There seems to be an epidemic among American Evangelical pastors and preachers today. It is called P.W.I. (Preaching While Intoxicated). We have pulpits filled with what Pastor David Helm of Holy Trinity Church of Chicago calls, “the inebriated preacher.” Such a preacher uses the Bible in much the same way a drunk uses a lamp post for support instead of illumination. In other words, the preacher uses the Bible to preach his own message rather than let the Bible use him to preach God’s message.
Expository preaching, on the other hand, seeks to understand the original meaning of the text and convey that meaning faithfully. Here is a brief definition:
“Expository preaching is a form of preaching that details the meaning of a particular text or passage of Scripture. It explains what the Bible means by what it says. Exegesis is technical and grammatical exposition, a careful drawing out of the exact meaning of a passage in its original context.”
Why Expositional Preaching is so important – Mark Dever
The inebriated preacher is not concerned with the context, authorial intent, or the original meaning of the passage or verse. Instead, he pulls verses out of context to support his message. This is seen in pastors who largely preach topical sermons instead of preaching through books of the Bible. For instance, a pastor preaches a series on “Overcoming Doubt.” He then goes through the Bible to find all the scriptures that mention doubt. In reality, he is using the Bible to support his own message about doubt. Many of the verses used in his sermon can only be rightly understood in their immediate context. By taking them out of their context and using them to support his own message on doubt is dangerous. What results is a form of Biblical illiteracy among the congregation who never really learn about the Bible, but instead, learn what a preacher says about the Bible. This type of preaching produces scattered Christians who are doctrinally and theologically all over the board. The Bible is taught in such a piecemeal kind of way that the Christian never truly grasps the rich and deep life changing doctrines that are only found when preaching through the Bible book by book.
Many of these preachers are successful not because they are good preachers, but simply due to their giftedness as a speaker. A good speaker does not equal a good preacher. Although they know how to work the crowd and keep the audience on the edge of their seats, their preaching lacks the power of the Spirit to bring about the true transformation that has long lasting effects. This is due to the fact that they are not preaching the Word, but using the Word to preach their own message.
The Inebriated Preacher – Pastor David Helm
Inebriated vs. Expositional Preaching
This is not a critique of the person, but of the sermon. Since pastors put their sermons out publicly on websites and iTunes then they should expect and actually welcome critique and examination to see if they hold up to the light of scripture. Below is a comparison between inebriated preaching vs. expositional preaching. Both preachers use the same text, but the results are worlds apart. One is faithful to the text; while the other unfortunately is not. Inebriated preaching uses the text as a springboard for the sermon, never to be returned to the text again.
It is also worthy to note that the two preachers come from two different schools of theology. One is a Pentecostal preacher; the other a Reformed Baptist preacher. Therefore, they will inevitably approach the text from two different perspectives. To help the reader determine which perspective is most accurate, listen to what the prominent Assembly of God theologian Gordon Fee has to say:
“Two observations should be made about hermeneutics within the traditional Pentecostal movement. First, their attitude toward Scripture regularly has included a general disregard for scientific exegesis and carefully thought-out hermeneutics. In fact, hermeneutics has simply not been a Pentecostal thing. Scripture is the word of God and is to be obeyed. In place of scientific hermeneutics there developed a kind of pragmatic hermeneutics— obey what should be taken literally; spiritualize, allegorize, or devotionalize the rest.”
Fee, Gordon D. (1991-10-01). Gospel and Spirit: Issues in New Testament Hermeneutics (pp. 85-86). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
Fee, Gordon D. (1991-10-01). Gospel and Spirit: Issues in New Testament Hermeneutics (p. 86). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
Below are two excerpts from two different sermons based on 2 Corinthians 2:12-14. One preacher is preaching through a series on the Will of God, the other is preaching through the Book of 2nd Corinthians. What is 2 Corinthians 2:12-14 really about? Is it about finding the Will of God? Or is it about something completely different?
“When I came to Troas to preach the gospel of Christ, even though a door was opened for me in the Lord, my spirit was not at rest because I did not find my brother Titus there. So I took leave of them and went on to Macedonia. But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere. For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life.” (2 Corinthians 2:12-16)
The Main Text 2 Corinthians 2:12-14:
The first preacher -This preacher told his audience to listen to what Paul said to the Corinthians church about the directional will of God. But, in reality, Paul never said anything about the directional will of God to the church of Corinth because the passage is not about the directional will of God. Romans 12:1-2 is about the will of God, but not 2 Corinthians 2:12-14. I am not even sure if there is a Theological category called the “Direction Will of God”?
He also seems to be somewhat confused about the text. The account recorded in Acts 16 of Paul’s journey to Troas, by way of the “Macedonian Call”, is completely different from the account recorded in 2 Corinthians 2:12-14. These two events are separated by several years. But strangely the preacher connects these two events as if they were one continuous journey. And this was apparently necessary to support the subject of his sermon which is the directional will of God. Listen to the preacher’s own words at minute 12:17 in the full sermon listed at the end of this post. He quotes 2 Corinthians 2:12-13 and then makes the following statement:
“So he gets to Troas, first he wants to go left into Asia and God says no, then he wants to go right into Bithynia and God says no, then he gets to Troas and says “surely this is an open door from the Lord. But still, it says he didn’t have a peace. He said I couldn’t get a peace, though it seemed like a good thing, even though it seemed like a good thing I still kept going. He said Titus wasn’t there so he said goodbye to them and went on to Macedonia”
Acts 16:6-12 and 2 Corinthians 2:14 are separated by several years. In Acts 16 Paul received the Macedonian call while on his second missionary journey with Silas. He answers that call and ends up in Philippi. In Philippi, we see the conversion of Lydia and the Philippian jailer. Then in Acts 17 Paul, Silas, and Timothy go to Thessalonica, then to Berea, and finally to Athens. Then in Acts 18 Paul finally arrives at Corinth where he stayed for eighteen months (Acts 18:11). Then in Acts 19, Paul ends up in the city of Ephesus where he wrote 1 Corinthians. A year later he wrote 2 Corinthians from Macedonia. Based on these facts alone, the above account given by the pastor would be impossible. Any careful student of the Word of God would not have made this mistake. One of the qualifications of an elder is the ability to teach and rightly handle the word of truth, something this pastor failed to do.
On a side note, he also used the historical narrative of Acts, and Paul’s missionary journey, as support for finding the directional will of God. But Paul was not seeking the will of God, he was determined to go to a certain city and God stopped him dead in his tracks. He received a vision, a direct revelation from God with specific instructions to go to Macedonia while he was in Troas. There is no scriptural evidence that Paul had no peace while in Troas. The text never states that Paul was seeking and groping and asking God for direction. The Acts narrative is descriptive of what happened to Paul, it’s not meant to be normative for the Christian life. If so, then shouldn’t all of Acts to be normative for Christians life today? And if that is the case, then why do we pay airfare when we travel instead of seeking to be supernaturally transported as Philip was in Acts 8:39? This is just one example of how the inebriated preacher uses the Bible to support his own message.
The second preacher, This preacher, on the other hand, took the time to carefully draw out the exact meaning of the passage in its original context and then applied it to his immediate audience. The passage in 2 Corinthians 2:12-14 is about Paul being deeply troubled and concerned about whether or not his severe letter he wrote was successful in bringing about true repentance among the Corinthian church. It was not about finding God’s directional will. Here is an excerpt from an introduction to 2nd Corinthians from the website Biblica:
“After writing the severe letter, Paul had second thoughts. He was deeply concerned about how the Corinthians might react to it. So after the riot caused by Demetrius and his fellow silversmiths (see Ac 19:23–41), he left Ephesus and set out for Macedonia by way of Troas. He expected to meet Titus in Troas to get news of the effect of his severe letter to the Corinthian church, but Titus was not there (see 2Co 2:12–13). Still deeply concerned and despite the fact that the Lord had opened up an opportunity to preach the gospel at Troas, Paul said goodbye to the believers there and moved on to Macedonia, where he met Titus. To his relief, the news from the Corinthian church was basically good. The severe letter had brought its intended results (7:5–16). The encouraging report of Titus of the improved situation at Corinth is the immediate occasion of the writing of 2 Corinthians.”
Another example of inebriated preaching is pulling scripture out of its original context to support the sermon. Here the preacher quotes a passage from Romans to show that those who know the will of God will be led by the Spirit of God. “For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God.” (Romans 8:14). But these passages have nothing to do with finding the will of God
Led By The Spirit
What does Paul mean when he says “Those who are led by the Spirit of God are the Children of God?” Does this mean those who are led to speak to someone, to live in a certain city, to take a certain job, or to date a specific person, etc? Is that what Paul means by “those who are led by the Spirit of God”? The contrast that Paul uses in this verse is between a believer and a non-believer. Believers are led by the Spirit of God and non-believers are led by the desires of the flesh. So this verse is not teaching on the directional will of God, but on putting to death the deeds of the old nature.
John Piper explains (Full Sermon Here)
It is pretty clear that the verse “Those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God” refers to the previous verse within the context of Romans 8. Those who are led to kill their sin by the power of the Spirit are the true children of God. This verse has nothing to do with finding the directional will for your life. But, this is par for the course for most inebriated preachers who use the Bible to preach their own message.
Another problem with inebriated preaching is that it provides answers that are not grounded in scripture. For example, according to the preacher, the way to find the directional will of God is to have peace about the situation. Peace is the determining factor on whether or not this is the will of God. And to support this idea the preacher resorts to verses that speak about peace. These again are pulled out of context to support the inebriated preachers sermon.
Should we look for inner peace as God’s confirmation?
What does Colossians 3:14-15 have to do with finding the directional will of God? The context of this chapter is about putting off the old self and putting on the new self which is made after the image of Christ. The peace of Christ in this passage is not about finding the will of God but about maintaining unity and getting along with other believers.
“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13 Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14 And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. 15 Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.” (Colossians 3:12-15)
Also, Paul was not struggling with inner peace regarding God’s directional will while in Troas. This passage has nothing to do with Paul struggling with peace or trying to find confirmation regarding God’s direction. As we have already seen, Paul was concerned about the Corinthian church and when Titus did not show up Paul decided to go to Macedonia to find Titus.
And what about peace? Is it really the determining factor for finding the directional will of God? Here is an excerpt from ab article entitled Can Inner Peace be Misleading:
If most of us are honest, we tend to believe that God will give us a special peace before we discern what His will is. We say things like, “I just didn’t have a peace about it,” or, “I’m really waiting on God’s peace before I make that decision.” I fear that this approach is more closely linked to our deceitful desires than we are willing to admit. We want to believe that God is good, but have a hard time hearing him when we’re not at peace. C.S. Lewis says it this way in The Problem of Pain,
“We cannot therefore know that we are acting at all, or primarily, for God’s sake, unless the material of the action is contrary to our inclinations, or (in other words) painful … the full acting out of the self’s surrender to God therefore demands pain.”
It’s not wrong to long for peace, but it is theologically incorrect to use it as a compass to discover God’s will. We cannot follow Christ faithfully unless we are following Him into the world’s pain, tension and aching complexity. We must remember we follow a King who enters a broken world, then willingly chooses the Cross (John 10:17-18). And for us, this means tension is normal and comfort may be concerning. Living in the hard places of life exposes one’s faith and character, and can allow it to deepen or cause it to die away. Sometimes waiting for peace can keep us from where God is asking us to be.
Listen to what Pastor Voddie Baucham says about this issues of peace and the will of God:
Peace and the Will of God – Voddie Baucham (Full Sermon Here)
Peace really has nothing to do with finding the will of God. Jesus did not experience peace in the Garden of Gethsemane when he sweat great drops of blood in agony as he prayed to his Father regarding the will of God. This kind of preaching is very popular among mega-churches in America today. It is man-centered preaching that uses the bible to preach its own message. It is void of any real depth and void of the Gospel itself. The glorious gospel of Jesus Christ was never addressed in this sermon. If all scripture is about Christ, and it is, then faithful expositional preaching should have the Person and Work of Christ as its goal in our preaching. Preaching should do two things, expose our sinful fallen condition, and show us how Christ meets that need in the Gospel.
Dr. Bryan Chapell writes the following concerning the purpose of the sermon:
Until we have determined a passage’s purpose, we are not ready to preach its truths, even if we know many true facts about the text. Yet as obvious as this advice is, it is frequently neglected. Preachers often think they are ready to preach when they see a doctrinal subject reflected in a passage, though they have not yet determined the text’s specific purpose. For example, simply recognizing that a passage contains features that support the doctrine of justification by faith alone does not adequately prepare a pastor to preach. A sermon is not just a systematics lesson. Why did the biblical writer bring up the subject of justification at this point? What were the struggles, concerns, or frailties of the persons to whom the text was originally addressed? Were the people claiming salvation based on their accomplishments, were they doubting the sufficiency of grace, or were they afraid of God’s rejection because of some sin? We must determine the purpose (or burden) of a passage before we really know the subject of a sermon.
We do not have to guess whether there is a purpose for a particular text. The Bible assures us that every passage has a purpose, and it clearly tells us the basic nature of this purpose. The apostle Paul writes, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16-17). The Greek terms that Paul uses to express our need to be thoroughly equipped convey the idea of bringing to completion. God intends for his Word to “complete” us so that we can serve his good purposes. That is why the translators of the King James Version interpreted verse 17 of the passage as “that the man of God may be perfect.” God intends for every portion of his Word (i.e., “all Scripture”) to make us more like him so that his glory is reflected in us.
Since God designed the Bible to complete us for the purposes of his glory, the necessary implication is that in some sense we are incomplete. We lack the equipment required for every good work. Our lack of wholeness is a consequence of the fallen condition in which we live. Aspects of this fallenness that are reflected in our sinfulness and in our world’s brokenness prompt Scripture’s instruction and construction.8 Paul writes, “Everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope” (Rom. 15:4).
The corrupted state of our world and our beings cries for God’s aid. He responds with the truths of Scripture and gives us hope by focusing his grace on a facet of our fallen condition in every portion of his Word. No text was written merely for those in the past; God intends for each passage to give us the “endurance and the encouragement”we need today (cf. l Cor.10:13). Preaching that is true to these purposes (1) focuses on the fallen condition that necessitated the writing of the passage and (2) uses the text’s features to explain how the Holy Spirit addresses that concern then and now. The Fallen Condition Focus (FCF) is the mutual human condition that contemporary believers share with those for or by whom the text was written that requires the grace of the passage to manifest God’s glory in his people.
Another area of concern is the fact that Christians, who are called to rightly divide the word of truth and study to show themselves approved, can sit under this kind of preaching and yet have absolutely no discernment as to whether or not their pastor is preaching the Bible, or his own message.
If you are sitting under the kind of preaching where the preacher is using the text to preach his own message then I would recommend that you find another church. Find a church where the pastor seeks to faithfully preach through full books of the Bible rather than his favorite topic. Only then will you grow in your faith and be strengthened by the preaching of the Gospel.
You can hear both of these sermons in their entirety below and you can determine for yourself which one is being faithful to the text. As you listen to both sermons take note of how the preachers deal with this passage as well:
“But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere. 15 For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, 16 to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life” (2 Corinthians 2:14–16).
The inebriated preacher uses this verse out of context to support his idea of the directional will of God. But this verse has absolutely nothing to do with the directional will of God. As you listen see if you can determine what this verse really means.
The Directional Will of God – 2 Corinthians 2:12-14