Doctrinal Preaching in Historical Perspective -- By: Daniel Doriani
TrinJ 23:1 (Spring 02) p. 35
Doctrinal Preaching in Historical Perspective
The evangelical church of North America is wary of doctrinal preaching. The reasons differ, but doctrinal instruction receives criticism from both progressive and conservative perspectives. The conservative perspective criticizes doctrinal preaching for being insufficiently engaged with Scripture. It regards doctrinal preaching as inferior to continuous preaching through texts (expository preaching) on several counts. First, preaching through Scripture is superior because it forces pastors to address the whole counsel of God, not merely what interests them. Second, sensitive topics can be addressed naturally, as they appear in sequence in the text, so there is no appearance of picking topics or picking on listeners. Third, expository preaching saves time in choosing a text and topic and doing background study each week. Fourth, hearers learn how to read Scripture by observing their pastor do so week by week. Fifth, some say expository preaching stays closer to the Word.
The progressive perspective believes that doctrinal instruction fails adequately to engage the culture or the needs of the audience. Doctrinal preaching stands accused of irrelevance, of addressing the mind but leaving the heart untouched, of being an intellectual exercise that fails to engage the real world. It is said to divide Christians, and bore them with catechisms and proof-texts.
This article will question both charges, while admitting they are not wholly groundless. Three observations are pertinent at the outset. First, the relevance of some theological work is hidden. In reading Christology, we might encounter speculative theology, considering possible mechanisms for the union of the two natures of Christ, or historical theology, treating the progress of the church toward the Nicene and Chalcedonian councils. But as useful as these concerns are when the church confronts heresy, they do not immediately demonstrate the principal uses of biblical truth. Second, there is a class of theologian—Duns Scotus and G. C. Berkouwer come to mind—who seem detached from life. They eschew the language of personal commitment, the first and second person pronouns. Their theology is purely descriptive. They declare
TrinJ 23:1 (Spring 02) p. 36
themselves, but they do not enlist themselves. They say, “This is the best theory” but they do not add, “I also believe this and commend it to you.”1 Third, where doctrine is obviously practical, we can apply it unimaginatively. God’s omniscience means he knows all our needs and God’s omnipresence means we can pray to him whe...
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