research.

Review and Conclusion

All in all, this book is a wonderful tribute to a brilliant mind in the Free Will Baptist tradition. However, more than a tribute, it is a testament to Forlines’s commitment truth and its discovery in every individual’s life. His quest comes from a genuine search for objective truth, not to simply have knowledge of such things. And, in order to know truth one must know the God of truth.

You can pick up a copy of this book here.


[1] Matthew Steven Bracey and W. Jackson Watts. The Promise of Arminian Theology: Essays in Honor of F. Leroy Forlines (Nashville: Randall House, 2016).

[2] Forlines uses the term “sense data” to describe the incorrect approach of empiricism which states that knowledge can only be obtained through observation and experience.

[3] J. Matthew Pinson and F. Leroy Forlines. The Apologetics of Leroy Forlines (Gallatin, TN.: Welch College Press, 2019), 4.

[4] F. Leroy Forlines. The Quest For Truth: Theology for Postmodern Times (Nashville: Randall House, 2001), 95.

[5] Pinson and Forlines, The Apologetics of Leroy Forlines, 28.