Biblical illiteracy is a widespread problem that manifests itself in several ways. The basic nuts and bolts Bible knowledge of key stories, people, and concepts is much less common. People have little patience for the parts that are difficult to understand, let alone the parts that are clear and offensive.
What are you going to do about this, Pastor?
If you are the primary preaching pastor of your church, you may not have time to teach a Bible study methods class for your church. You may not have time to disciple some members one-on-one in biblical interpretation. The primary focus of your time and energy, rightly spent, will be given to your Sunday sermon.
That doesn’t mean, however, that you have less of a platform to raise your church’s Bible IQ. The pulpit is the bow of the ship; it points in the direction you are leading like nothing else that happens at the church. Your Sunday sermon provides an integral opportunity to fight biblical illiteracy in your church, especially if you will give yourself to expository preaching. Here are three ways:
1. Expository preaching provides biblical vocabulary.
Because expository preaching tends to plod through books of the Bible, passage-by-passage, it doesn’t take very long before you run into a “Bible word.” Atonement. Sanctification. Grace. Sin. As you travel through a series, you will have plenty of opportunities to define terms and explain themes. Preaching through a book one passage at a time makes it impossible for you to avoid building your church’s biblical vocabulary.
Out of fear of running seekers out of their church, some pastors avoid “Bible words.” I understand the desire not to be an unnecessary stumbling block for people beginning to explore Christianity. But where is it better for someone new to Christianity to encounter Bible words? While they are reading on their own, where they have no one to define it for them, or in your preaching, where you can readily supply a definition? As you run into these words and concepts you have the opportunity to explain them, increasing their ability to understand the Bible when they read it on their own.
2. Expository preaching models how to read.
Another characteristic of expository preaching is the habit of working through the verses of the passage to arrive at an overall understanding of it. This provides your church with weekly examples of how to come to an interpretation of a passage on their own. Bible study methods are “caught” this way, though not explicitly “taught.” People go home and read their Bibles influenced by your preaching.
There are many pastors, however, who preach through books passage-by-passage, but do not work through the passages themselves on a weekly basis. In this case, the order of the book provides the outline for the themes the pastor will cover. This is good. But since the pastor doesn’t develop those themes from the verses in the text, such a style of preaching will fail to teach believers how to read a passage on their own. They can’t “catch” how the pastor arrived at his main idea.
A motto for expository preaching is “the message of the text determines the message of the sermon.” But it takes a style of expository preaching that goes the next step of showing how the individual verses of the text point to the overall message for people to reader their Bible better.
3. Expository preaching constructs a biblical worldview.
Expository preaching not only prioritizes preaching the main message of the passage, but also locating that passage within the framework of the Bible’s storyline and overall message of redemption in Christ. As we do this, we provide a biblical worldview. Why is worldview a necessary aspect of biblical literacy?
Say a 9th grader cracks open his older sister’s college level biology textbook. He is able to read the words, but cannot assimilate the information because he is three years behind on the necessary framework. In the same way, Christians are decreasingly able to take what they know from the Bible and assimilate it into a thoroughly biblical worldview. Especially with folks under the age of thirty, a relativistic way of thinking is the default. Far too often someone reads the Bible or learns something in church, and naturally assimilates it into their secular worldview.
Expository preaching—the kind that preaches the details of the text, not just the overall message—shows not only what the Bible teaches, but also why the Bible teaches it, and how the Bible builds its argument for it. Beyond that, the preacher places the passage within the breadth of the Bible’s storyline, showing how this small part fits into the big picture. The result is that Christians grow in their discernment, and are equipped to distinguish that which is biblical compared to that which comes from a secular relativistic way of thinking.
Don’t forget to aim at the heart
Based on everything I’ve said so far, I could be accused of espousing a lecture style of preaching that leaves people full of information, but empty of passion. I intend nothing of the sort. The preacher has not done his job until he hits people in their hearts.
Therefore, if we will inspire our church to put their biblical literacy to good use, and actually read the Bible, we must marry principled exposition of God’s word with passion for God’s glory, heartfelt pleas to believe the gospel, and joy in the Lord Jesus Christ.