Smith calls preachers to be ‘exegetical escorts’ in proclaiming the Word

Communications Staff — April 3, 2006

Robert Smith challenged preachers to escort their hearers into the presence of God by submitting to God’s inspired Word and proclaiming it to His church during the Power in the Pulpit Conference, March 13 at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Smith, professor of Christian preaching at Beeson Divinity School in Birmingham, Ala., said preachers serve as exegetical escorts for their congregations by presenting God’s Word in an understandable way.

“The exegetical escort is an individual who serves in the Lord’s service by taking this Word of God and exegeting it, expounding upon it, dissecting it and saying what it says,” he said.

“The exegetical escort is designed to embrace the text of Scripture in order to usher the hearers into the presence of God for the purpose of transformation.”

Smith, a former professor of preaching at Southern Seminary, was one of three speakers at the annual conference that also featured Southern Seminary President R. Albert Mohler Jr. and Hershael York, professor of Christian preaching at Southern.

Preaching will always elicit a response, Smith said and the Gospel herald can expect one of two responses to the true preaching of God’s Word.

“God’s Word will not go out and come back void, it will accomplish that for which it was sent,” he said. “Sometimes people will respond in rebellion and sometimes in reception. The Word will draw people or it will drive people away.”

Smith critiqued modern preaching in several ways, noting that many modern preachers mistakenly value style more than substance. He cited Augustine’s four books on Christian doctrine, “On Christian Teaching,” where the first 75 percent of the material focuses on doctrine, while only the last quarter is devoted to style in presentation.

“What we do is turn it around. [If we wrote the book] we would deal with style in the first three sections and substance in the last one,” he said. “Substance must be considered primarily and style secondarily.”

Another problem with contemporary preaching is the eclipse of the cross, Smith said.

“We have so much crossless preaching. Don’t we understand that there is no salvation outside of the cross of Christ?” he said. “It was necessary for Christ first to suffer the cross and then enter into glory. That is what the reformers taught. The theology of the cross [comes] before the theology of glory. Today, we want to wipe out the cross and quickly move to glory.”

Smith also said that many preachers dilute grace in their preaching.

“We start off by preaching salvation by grace and before we know it we are preaching sanctification by works,” he said. “Anytime we add anything to grace we are diluting grace. I am justified by grace, sanctified by grace, adopted by grace and I‘m going to be glorified by grace. It is grace plus nothing.”

Smith said it is the preacher’s role to be like Philip in Acts 8 guiding the Ethiopian eunuch through Scripture and explaining what he did not understand.

“[Sometimes] the text is closed and the preacher has to open it,” he said. “My job is to be an exegete. I am supposed to help people see what they can’t see.”

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