4 Ways Bad Biblical Theology Warps Sermons

4 Ways Bad Biblical Theology Warps Sermons by Samuel Emadi  for The Gospel Coalition

So much modern evangelical biblical theology is a gift to the church. It has stemmed the tide of moralistic preaching in many churches and has provided useful theological resources to combat the most egregious theological dangers of our day, such as the prosperity gospel.

But I’ve also witnessed (and been guilty of) some bad biblical theology. In my first year of seminary, for example, I became so enamored with biblical theology and how the story “fits together” that I lost sight of the moral demands the story places on us all—an error that spilled over into the way I taught Scripture to others. Over time, bad biblical theology will undercut a congregation’s health—warping the message of Scripture and stunting a church’s growth in the knowledge of God.

All of us—not just preachers—should beware of bad biblical theology. But what exactly does bad biblical theology look like in sermons?

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1. Sermons that are ‘Christ-centered’ but never make moral demands.

The Bible is opposed to moralism, not morality. Regrettably, I’ve heard many sermons that confuse the two. I’ve even interacted with some preachers and seminary students who would wince a little if they heard a preacher rattle off commands to his congregation in the way Paul does in the epistles (cf. 1 Cor. 16:13–14).

I appreciate the desire on the part of many pastors to avoid “moralism” and to emphasize the gospel as the agent of transformation in the Christian life. Yet it’s also the case that some preachers—particularly younger ones—need to embrace that preaching must also include appropriate exhortations for the congregation to respond to Christ’s climactic fulfillment of the Old Testament. The law “used lawfully” in gospel preaching (1 Tim. 1:8) is both biblical and necessary.

Having experienced moralistic preaching, I know firsthand the spiritual crises it creates. But avoiding imperatives altogether is shortsighted and misguided.

For example, preaching how Jesus fulfills the Davidic covenant and ascends the throne of Israel demands that we call people to bow their knee to Jesus the king. Preaching how Jesus fulfills the office of priest demands that we call people to trust in his sacrifice. Preaching Jesus as the prophet like Moses (Deut. 18:15a) demands that we also tell people “to him you shall listen” (Deut. 18:15b). Preaching Jesus as the fulfillment of the temple demands that we also teach people that Christ has poured out the Spirit on his church and expects us to preserve the purity of God’s dwelling through faithful discipleship and discipline. Preaching Jesus as the fulfillment of the law demands that we also tell people “don’t worship idols, honor your father and mother, don’t look at porn, don’t steal, don’t lie, don’t covet.”

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