This week we’re starting a sermon series in the book of Joshua. Why preach on Joshua?
One scholar, only half-jokingly, said “You simply cannot preach from this book, and you ought not to teach it to children. Shield our gentle ears from violence such as this!”
It’s true – the story of the book of Joshua contains some brutal violence and some harsh realities of the conquest of the Promise Land. Joshua is one of those books that skeptics like to point at, and they point out that as the people take the land, God commands them to utterly obliterate their enemies – in some cases, men, women, children, and animals. How does a loving God tell his people to utterly wipe out those who are already in the land, minding their own business? Put simply, the book of Joshua raises some hard questions, and we hope to answer some of those questions as we look at this book.
But the book of Joshua also tells us a lot about God – a God who keeps his promises to his people. And it also tells us a lot about ourselves – how we are predisposed to doubt rather than faith, to disobedience rather than obedience. There is much about the character of God and the nature of man to learn from the book of Joshua.
The pattern for our preaching here at Riverview is called expository preaching – going through the biblical text, verse by verse and line by line, chapter by chapter and book by book. In doing so, we discover what the text says, what it means, what it is telling us about God, what it is telling us about ourselves, and what it calls us to do in response.
I’m sometimes asked why, here at Riverview, we don’t preach topically – in other words, why we don’t pick a topic and then talk about what the Bible has to say about it. To be sure, this is the preferred method of many evangelical churches these days. And, to be fair, we sometimes do preach topically at Riverview. In fact, if you attended Riverview this past Labor Day, you heard a topical sermon on the subject of work. You will hear topical sermons here at Riverview from time to time, and there is nothing wrong with topical sermons.
But that isn’t the norm here at Riverview. Why not?
Simply this: we want to make God’s word central in our preaching at Riverview. The Bible is the inspired, inerrant word of God, and expository preaching, I think, is the best way for allowing the Bible – God’s voice – to direct our thinking. My job as a preacher is to tell you what the Bible says, and to get out of the way of you hearing what it says – as much as is humanly possible. And the best way for that to happen, in my opinion, is to go through it verse by verse, line by line, chapter by chapter. And in so doing, we let God choose which topics we think about – and we let God speak about those topics through his word.
There are exceptions, of course. Sometimes a sermon on a particular topic is needed. For instance, one of the most powerful sermons I’ve heard was a topical delivered by my predecessor, Dr. David Wick, on the Sunday following the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Similarly, I can recall a topical sermon on the trinity that helped me to know and understand God better. But our pattern for preaching should be driven by the Bible.
So with all of that said, here is what we have coming up at Riverview: throughout the year, we’re going to be going through different portions of the Bible, verse by verse and line by line. This week we’re starting a look at the book of Joshua. After January 1, we’re going to put Joshua on hold and begin a series in the gospel of Luke. After Easter in 2016, we’re going to put Luke on hold and pick up where we left off last spring in 1 John and conclude that book. And, as we’ve done for many years now, we’re going to take the summer to cover an Old Testament wisdom book, like the book of Psalms. And then next fall, we’ll pick back up in Joshua.
The idea is that throughout the year we’ll be immersing ourselves in the Old Testament, in the wisdom books (like the psalms and proverbs), one of the gospels, and from the New Testament letters.
So that’s the plan, and why we preach the way we do at Riverview. I hope you come along for the ride.