Dr. Arnold interviews Dr. Newkirk on the subject of preaching.
Topics of conversation include:
- What is preaching, and what is the relationship between teaching and preaching?
- What is expository preaching?
- Exegesis vs eisegesis and how to guard against reading our own ideas into the text of Scripture
- How does knowing a congregation affect a pastor’s preaching?
- How to approach topical preaching
- Recommended resources
Dr. Chuck Newkirk serves as lead pastor at Church on Mill in Tempe, Arizona. He also teaches preaching at Phoenix Seminary.
Welcome to Faith Seeking Understanding, a podcast from Phoenix Seminary—helping Christians grow in their understanding of the faith, hosted by Dr. Brian Arnold, president of Phoenix Seminary.
Brian Arnold (00:17):
Preaching is strange. In no other sphere of life, do people gather together to hear someone speak to them for 30 to 40 minutes a week, pleading with them to change their lives. Preaching is not a lecture. It’s not a TED Talk. It’s not a conversation. Preaching is a peculiar, God-given means, by which the Word of God is spoken to the people of God and used by the Spirit of God to awaken people to salvation and to grow people in their faith. And preaching goes all the way back to the beginning of the church. Jesus preached the famous Sermon on the Mount. Paul and the other apostles crisscrossed the Mediterranean, preaching Jesus crucified and risen. And the church has gathered together for 2000 years to hear preaching. But what is preaching? Why is it so important to Christianity and why do we even still need it today?
Brian Arnold (01:01):
I mean, people are asking—is preaching outdated? Or are there better ways for Christians to grow in the faith? And even if you’re not a pastor, and even if you’ll never preach, today’s podcast is important to you if you’re a believer in Jesus Christ. As a believer, you should be committed to your local church, and your local church should be committed to preaching. You need to advocate for preaching in your church, and even consider a new church if your pastor does not take preaching seriously. The salvation of the lost, the sanctification of the saved, and edification of all is at stake when preachers enter the pulpit and open the Word of God. With us today to talk about preaching is Dr. Chuck Newkirk. Dr. Newkirk is the lead pastor of Church on Mill here in Tempe, Arizona, and also teaches preaching at Phoenix Seminary. Besides being a great preacher, Dr. Newkirk is a pastor and professor who thinks deeply about preaching. Dr. Newkirk, welcome to the podcast.
Chuck Newkirk (01:50):
Happy to be with you.
Brian Arnold (01:51):
So we always ask one big question, and today it’s just going to be—why is preaching important? And maybe as kind of a bonus question we’ll even begin with is—what is preaching?
Chuck Newkirk (02:00):
Excellent. Preaching is heralding, or proclaiming, the Word of God for God’s glory and people’s good.
Brian Arnold (02:09):
So every time somebody is entering the pulpit, that’s kind of, in a lot of ways, the goal, right? As I open up the Bible. Heralding, so that’s not a word we kind of use a lot these days. So how would you describe heralding?
Chuck Newkirk (02:21):
Yeah, I would say something in the realm of—it’s the authoritative declaration of what God says. So it’s God speaking through a person who’s using his Word.
Brian Arnold (02:32):
And I think that then becomes the basis of everything, right? If you’re going to be authoritative and speak on behalf of God…I mean, this is an awesome task that people have. And audacious. To stand up and say, I’m going to tell you how to live your life. I’m going to tell you the means by which you should live your life, but it all comes from the Bible. And that’s the authority that you mentioned that we’re speaking on. Well, I think a lot of people are confused today. Especially non-Christians. The less familiar people are with the church, the weirder preaching is. So help people even think through the relationship between teaching and preaching, because they have a lot more context for teaching than they do for preaching.
Chuck Newkirk (03:11):
Well, early on in my faith, I was very confused about that personally. Even though I grew up in the church, my father was a pastor, an excellent preacher, and I still didn’t understand for awhile. So, teaching is the general instruction that we get content transference, if you will. Preaching is a date, if you will, with God and God’s people, in which the Scriptures are opened, and someone who has spent the time mining what the Scriptures say is there to speak on behalf of God. And that’s an extremely intimidating thing for somebody to have to do, and for people to be on the receiving end of and think rightly about what’s happening. Rightly, it’s God is speaking through the preacher to the people.
Brian Arnold (04:04):
That’s what you would hope, at least.
Chuck Newkirk (04:05):
At least. Yes, yes. That ideal…when it happens the way it’s supposed to, that’s what’s supposed to be happening.
Brian Arnold (04:11):
There’s going to be multiple people that could be listening today—everybody from I’m in a church and, you know, preaching is this foreign thing to me, I’m never going to do it, or maybe some people who are preaching. And we…when we are evaluating people’s preaching, sometimes we’ll talk about—he was a good teaching pastor, but maybe not a good preacher. So it was even…it’s something I wrestle with, as a preacher, is how much teaching do you do? How much heralding do you do? And so how do you even approach that as a pastor?
Chuck Newkirk (04:41):
Yeah. It’s interesting, if we read Acts, for example, that the terms, all the Greek terms for these activities, they overlap. And so, as you move further into the New Testament, it gets clearer that there is some distinction between preaching and teaching. But in Acts, early on it’s hard to understand what exactly is happening. So there’s definitely overlap. It’s the standing and declaring with authority that really sets preaching apart from what we would think of as teaching.
Brian Arnold (05:18):
Well, I’ve had the privilege of sitting under your preaching numerous times, and you do a pretty good job of explaining the text, of opening it up. But when we talk about things like expository preaching—so if we’re going to add some descriptive language to preaching, expository is one that seems to be used a lot in our circles—and so that kind of even relates to teaching the text and opening it up. So how would you describe even then expository preaching?
Chuck Newkirk (05:45):
Essentially, if we think of…you know, the most basic way of looking at it, “to exposite the Scriptures,” or “expository preaching” is to expose what’s in the Word. So instead of bringing our ideas to the text and saying them as we stand on top of the text, we’re under the Word of God, saying what it says.
Brian Arnold (06:05):
Well, so let’s use some special insider jargon, if we can. That’s expository, right? We talk about like exegesis, which is basically pulling apart the text to say, like, what is actually there. But a lot of people do what we call eisegesis, which means like they’re reading their own ideas, experiences, motives into the text to make the Bible say what they want. So how do you guard against that, even as a pastor?
Chuck Newkirk (06:34):
Yeah. I would say I probably did a lot of it early on, without even realizing it. So it’s a process of growth in which people learn—no, actually it doesn’t really matter what I say. It matters what God says. And the most important thing a preacher could ever give the people is what God says, not what I think. And so I think it’s a growth process that’s all bound up in our own walks with the Lord.
Brian Arnold (06:59):
So one of the things that I heard as a pastor—I pastored for three years and preached three times a week, it was one of those Sunday morning, Sunday night, Wednesday night kind of churches—so they couldn’t say this too often, they knew it, but—what’s it like to work one day a week, right? You show up on Sunday mornings, you preach a sermon…especially here in Phoenix, most churches seem to gather on Sunday mornings for an hour. And they hear the sermon, but they don’t understand the work that goes behind it. So let’s peel back the curtain for some people who may not understand what that looks like. So here you come to Romans chapter one, you’re going to preach a series through it. What does that look like? As somebody who says I’m going to exposite God’s Word in the pulpit. How does that begin for you?
Chuck Newkirk (07:41):
Yeah. Probably a year out, I’m reading Romans all the way through, start to finish, over and over and over and over and over…
Brian Arnold (07:49):
Chuck Newkirk (07:50):
And then beginning to try to think about its main idea, the sections it breaks down, and just slowly absorb it like a sponge. And then a little bit closer to time, maybe four months out, three months, somewhere in there, beginning to think about how long we’re going to spend in this book. And there’s a lot of factors in that, of course, depending on the church, depending on the appetite they have, depending on how quickly we need to move through it. But determining the breaks. And then in the week of, it’s really got to just essentially consume your whole life. If you’re awake, you’re probably going to be thinking about—what does God want to say in this passage, to the people this week?
Brian Arnold (08:33):
It’s kind of never ending.
Chuck Newkirk (08:34):
Brian Arnold (08:35):
I mean, the amount of sermons I’ve preached in the shower over the years is amazing. It’s like, it would make Billy Graham ashamed of how little he’s preached, I feel like. Because it is—you wake up in the middle of the night, you’re thinking about those kinds of things. I’m shameful enough to admit that when I was pastoring, I was in my late twenties and really learning the craft, and there’s a lot of Saturday nights and early Sunday mornings spent at the keyboard, plugging away, trying to get ready for Sunday morning. So I think it’s encouraging even to hear how far out you’re thinking. And you said something I think that’s really important, is knowing your church, knowing that audience. How does that, knowing your congregation, as a pastor play into your idea of preaching?
Chuck Newkirk (09:18):
Sure. Well, there are…in the era of time that we live in today, I mean, people are listening to this on the radio and podcast, and then there’s YouTube. So there are much, much, much better preachers out there than I am, and than most people have access to in their own churches, in terms of the craft. But preaching is God’s words spoken through a person, and that person ideally knows you, loves you, is attentive to the needs in your life, is aware of the challenges you’re facing, the kind of suffering you’re experiencing, the temptations that are current in your life, and is thinking about those as he’s walking through the Scriptures and writing the message. And so it cannot be done from a distance. It’s impossible to do it in the way that a pastor should, to a particular people, as God intends it.
Brian Arnold (10:13):
And I know this is probably true for you as well, is when you’re preparing a sermon and you’ve been walking with people, you have particular faces in mind, even where they sit in the congregation. And you never want to use the pulpit, as we used to say, as a whipping post, right? Where you’re—I know Miss Susie is struggling with gossip and it’s frustrating me, so I’m going to be preaching on gossip and almost name her. Not that, but to really know them, care for them, love them. You know, you’ve mentioned—today, you can go on YouTube and listen to any preacher you want. There’s a whole lot of tickling of the ears. There’s a whole lot of preaching that is towards felt needs, even. So how do we protect against that? How do we think through preaching, even a bit more theologically and doctrinally? How do those pieces play in? Because a lot of the preaching—people, hear me out there—a lot of the preaching you’re exposed to today is malnourished. So how do you go about that as a pastor who’s thinking more theologically and doctrinally about preaching?
Chuck Newkirk (11:11):
Well, over time, I’ve had to learn that what people most need is to hear from the Lord. And that’s absolutely critical that the preacher, because of the nature of what preaching is, not take the position of usurping God’s authority for his own sake. Meaning I’m not going to use preaching for my own ends. And so we could stretch way back theologically and say—God has always worked by means of his Word. It started with creation. God spoke, and the world came into being. And then we can take that literally all the way through the entire Bible. God is a God who is a speaking God, who accomplishes things through what he says. So if we really want to see God work in people’s lives, they need to hear from him. And the way they’re going to hear from him is as the Scriptures are opened and proclaimed.
Brian Arnold (12:04):
That’s right. So, yeah. I mean, that’s the process, right? Like, this is God’s Word. We open it up, we say what God says—that’s God speaking through them. When you’re reading Scripture, that’s God’s Word. And that’s what changes things. I think back…I plead with people, as a seminary president today, to see the significance of preaching, and how God, through revival, has always raised up preachers of the Word, who unashamedly just say, this is what God has said. And when people meet the Word of God in that new encounter, the Spirit of God does amazing things. And so it’s almost the job of the preacher to get out of the way, right?
Chuck Newkirk (12:40):
Yes, absolutely. He must be thinking—this isn’t about me sharing my ideas. And any notion that that’s acceptable, that that would seep in, has got to be dealt with severely at an interpersonal level.
Brian Arnold (12:55):
Well, one of the ways—and this is going to be controversial—one of the ways I think people insert a lot of who they are into preaching is through topical preaching. So I want to hit certain topics, it’s marriage and family month again here at Brian First Baptist, and we’re going to hit those issues, because again, the felt needs kind of piece. Instead of saying like—we’re going to walk through Romans and see how Paul puts this together. Now, I must painfully say, one of my favorite preachers of all time was a topical preacher. You know who that is?
Chuck Newkirk (13:28):
Brian Arnold (13:29):
Spurgeon, right? Spurgeon has gotta be one of the best preachers of all time. If I’m in London in the late 19th century, I’m at Metropolitan Tabernacle. I’m listening… You’re way older than me, stop that. So I love reading Spurgeon’s sermons. Gold! And yet, if I could give Spurgeon advice, it would be, you know, to preach the Bible expositorily.
Brian Arnold (13:53):
So let me tell you a fast story. I said that to my pastor one time, he has a PhD in preaching, and he told me this story—that one Saturday night Spurgeon says, “I don’t know what to preach. I’m kind of out of things to preach.” And his wife says, “but Charles, you have the whole Bible.” And the point being, if you preach expository sermons, you will not finish before Jesus returns. So anyway, so how do you think through that? Do you go topical sometimes? How serious of an issue is this? I can imagine some people listening, saying—that’s all we do. We go from sermon series to sermon series. So help us think through that.
Chuck Newkirk (14:25):
Yeah. The danger, just to be aware of, in preaching that isn’t “I’m going to start at Romans one and go all the way through to Roman 16,” is that it’s much easier to insert your own ideas. And so it’s safer, if you will, to say—we’re going to practice what we’d call a consecutive exposition, which is, I’m going to start in Romans one, and we’re going to go all the way through. But that’s not the only way to do it. You can preach a topical message that is done in such a way that the text is being exposed. It’s just a lot harder. So as I talk to young preachers about that, I tell them—you might get there, don’t start there. The better you know your Bible over time, the more it’d be possible to do that and be faithful to the Scriptures. But you’re not gonna be able to do that in your twenties, probably, unless you’re the Spurgeon, that’s, you know, there’s one or two of those in a generation. So there’s just not very many people who are capable of doing that well. I think it can be done, but it’s extremely rare that it’s done faithfully.
Brian Arnold (15:29):
Well, and I think the other piece of topical preaching is let’s just be honest—there’s parts of the Bible that, if I’m not preaching straight through it, I don’t want to hit. Like divorce and remarriage is not super popular to be preaching, biblical sexuality, hell. There’s just a lot of things you can avoid if you’re going by sermon series, that are more kind of towards felt needs and not hit…you know, what Paul talks about to the Ephesian elders as he leaves in Acts 20—I did not hold back from teaching you the whole counsel of God. And God says these things, which are important for us to be reflecting on, even more so in a culture that is becoming less Judeo-Christian in it’s ethic and it’s moral, right? So consecutive expository preaching is an antidote.
Chuck Newkirk (16:11):
It is, it is. And it’s a safeguard to the preacher. It’s a benefit to the people. It is the wisest way to give the people the consistent diet of God’s Word. But I wouldn’t want to say it’s the only way, ever. Period. You’re sinning if you don’t.
Brian Arnold (16:28):
Absolutely. Yeah. There’s no official word in Scripture that says “thou shalt consecutive expository preach.”
Chuck Newkirk (16:35):
Well, what we do have is “preach the Word” in second Timothy. So if you’re going to approach it in a topical fashion, don’t preach your ideas and stand on top of…don’t use a verse as a springboard to get to your own ideas. Instead, make sure you’re saying what the text says.
Brian Arnold (16:52):
So let me go into another controversial area, if I may, is with everybody’s life pushing to the max, and people are busy, and pastors in this season, oh, they’re so fatigued, and tired, and overworked, and counseling, and trying to think through everything from pandemic issues to politics and everything in between. So the pressure on them to come up with a sermon every week can be daunting, especially the amount of time it takes, as you said, you’re sometimes a year out, and then months out, and then what you do week by week. So something that’s happening a lot these days is even sermon stealing, where somebody will hear a good sermon, they think—they knocked it out of the ballpark, I think my people would really benefit. I’m not questioning their motives in that. I think a lot of times the motive is pure. How would you counsel somebody? Or I know one of the things you do for the seminary is you teach young pastors, and you’ve got a lot of young pastors at your church who are training for ministry. What do you say to them?
Chuck Newkirk (17:49):
Another reason why we’d want to avoid our only diet of taking in God’s Word from others being on things like YouTube, is that you need a pastor who you can see his example of his life. Up close. And it’s observable. And you can poke at it and see the problems with it and the benefits from it. And you can watch that brother over time. Or, if there’s a plurality of leaders, elders, you can watch them over time, grow in their spiritual maturity. And so, you’re not going to get that from a distance. And so the pastor is not going to be experiencing that kind of growth in his own life, apart from himself being in the Word, doing the work of encountering God, the Spirit convicting him, changing him. And so you cannot, I don’t think it’s actually possible, to steal someone else’s messages and preach them. I think you’ve undone what preaching is, if you do that.
Brian Arnold (18:48):
Just going back to the audience piece, right? Like to be a pastor is to know the people. And if you’re using somebody else’s sermon, meant for different congregations that the Lord laid on his heart to preach to them, it will necessarily not connect in the same manner. It’s like a puzzle, right? Like there’s this piece that fits this congregation, because this man of God is called to this flock at this time. Right? To say these things. So, you know, let’s kind of go along that vein for a moment then, too, because I know there was an era in my life that I would have just sounded—or tried to, let’s just say—like John Piper, right? So he was hugely influential in my life. Had a lot of Piper in my diet, and it was good for pastors to say to me—listen to other pastors. Like you need five or 10 pastors that you’re listening to, hearing different methods and even approaches to the text, and the ways that they use illustrations and application, so that you start to actually find your own voice.
Brian Arnold (19:50):
So it’s actually in the plurality of listening to a lot of people. So not just your local pastors. So I think you, and I would both say to anybody listening—you’re in a specific church with a specific pastor, because they are your undershepherd, under whose care and guidance you are. So lean into that. But if you’re an aspiring pastor, glean as much as you can from your local church pastor, but also taking a steady diet of a bunch of pastors that you find trustworthy and helpful. So who’s in your diet? Who are some people that you would even recommend to those listening today? Who, you know, for different reasons, even, what they brought to your craft of preaching?
Chuck Newkirk (20:28):
Currently, in the last 6, 7, 8 months, I’ve been listening to Alistair Begg a lot. And he is simple, not flashy. There’s no smoke and mirrors. He just exposits what the Word says.
Brian Arnold (20:43):
It’s just to pick up the accent, isn’t it?
Chuck Newkirk (20:45):
Yes, exactly. And he’s been a real blessing to me of late. Truth for Life, it’s called. You can find an app. And so yeah, we definitely don’t want to denigrate the resources that we have available to us today. We just don’t want to make other preachers, and not a local pastor or pastors, our primary voice into our lives. But Alistair Begg’s been a huge benefit to me. Years ago, Tim Keller was a big help to me to think about how to speak to non-Christians about their underlying worldviews. He was huge. Piper was big in my life. Those would be some of the ones that have made a big impact.
Brian Arnold (21:28):
So in college, even, Tony Evans. I listened to Tony Evans weekly. As a gifted…I think he’s a good, gifted expositor, but even in his ability to use illustration. He is phenomenal at that. And you know, one of the things I see with young seminarians, serious about the Word, learning their Greek and Hebrew, understanding terms like exegesis and hermeneutics and all that—they can be dull, and dry, and not understand the significance of illustrating, and the power, and then application. So how…you know, as time is kind of winding down here, talk to us a little bit about the significance of illustration and application in preaching.
Chuck Newkirk (22:05):
Sure. A person newer to me, that I’ve listened to quite a bit lately also, is named Charlie Dates. And he is really good at that. He can…early in my development, I used props fairly often on the stage, and my pastor came and said to me—that’s fine to do that, but do you recognize you can do that with your words? And that was extremely helpful to me. So you want to describe, you want to help people not only think about what you’re talking about, but feel it. And very often that’s got to be done through illustration, analogy, example. And the Scripture itself does that.
Brian Arnold (22:47):
And we’re not just minds. We’re hearts, we’re emotions, we’re wills, and all those things that make us who we are as people, the preacher’s got to engage it all, right? And say like, “I’m going to make this Word come alive in your life.”
Chuck Newkirk (23:01):
And if anything shouldn’t be boring, this should be it.
Brian Arnold (23:04):
If it’s God’s speaking, it better not be boring. If it’s boring, you are sinning against the Lord, right? Because preaching should be enthralling. And when it is, it is electric, you know? Packer talks about hearing Lloyd Jones preach, and it was the force of electric shock that awoken him to see the things of God. And there’s a reason why pastors who have a real gift from God, there’s a reason why a lot of people get saved under their ministry, and like as a secondary means that God is using to bring people to faith in Christ, and to see them grow and sanctified. So in maybe our last minute here, what are just one or two resources you’d point people to, especially younger, aspiring pastors?
Chuck Newkirk (23:48):
I’d start with David Helm’s little tiny book called Expository Preaching. It is the best thing out there, and easy to digest. So I’d start there. And I’d commend that to any Christian who just wants to learn how to read their Bible. So that’s a great one. An older one you just brought up, Lloyd Jones. His Preaching and Preachers is bigger and covers a lot of different topics. And that is really, really terrific. Anything written by Sidney Greidanus is going to be excellent around preaching. Those would be a few things. But I’d also want to point people towards a resource called The Charles Simeon Trust. Look that up on the website, and they do workshops. They also have a lot of videos that do a great job of explaining some of these terms and helping you learn how to actually pick up tools and begin to do it.
Brian Arnold (24:40):
Well, thank you, Chuck, so much. Preaching is foundational to what the church is. For 2000 years, the church has gathered, people have preached, people have listened to preaching, and it’s needed in our day. Consecutive expository preaching, we think is the best flavor of it, but listen to your pastor, lean into good preaching, and recognize it’s good—not only for your health, but for the health of the church, for the good of the world.
Chuck Newkirk (25:05):
Brian Arnold (25:05):
Chuck, thanks so much.
Thank you for listening to the Faith Seeking Understanding podcast. If you want to grow more in your understanding of the faith, consider studying at Phoenix Seminary, where men and women are trained for Christ-centered ministry for the building up of healthy churches in Phoenix and throughout the world. Learn more at ps.edu.