Hypo- and Hyper-Biblical Preaching

I like to listen to preaching while I run, particularly on my longer runs (which have become less “long” lately). Southern Baptist leader Dr. Russell Moore is one of my favorites, but I’ve listened to just about every sermon he’s put out a couple of times over! So I’m always seeking out new preachers.

And in that quest, I’ve run across two types of preaching that I, as a preacher, want to avoid like the plague and that churches, particularly those seeking pastors, should never abide: the hypo-Biblical preacher and the hyper-Biblical preacher.

Let me take the obvious and easier one first. Hypo-Biblical preaching is when someone just doesn’t use enough Bible in their preaching. What they’re saying isn’t wrong, isn’t bad and isn’t uninteresting. It’s just not necessarily based on the Bible. Or, if it is, the preacher isn’t making it clear that his words, thoughts and concepts come from Scripture. These guys tend to trade on their credibility, their experience as scholars or moral authorities.

In other words, these hypo-Biblical preachers say, “I said it, therefore it must be true … you can assume God agrees with me.”

This sort of preaching is alluring because most of these preachers have certain tricks and traits (at least the most well-known ones I’m aware of):

  • interesting and mesmerizing storytelling ability
  • compelling and spine-tingling rants
  • practical and logical advice for daily living
  • domineering and forceful personalities

Often these guys will be branded as “really great preachers” because of these traits. But they run the risk of encouraging man-worship (aka “cults”) and definitely promote sources of truth other than Scripture.

This kind of preaching can be helpful. It can be useful. And it can even be good. But it has to be recognized for what it is: something less than Biblical.

Now the other kind of preaching is even more subtle. In hyper-Biblical preaching, the preacher will often make a big deal about so-called “expository preaching” and make sure you know that they always and only preach the text. Of course, that’s a good thing. The preacher’s job is to proclaim the text, to make plain sense of the text and to motivate people to respond to the text.

But the kind of hyper-Biblical preaching I’ve heard goes a step further. These guys turn the Scripture into a text book to be taught and understood as if we’re passing a test. They usually will eschew any sort of emotion (especially humor) and the practical applications are–if present at all–tacked on to the end. I call it “hyper” because it attempts to (and sees itself as) being all about the Bible … and lots of it.

By these hyper-Biblical preachers are essentially saying, “Welcome to the ancient study of religious theory, make sure you take good notes.”

This sort of preaching is often appealing to intellectual-types and the super-spiritual due to these sorts of traits:

  • explaining (and pronouncing) the Greek and Hebrew
  • spending 10 minutes of a 1 hour sermon to explain what the word “through” means in this passage
  • extensive historical background of the text serves as an introduction
  • outlines rarely contain less than 10 points

Often these guys will be branded as “really deep preachers” because of these traits. But they run the risk of making God’s word boring, lifeless and academic.

Again, this kind of preaching can be helpful, useful and good. But it also must be recognized for what it is: something less than Biblical.

You see, the Bible is alive and powerful. It is, after all, God’s word.

As such, the preacher must be careful to preach it clearly and plainly, adding nothing to God’s word and not presuming that God’s word needs any salt, seasoning or flavor. It is sufficient, self-sufficient and satisfying.

That said, God has chosen to deliver His word through the vehicle of flawed and faulty preachers (Paul calls this the “foolishness” of preaching in I Corinthians 1). What’s more, God didn’t give His word to be some sort of collectible, something that we need to “preserve” (He’s done that just fine, thank you!) and keep under lock and key.

“The Word of God is like a lion. You don’t have to defend a lion. All you have to do is let the lion loose and the lion will defend itself.” – Charles Spurgeon

Instead, God’s word is given to us so that we may know Him, serve Him, honor Him and just plain live every day as He wants us to. That’s going to mean that we have to allow God’s word to “filter” through human experience. I don’t mean we water it down or dilute it anyway. But know that when God chooses a man to preach His word, that God wants that man, not some automaton mouthing words (otherwise, why not just have Alexander Scourby blasting from pulpits and street corners?

So instead of adding our own opinion to God’s word as we preach (hypo-Biblical preaching) or trying to impress academia with how boring and analytical our preaching can be (hyper-Biblical preaching), why don’t we echo Paul’s words:

“For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified.” – I Corinthians 2:2

You have nothing to preach but God’s word. But preach it like it’s powerful, like it’s interesting, like it matters.