As a graduate of Southwestern Seminary, I have been asked several times to provide a definition of text-driven preaching, especially what distinguishes it from expositional, or expository preaching. Generally, my answer to this question is simple:
Text-Driven Preaching is the Purest Form of Exposition
Those aren’t my words, though. That is the explanation given by David L. Allen, who wrote the book on text-driven preaching and serves as the first dean of the Southwestern School of Preaching.
But even that needs to be examined. What does that mean?
The Meaning of Words
There was once a time when theological Conservatives in the Southern Baptist Convention had no need for the term inerrancy because terms like infallibility and authority sufficed to communicate the belief that the Scripture was genuinely true and without error. But those terms became so misapplied and misused that the intended meaning of their use became altogether distinct from genuine truth without error. This created the need for the term inerrancy—it made clear that which other terms once included.
A similar situation has developed in preaching.
There once was a time when there was no need for the descriptor text-driven. Terms such as expository preaching and exposition sufficed to communicate the belief that the sermon should expose and explain the text. But those terms have become so misapplied and misused that their intended meaning has become murky. And when expository preaching describes all preaching, it in fact does not describe any preaching. And this state of things has created the need for the term text-driven—it makes clear that which other terms once included.
The Meaning of Text-Driven
In text-driven preaching, the text itself provides the substance, the shape, and the spirit of the sermon. (Let this be a reminder that if you allow Southern Baptists to define a term, the definition will be alliterated.) The substance, or the message, of the sermon is that which is conveyed in the text. The sermon is not a collection of verses on a topic nor is it a number of observations stemming from the text. Instead, the sermon explains the message of the text to the congregation.
The text also provides the shape, or form, of the sermon. Rather than determining the main idea of the text and then discerning what form of sermon might best communicate that idea, those committed to text-driven preaching maintain that the manner in which God delivered that main idea matters—that the text’s meaning is inseparable from its packaging. So text-driven preachers shape their sermons in the manner corresponding with the shape of the text itself.
Finally, the text provides the spirit of the sermon. The sermon should not be a dry lecture about God’s Word, but should convey the same emotions evident in the text itself. At times that will mean warning. Other times that means preaching through genuine tears and heartbreak.
So what is text-driven preaching?
It is the purest form of exposition.
To explore text-driven preaching further, check out these titles:
- Text-Driven Preaching: God’s Word at the Heart of Every Sermon
- Recapturing the Voice of God: Shaping Sermons Like Scripture
- Preaching by the Book: Developing and Delivering Text-Driven Sermons
- Preaching for the Rest of Us: Essentials for Text-Driven Preaching
Pastor at University Baptist Church, San Antonio.
Professor. PhD in Theology.
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