MD = Mark Dever
PJ = Phillip Jensen
MD: Im going to reveal something shocking about Phillip Jensen. You told me that you dont believe in expositional preaching.
[In fact, Jensen calls it Explicatory Preaching.]
PJ: No. Absolutely. I used to. But it was like being an evangelical. Its a useless thing to be. When words reach the stage where everybody claims them, then words reach the stage where they dont mean anything. Who is an evangelical is Protestantism these days? Everybodys an evangelical, and if everyones an evangelical, nobodys an evangelical. By and large I didnt create this word, but I think most evangelicals are really evanjellyfish. Theyre just spineless people hanging on to a conceptual word that will bring them into the crowd and that just misses the point. Persecution does clarify things, and when a particular group becomes dominant, you pick up a lot of fellow travelers, who are not really doing, who are not really believing the same thing. Well, expositional preaching is like that. I have not found a Protestant minister who has told me that they do not expound the scriptures. Even people who speak topically every time think they expound the scriptures. So therefore, exposition and expounding is now lost.
MD: Did you agree with what I said [in the Nine Marks of a Healthy Church booklet] about preaching, or are you talking about something different?
PJ: No, its that kind of thing. I like it. Its that dynamic view that you have in there that I like. Its not a formula, its not a formatyou do these three things and thats exposition. You can hear different people doing it very differently. John Stott, Dick Lucas, two English preachers who never sound even vaguely alike yet theyre both doing it. John Stott will tell you the structure of the passage and give you three points thats there and when you see the three points, youre enabled never to read that passage again without seeing the three points and youre sure that the Apostle Paul had them written on on his pad, and then John Stotts got the pad, the notes, and the outline, and its all structured. Dick Lucas, he just wanders all over the passage and you dont know where hes going and then suddenly he pulls one phrase out, and then, with that phrase, you see what the whole thing is about. Its a different way of preaching. Exposition is notIve got the book open, or Im following this formula, or Ive read all the commentaries. A commentary sermon is terribly boring. Explication is to explain what the passage itself is saying.
MD: Any advice for young pastors trying to shift the congregation from topical to explicatory [preaching]?
Some complaints are that its too heavy or boring
PJ: If theyre just out of college, theyre boring. If youre not boring just out of college, you didnt learn enough in college. Its when youre five years out and youre still boring that youve got a problem. I know my blokes coming out of college are a bit heavy; Im more worried about them coming out of college and being a bit lite. Thats a bigger problem, cause in five years theyre dead boring. The age is one thing. Say theyre out a few yearstheres a few factors involved. If youre trying to woo a congregation onto this, you must see it as part of the ministry youre exercising, and its important that you love the people youre speaking to and that they learn to love you. There are certain issues in ministry that youre going to be fighting about. Therefore, you mustnt fight over the ones you dont have to fight about. Youve got to choose which hill youre going to be dying on. I think expounding the scriptures is the hill to die on. So I wouldnt go for negotiation over that. But if I were going to die on that hill, I really have to win them over on everything else I can win them over on. And if that means that Ive got to go and kiss babies and Ive got to go and pet dogs (and I hate dogsits not mutualdogs love me, for breakfast, lunch and dinnerany time), but thats their life, theyre the people God has entrusted to my care and Ive got to care for them, really and properly. If they know that I love them, they are much more willing to listen to my leadership when I say weve got to start listening to the Bible and stop playing superficial games on pop psychology. When I actually do preach, Ive got to be really good. To really be better, it may be that I have to compromise on the length of time. Theres nothing expositoryan explicatory preacher doesnt have to preach for 50 minutes whereas a topical preacher can do it in five. It may be that youve gotbeing married is key at this point, because your wife will tell youyouve got to learn how long you can genuinely preach for and hold the interest of the congregation. You need some people in the congregation to tell you that at 35 minutes they were all fidgeting or at 20 minutes there was actually nobody listening anymore, sounds to me like youre a 20 minute preacher and you need to make sure you succeed in 20 minutes. Rather than feeling like Dr. Lloyd-Jones preached for 45 minutes and therefore I must preach for 45 minutes, that thats the magic part of the process. Ive got to seduce and woo people into hearing the Word of God, then Ive got to avoid the commentaries. Commentaries are a very useful tool, but they can be deadening on preachers. Youve got to spend more time in the text, more time thinking about the Bible yourself, and less time answering all the problems that the commentators have. The commentaries are written by a group of scholars who are talking to each other, and they raise questions and answer questions, and the debate has been moving on, and its been running for about a hundred years or so. It is not where the person in the pew is asking any questions, and its often not what the text of the Scripture is saying either.
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