A Three-Tiered Approach to Christian Worldview Preaching

Worldview preaching
A three-tiered approach to worldview preaching allows and encourages preachers to focus on the emotional and subjective arguments that often serve as barriers to the gospel. (Photo courtesy of Lifeway.com/pastors.)

As faithful preachers, our proclamation must be built around the objective truths of the gospel and our experiences of finding fulfillment in the Christian worldview and disappointment in secular worldviews. This is worldview preaching—preaching that works to supplant secular worldviews and the replace them with the Christian worldview.

In our post-Christian culture, many of our hearers have to be taught that truth is objective and not situational. Until they can accept this reality, we must focus on presenting experiential results of truth that can pave the way for a more robust understanding of the gospel. We must be willing to allow our hearers to gradually come to the understanding that the Bible is true. We have to guide them through experiences of the gospel and the process of discovering the validity of the Christian worldview.

A three-tiered approach to worldview preaching allows and encourages preachers to focus on the emotional and subjective arguments that often serve as barriers to the gospel. Application ceases to be an add-on at the end of the sermon and becomes part of its body. The three tiers of worldview sermons do not serve as a skeleton for the sermon outline but as a guide to direct the construction of the entire sermon. Rather than seeing the sermon as three distinct divisions of experience, truth and application, the three tiers should be the basis for the construction of the entire message and for each part of the sermon.

Introduce a Christian worldview using questions. Sermons are generally built around one major point, with sub-points helping to build the case for the main point. In the three-tiered approach, the sermon seeks to answer a question rather than assert a point. Questions are important for post-moderns because they reject authority. They value questioning. Each point of the sermon serves to develop the answer to the primary question more fully and to answer it in three ways: through experience to establish a ground for authority of God's Word, through truth from God's objective Word, and with application that shows how to apply God's truth and personal experiences.

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For instance, a sermon on 1 Corinthians 15:1-11 could be constructed according to the three-tiered approach this way. We ask, "What is the gospel?" By asking this question, the preacher invites his hearers experience God's Word and to journey with him toward an answer. The preacher puts his own authority aside and instead asserts the Bible's authority. The question, "What is the gospel?" may be answered in three ways: "The gospel is an historical event," "The gospel is a theological reality," and "The gospel is of first importance." These three answers form the sub-points of the sermon.

Support a Christian worldview using experiences. Under each sub-point, the pastor will make use of each of the three tiers. Under Sub-point One, he may share a personal experience of becoming convinced of the gospel as historical fact. This can be done by quoting from books or other academic sources, but the pastor needs to show how he was impacted by the research. Phrases used in this context may include, "I was convinced of the historical nature of the gospel when ..." or "I was once skeptical of the historical nature of the gospel myself, but ..." In so doing, the pastor shows how these truths have impacted him. Postmoderns are experiential. They want to experience what others have experienced. Pastors need to share their experiences to establish a ground for authority as they move toward God's Word.

God's Word is essential to a Christian worldview. Next the pastor must focus on the truths of God's Word. At no point should the pastor's presuppositions of God's Word change; he is always convinced of the absolute truth and value of God's Word. However, he is also aware that the audience to whom he preaches does not share the same conviction. He uses his experience to build credibility among his hearers for the Bible. The Bible is then presented as the Word of God that does not change but that has had an impact on the preacher himself.

Faithful exposition of the text is essential, but the pastor must show the meaning of the text and its application to today as well as he how the Scriptures have impacted and changed his life. In so doing, the pastor shows that the Bible is not an archaic book, it is the living and active Word of God that is still experienced today (Heb. 4:12).

Application supports a worldview. Finally, the pastor must show his hearers how they can apply the truths of God's Word. Application in the three-tiered approach must incorporate personal experience as well as objective truth. The preacher can encourage his hearers to apply the message in ways that he has applied the message himself. He might issue the same challenge to himself as he does to his audience with phrases like, "Join with me with me this week in seeking to put the gospel first and to live in light of its historical and theological reality."

The application can become experiential and can support the message as it gives practical function to the message. It is important to note that the tiers discussed need not always flow in a particular order.

It may be that the application is stated in the beginning as a part of the pastor's experience and the case for that application is built throughout the message. It could also be the case that the experiential aspects and the objective aspects will be integrated with one another. Many post-moderns' arguments are rooted in emotion rather than intellectual or academic argument. Facts can sometimes be used as a lever to unseat secular worldviews.

In the sermon above, the pastor can share from his experiences to begin to unseat emotional resistance, but it may be that his experience with extra-biblical material supporting the Bible's truths is the key to demolishing the secular worldview of his hearers and opening the door for a biblical worldview grounded in the gospel of Jesus Christ.

The three-tiered approach need not supplant the expository sermon or traditional sermon outlines. Small changes in sermon approach and delivery of an expository sermon can open wide doors to post-moderns. By asking questions and inviting hearers to journey toward the answer, the pastor does not take away from the objective truth of the Bible.

Sharing personal experiences need not water down the presentation of the gospel. Instead, the preacher is working to better speak into a culture that does not value the Bible or the office of pastor. Ultimately, the preacher's job is to faithfully communicate the Word of God, and unless it is heard and understood by his hearers, the preacher has not faithfully communicated.

Craig Thompson serves as senior pastor of Malvern Hill Baptist Church in Camden, South Carolina. He received his Ph.D. from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, where he wrote his dissertation on Worldview Preaching.

For the original article, visit lifeway.com/pastors.

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