Dying to Preach
Apply Liberally?: How Application Can Misrepresent Scripture
But we no longer teach this.
The shift is subtle but plain. We have moved from teaching, painting (illustrating with attractiveness), and persuading to explaining, arguing, and applying. Application, most notably, has replaced exhortation. But are they one and the same? Isn't it possible to apply something to someone's life and not exhort them to do it? Has "specific application" displaced a biblical precedent to compel and challenge?
My personal theology of preaching demands that it is the work of the Spirit, through a clear conduit, that effects change in the listener. The Spirit gives witness to Christ who causes change. So, we who promote exposition understand that it is not my words, my application or exhortation that does the work that only the Spirit can do.
Yet I have this fear: that my own desire for accuracy has muted the prophetic voice. It should be the opposite. It should be the case that the depth of exegesis produces a passionate plea from the pulpit. The time in the word fuels the passion for the right response. If we have not gone deep, we will not be able to be persuasive.
One response may be that the amount of exhortation depends on personality. But this is a royal cop-out, a not-so-artful dodge. Isn't this task bigger and more urgent than my personality? I am not preaching truth muted by personality; I am preaching a truth so provocative that it transcends personality. Am I not taking on the personality of the text when it speaks? If I am taking on the personality of the text, and if I am not persuasive, I am suggesting that the text is not persuasive. And, I'm convinced with everything in the world that the reason people think the Bible is boring is because I portrayed it that way.
The Bible is not boring. If I present it as such, that's on me, not God. Scripture is persuasive. God has never spoken in a vacuum of response. Not once.
So finishing this series on the functions of preaching, I thought this would be a good time to evaluate the whole construct. Is there something more to explanation, argumentation, and application?
What do you think? Has exhortation in preaching been displaced by application?
Steven W. Smith is a preacher and author who is attempting to die in the pulpit and call a generation to do the same. He is the Dean of the College, and Professor of Communication, at the College at Southwestern. Follow him on Twitter.