Expository preaching with word pictures


Back from camp and France. I read what I’d hoped to, almost, and “Do hard things” by Alex and Brett Harris, more on that later.

I was really pleased to read Jack Hughes’ Expository preaching with word pictures which is the result of his Phd on the sermons of Thomas Watson. Watson’s sermons remain relevant and stimulating today because, argues Hughes, Watson makes the abstract concrete by his vivid use of metaphor and simile.

The following quote captures the way Watson explains God’s providence (bold italics) followed by Hughes’ own analysis of colourless contemporary expository preaching.

The providence of God is “the queen and governess of the world”: it is the eye that sees, and the hand that turns all the wheels in the universe. God is not like an artificer that builds a house, and then leaves it, but like a pilot He steers the ship of the whole creation. Suppose you were in a smith’s shop, and should see there several sorts of tools, some crooked, some bowed, others hooked, would you condemn all these things, because they do not look handsome? The smith makes use of them all for doing his work. Thus it is with the providences of God; they seem to us to be very crooked and strange, yet they all carry on God’s work.”

I know that expository preachers are a finicky group of individuals. They are preaching mavericks. While the majority of churches are swapping the sermon hour for drama, entertainment, upbeat music and cappuccino time, expositors stand firm against the raging torrent of truncated, superficial preaching and maintain their commitment to ‘preach the word’. They are a fearless and noble crowd who are nauseated by the sad state of preaching in many churches. Their revulsion against baby formula sermons has caused their personal pendulum to swing to the opposite end of the preaching spectrum. Because of the many abuses and misuses in preaching today, they do not want to be named among the slick-talking orators who wow their people with worldly wisdom and sermons void of any spiritual nutrition.

But some expositors have thrown the baby out with the bath water when it comes to being effective communicators. They reason to themselves, ‘It is my job to preach the word, and it is the Holy Spirit’s job to take it from there.’ But this can be like giving someone who needs shelter a pile of building materials and telling them to ‘take it from there’.

Hughes’ book has given me a swift, hard kick where I needed it most. My preaching has become like sea glass; dull, opaque and blunt. I must get back into the habit of using my imagination, led by the Holy Spirit, to paint illustrative word pictures when dealing with difficult doctrine.

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