Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Why Sequential Exposition?

This blog (named for the latin of "sequential exposition") has existed for 174 days and yet I have not really made my case for "Why sequential exposition should be the preferred method of exposition." One reason I have not done this is that manufacturing the argument intimidates me some. Much like my room rarely but occasionally (mom and dad usually dropped the hammer before then) would get so messy in my adolescence, that when I finally decided (read: was ordered) to clean it, the most difficult part was standing in the room figuring out where to start.

Quite frankly, there's many ways to skin this cat.

But since I actually consider cat skinning a public service, I will give this an initial introductory attempt, and then seek to build on it from here.

1. I had considered laying out all the advantages to sequential exposition, but I've already started that process. It can be read here and I hope to continue to add to it. (If some of the pastors I have requested from ever check out this blog...yes, I'm still waiting for your list!)

2. I also considered an autobiographical series explaining how I have been transformed from arrogant, self-absorbed, glory stealing story teller to one who delights in the power not being mine but God's. I have come to understand what "preach the Word," "not coming with cleverness of speech," and "having nothing to boast in, save the cross" truly mean, and lectio continua has been an essential element in that development. Not only has the congregation benefited from lectio continua, but a specific member of the congregation (read: me, the preacher) has benefited the most. This series may come down the road, but not at this point.

3. If lectio continua (sequential exposition) is all about letting the Word speak, how can you advocate this form above others when the Scriptures do not do that? I'm summarizing a series of questions asked, but it also must (I would hope) become the question that every faithful preacher asks. If my methodology comes from a source outside the Scriptures, do I then make that source in authority to the Scriptures? Therefore, we must ask the question, do the Scriptures give any examples or commandments that tell us we should be doing lectio continua?

Just some "quick hit thoughts"

1. I think there are Biblical examples. Nehemiah 8 is a glorious example. Ezra stands up and reads from the book of the law. The Levites "explained the law" (8:7) and were "translating to give the sense so that they understood the reading" (8:8). Clearly, Ezra is reading through the text, for it isn't until the second day that the people come to Leviticus 23. In that context then, we realize that Nehemiah 9 is not merely a retelling of the history of Israel, but is the response of the people after walking through the Word of God. Clearly, Ezra (as one who had "set his heart to study the law of the Lord and to practice it and to teach His statutes and ordinances in Israel--Ezra 7:10) was not just teaching what he knew, but had instructed the teachers to work through the Law. For some time later (Nehemiah 13:1-3) they come to Deuteronomy 23. It seems that Ezra embraced lectio continua and encouraged the teachers to do likewise. However, this is just one example (of many, I believe...including the example of our Savior) but examples could be simply descriptive, not it doesn't quite make the case.

2. I believe Paul solemnly charged Timothy to do it. When I read 2 Timothy 4:1-5 the most simple reading leads me to lectio continua. Paul does not tell him to "preach portions of the Word" or "back your beliefs with the Word." He does not even tell Timothy to "preach the portion of the Word that you think people need on that particular week." In fact, his exhortation toward "in season and out" I believe speaks to more than just a commitment to always preaching the Word, but also speaks to a commitment to a particular text, even if our human wisdom leads us to believe it may not be "relevant" right now. Of course, I am willing to admit this is based upon debatable exegesis (to which this small paragraph does not give justice) so this argument could be ignored as well.

3. But ultimately, I don't believe I have to make such a case.

While I believe I can show examples of lectio continua from the Scriptures and though I do believe that is the nature of Paul's command to Timothy, I do not believe the Scriptures had to state "Preach thou verseth by verseth" nor that I must show how Galatians is actually an exposition of 2 Samuel (it's not, by the way) to make my case for lectio continua. Ultimately, I think the argument that I must prove examples and exhortations from Scripture to make it permissible (or even to be favored) is slightly flawed thinking. Here are a few reasons (again, I attempt to keep them brief) why I would make such a claim:

This is a different era. This is not a statement of covenants or dispensations, but merely an acknowledgment of Hebrews. The author states:

God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world. And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power. When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much better than the angels, as He has inherited a more excellent name than they.--Hebrews 1:1-4
"Now wait," one may protest, "that only makes a distinction between the periods of preincarnate Christ and incarnate Christ!" First, I merely list that reference to establish that distinctions should be made, but would turn to the second chapter to show another:
For this reason we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away from it. For if the word spoken through angels proved unalterable, and every transgression and disobedience received a just penalty, how will we escape if we neglect so great a salvation? After it was at the first spoken through the Lord, it was confirmed to us by those who heard, God also testifying with them, both by signs and wonders and by various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit according to His own will.
One cannot help but notice the us and them language employed in this passage. Clearly, there is not just a distinction between Old and New Testament guys but between us and Apostles. Therefore, if an Apostle had authority and revelation to speak (or write) to a church body without walking through a particular text, I should not simply assume I have equal authority to do so.

It betrays the purpose of Scripture. In one of my favorite passages of Scripture, Jesus explains the purpose of the Word of God:
"You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is these that testify about Me; and you are unwilling to come to Me so that you may have life."--John 5:39-40
If I seek to turn the Bible into a "how to" preaching manual, I miss the intention of the Scripture. Even in the above example from Nehemiah 8, the lesson is not just to obey the Lord by observing the Feast of Booths, but that feast was to direct the people to the God who will "tabernacle" among them (John 1:14). Therefore, Paul does not explain what he means (or his method) toward preaching the whole counsel of God's Word to the Ephesians during his 3.5 year ministry (Acts 20:27). Since Luke's agenda (nor the Holy Spirits) was not to explain how Paul did this, but merely that he did, we must be careful to assume we have all the evidence before us to know how he did do it.

It betrays the logic of literature. Frankly, an appeal for a verse by verse exposition of the text in favor of lectio continua makes the case itself. (Confusing sentence, I know, but hang with me.) An appeal for lectio continua from a text makes the case for lectio continua.

If I pulled one word from fifteen separate verses to construct a sentence stating we should do lectio continua, I would be distorting the text. Similarly, if I produced one sentence from five different texts to produce a paragraph that seemed to support lectio continua, I would be accused (rightly so) of distorting/ignoring context. Why? Because we understand the nature of literature. It is written with sequential thought. The "Therefore" of Romans 12:1 loses its purpose if I ignore all preceding texts. This applies to all literature, not just to Scripture. I would not receive a letter from my wife (or even an email) and determine where I felt like starting...I would start at the beginning. Likewise, a student does not receive a book in English class and begin reading wherever he/she feels, but starts at the beginning of the book. Even in a work that is a compilation (which may therefore allow for various starting places), we begin at a chapter beginning or at the beginning of the article. (Even this blog, for instance. You may have become bored and skipped portions of this article...if you are still even reading to this point...but if something becomes confusing, you will naturally go back and read that which you skipped...knowing I may be building on a previous argument.)

Now Scripture is certainly more than just literature, but it is also most certainly not less. God chose to reveal Himself in written form, and therefore has even ordained the basic laws to literature as part of His means of communication. That's why He starts His revelation at the beginning with "In the beginning..."

Again, I am not advocating that any sermon which is not sequential exposition is not glorifying to God or useful to the saints. (In the comment section of my previous article, I lay out that I do not always use sequential exposition.) Certainly, for an occasional preacher, or a regular preacher in a unique environment, anything he preaches is without surrounding context. However, I simply do not understand why a regular preacher of the text believes he is being faithful to the text when he continually preaches whatever topic or text he feels he should, rather than walking through a book of the Bible as the author (human and Divine) intended it be read. I do not believe I need chapter and verse to make this assertion, for I believe it is an understood conclusion when God chose to have men record His revelation in written form.

This was not intended to close the argument, but could be seen as my opening statements. In short, I've sought to cut the feline into fillets, perhaps in future posts I'll seek to deep fry some of these thoughts.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Steadfast Trust in the Word of the Lord

But the man of God said to the king, " If you were to give me half your house I would not go with you, nor would I eat bread or drink water in this place. "For so it was commanded me by the word of the LORD, saying, 'You shall eat no bread, nor drink water, nor return by the way which you came.'" So he went another way and did not return by the way which he came to Bethel.--1 Kings 13:8-10

Though we know very little about the man of God, if the story ended here, we'd have a pretty impressive situation. He boldly preaches to Jeroboam, stands there as he threatens him, and sticks to his guns even after the king seems to repent. God has told him to get out of Israel and get back to Judah. Certainly, he seems convinced of the Word of the Lord.

However, an older prophet hears of his encounter and runs to intercept him. He invites the prophet to to come to his house and dine with him. At first, the prophet stands his ground, explaining the word he received from the Lord. However, the older prophet assures him that an angel also spoke to him, and told him to bring the man of God home with him. 1 Kings 13:18 tells us, "But he lied to him." Trusting the older prophet, the man of God relents, and heads to his home for food and water.

The result is shocking:

and he cried to the man of God who came from Judah, saying, "Thus says the LORD, 'Because you have disobeyed the command of the LORD, and have not observed the commandment which the LORD your God commanded you, but have returned and eaten bread and drunk water in the place of which He said to you, "Eat no bread and drink no water"; your body shall not come to the grave of your fathers.'"--1 Kings 13:21-22

This time, the old prophet does speak the word of the Lord. When the man of God left, he was attacked and killed by a lion. The old prophet goes and retrieves the body and buries him in his own grave.

So the lying prophet receives no punishment. He admires the man of God, for he even requests that his sons bury him in the same grave, once he has died. But the Scriptures do not record for us when that happened. We see no sign of this old prophet being punished for deceiving the man of God.

But the man of God, who stood boldly before the king, refused to stay with the king when he appeared to repent, and yet was fooled by the lie of another prophet? He is killed by a lion. Showing how this was the judgment of God, the lion did not even eat his body, or kill the donkey he had ridden. But he wasn't killed for believing another prophet. He was killed for doubting the Word of the Lord he had received.

But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him. But he must ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind. For that man ought not to expect that he will receive anything from the Lord, being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.James 1:5-8

It would be so easy to throw stones at this man of God, if not for my own need for spiritual Dramamine. Lately, I began to question my ability to preach. However, this was not concern over my qualifications, study habits or delivery. I began to question the process of exposition. Are all the nay-sayers correct that it simply doesn't work today? (Yes, though the blog is titled lectiocontinua in honor of a passion of mine, I began to wonder if my zeal wasn't placed in the wrong area.)

I have received skepticism from other pastors regarding the "relevance" of exposition. Recently, I had begun to deal with some murmurs within our congregation regarding the effectiveness of exposition. Now, on my vacation, I sat in my cabin assessing three messages I had spoken to fifth, sixth and seventh graders. As I sat there, I was convinced that I was failing. These kids needed more than exposition. What I was given them simply wasn't working.

God would have been perfectly justified to maul me with a lion at that point. (Though in central Wisconsin, a giant mosquito may have been more appropriate.) It would have been an act of grace. He could have simply taken this waffler home.

However, he began to do something else. First, since I have taken Dr. Keith's preacher's challenge, I started my Wednesday morning with this chapter in 1 Kings. Next, I preached a message from Ephesians 1 to the students (on the glory of God's grace). Shortly after the session (and lunch) I then entered into a meeting with all the camp counselors. I waited through a lot of administrative discussion and detail before the man in charge opened the floor to discuss the sessions. There was a brief silence (which felt like years to me, I was just sure no one wanted to speak for they had nothing to say), and then a couple counselors spoke up. There words were gracious and kind. Then others began to speak. The counselors became energized as they began to discuss the conversations they were having with young people. Their compliments were not the "great illustrations," "you're really funny," "my kids liked the story about..." type comments. These were comments about how the kids were engaged, growing and getting it.

And at that point it hit me, "I am that double-minded man." Exposition of Scripture is not a method. It is not simply a way that some men like to preach. I have not fallen into this method simply because it saves time (though I don't waste time wondering "What do I preach next?" I would suggest steady exposition, particularly sequential exposition requires more study time) or because it fits my lack of creativity. The Lord reminded me that I have come to be an expositor for theological reasons. It is the Word of the Lord, I should not doubt it.

I sat there amazed. God had granted me a grace He was not required to give. My motivation for preaching should not be results or affirmation from anyone other than the Lord. The power is not in me, but in His Word. I preached the rest of the week with joy. I returned home renewed to my commitment to exposition. I even found myself longing for a chance to show a nay-sayer that this is a theological issue not methodological. I longed for the chance to help them see the power of the Word of God.

I am sure I will continue to doubt my abilities as a preacher. But I pray to God that He does not allow me to again doubt the power of His Word plainly spoken. He has given me sixty-six books of His wisdom. I should not doubt them.

And most of all, I am thankful for the One who did not believe the lies, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously (1 Peter 2:23), remaining steadfast all the way to the cross to ensure my salvation!

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

The Bible (you choose) Makes a Difference

While I write, edit, rewrite, edit.... my next post, I thought I would post a link to a pastoral article I wrote our church to try to explain why I prefer (and thus our church uses) the NASB.

Understanding the NIV-NASB Thingy

While I do think an essential part of Biblically faithful preaching is using a Biblically faithful translation. Personally, I do think it is a great aide to a pastor if he preaches from a word-for-word translation, rather than a dynamic equivalence.

And how amazing that we have so many choices in that area! Truly a grace from God!