“Experiential preaching” and Speaking to the Heart

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A.Joseph

Puritan Board Senior
“Joel tells us why—for a long time—he wanted to write this book. He shares the distinctives of Reformed preaching, and explains what he means by “experiential preaching” by citing a few examples from the past. How can one preach experientially, and speak to the hearts of both believers and unbelievers in one single sermon?”

Dr. Beeke cites Zwingli as one of the first examples of experiential preaching.

Would Zwingli’s approach to preaching and theology differ from Calvin and, in particular, Luther, who, right or wrong, may have regarded Zwingli to be a ‘spiritualist’(?) (Similar to the way Luther regarded Carlstadt).

What does it mean to ‘speak to the heart?’ And how does the Bible instruct preachers in doing so?

Does experiential preaching put too much emphasis on the hearer? Or is it a proper emphasis?

I thought, ultimately, the gospel is not about us, but about Him. Primarily for His glory. Do we benefit from and partake in that glory? Of course. But should our ‘experience’ be at the center of preaching?
 
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MChase

Puritan Board Freshman
It’s a proper emphasis. I’m a PRC man, so I much prefer the term ‘experimental’ to ‘experiential’, but we more or less mean the same thing by it and what we mean is far more encompassing than one’s experience. It’s about preaching in such a way to touch a man’s heart, cause him to test and try his ways, look to Christ, etc. Preaching the gospel should either be a savor of life unto life or death unto death. It shouldn’t be an age appropriate seminary lecture.
 

A.Joseph

Puritan Board Senior
It’s a proper emphasis. I’m a PRC man, so I much prefer the term ‘experimental’ to ‘experiential’, but we more or less mean the same thing by it and what we mean is far more encompassing than one’s experience. It’s about preaching in such a way to touch a man’s heart, cause him to test and try his ways, look to Christ, etc. Preaching the gospel should either be a savor of life unto life or death unto death. It shouldn’t be an age appropriate seminary lecture.
Well said. And I think there is absolutely a place as per traditional, historically Reformed preaching. However, if you sat under the same pulpit with your covenant body over an extended period of time, could the preaching be ‘merely’ biblical, theological and practical or must it always be experiential? I think I would get burnt out.
 
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Romans922

Puritan Board Professor
It isn't teaching (like many reformed pastors do in sermons) - relaying information only.

It isn't simply preaching (which some reformed pastors do in sermons) - applying the Word generally. Making general applications.

It is teaching and applying the Word calling sinners to look to Jesus alone, teaching them how to look to Jesus from specific sins, correcting them in how they got into those specific sins, rebuking them of those specific sins, and training them in righteousness in specific ways in how to turn from those sins, and specific ways in how to turn to Jesus in particular areas of one's person...in their mind, in their faith, in their desires/will, and in their emotions/affections. To do this, a Pastor must know the sheep under his care, i.e. he must visit them regularly in their homes.

That's the best summary of experimental/experiential preaching I can give, and it is called biblical preaching and very few ministers, unfortunately, preach this way.
 

A.Joseph

Puritan Board Senior
It isn't teaching (like many reformed pastors do in sermons) - relaying information only.

It isn't simply preaching (which some reformed pastors do in sermons) - applying the Word generally. Making general applications.

It is teaching and applying the Word calling sinners to look to Jesus alone, teaching them how to look to Jesus from specific sins, correcting them in how they got into those specific sins, rebuking them of those specific sins, and training them in righteousness in specific ways in how to turn from those sins, and specific ways in how to turn to Jesus in particular areas of one's person...in their mind, in their faith, in their desires/will, and in their emotions/affections. To do this, a Pastor must know the sheep under his care, i.e. he must visit them regularly in their homes.

That's the best summary of experimental/experiential preaching I can give, and it is called biblical preaching and very few ministers, unfortunately, preach this way.
That was very well put, thanks!
 

ADKing

Puritan Board Junior
Well said. And I think there is absolutely a place as per traditional, historically Reformed preaching. However, if you sat under the same pulpit with your covenant body over an extended period of time, could the preaching be ‘merely’ biblical, theological and practical or must it always be experiential? I think I would get burnt out.
Can one get "burned out" by being regularly taught how to glorify and enjoy God--not as a theory, but in actual experience and practice? Can one get burned out having his heart burn within him as the Scriptures are opened as we encounter a man that tells us "all things whatsoever [we] did"? Can one get burned out of God himself truly communicating himself to us? Oh open wide our mouths and he will fill them. Sadly, if we do get burned out with such things, it may be a dreadful sign that we are unconverted. Such things are indeed a weariness to the flesh. I think perhaps another reason some might think we could weary of such preaching is because sometimes, preachers persuaded of the rightness of experimental preaching, attempt to imitate it. It is not a mere form, or a sermon structure, or a tone of voice, or even certain themes to check off. Doing this could become tedious if it is not 1) truly derived from the text from which the preacher is preaching or if the content of the sermons becomes shallow and formulaic. You ask your question about "mere" biblical, theological and practical sermons. But if it is truly those things, how can it not but have experiential impact? We do not understand the theology or practice aright, if it doesn't have this component. In such cases, however, the problem is not with the concept of experimental preaching as such, but the inadequate way in which it is done. Sometimes, too, preachers fail when they themselves are unacquainted with the power and experience they are attempting to preach to others. This is often readily apparent to the auditor and then rings hollow. And last, but certainly not least, any kind of preaching without the unction of the Holy Spirit will become tedious. That is why we need to be seeking him and his power in preaching earnestly. And in so doing, aren't we practicing some of the very things that lead to the experimental components of preaching. We are prepared for it. And God will bless.
 

VictorBravo

Administrator
Staff member


Dr. Beeke cites Zwingli as one of the first examples of experiential preaching.

Would Zwingli’s approach to preaching and theology differ from Calvin and, in particular, Luther, who, right or wrong, may have regarded Zwingli to be a ‘spiritualist’(?) (Similar to the way Luther regarded Carlstadt).

What does it mean to ‘speak to the heart?’ And how does the Bible instruct preachers in doing so?

Does experiential preaching put too much emphasis on the hearer? Or is it a proper emphasis?

I thought, ultimately, the gospel is not about us, but about Him. Primarily for His glory. Do we benefit from and partake in that glory? Of course. But should our ‘experience’ be at the center of preaching?
I've read the book and found it tremendously helpful. Your questions are addressed in the second chapter.

Under "Preaching Reformed Truth" are subheadings:
Preaching Christ
Preaching the Sovereignty of God

He reminds us that the whole focus of reformed preaching ought to be God-centered, not man-centered.

The examples he draws from not only include Zwingli, but Bullinger, Calvin, Perkins, Sibbes, and a great many others.

The only surprise for me is that what he described is what I've experience these past 20 years or so. I have been blessed, no doubt.
 

A.Joseph

Puritan Board Senior
Can one get "burned out" by being regularly taught how to glorify and enjoy God--not as a theory, but in actual experience and practice? Can one get burned out having his heart burn within him as the Scriptures are opened as we encounter a man that tells us "all things whatsoever [we] did"? Can one get burned out of God himself truly communicating himself to us? Oh open wide our mouths and he will fill them. Sadly, if we do get burned out with such things, it may be a dreadful sign that we are unconverted. Such things are indeed a weariness to the flesh. I think perhaps another reason some might think we could weary of such preaching is because sometimes, preachers persuaded of the rightness of experimental preaching, attempt to imitate it. It is not a mere form, or a sermon structure, or a tone of voice, or even certain themes to check off. Doing this could become tedious if it is not 1) truly derived from the text from which the preacher is preaching or if the content of the sermons becomes shallow and formulaic. You ask your question about "mere" biblical, theological and practical sermons. But if it is truly those things, how can it not but have experiential impact? We do not understand the theology or practice aright, if it doesn't have this component. In such cases, however, the problem is not with the concept of experimental preaching as such, but the inadequate way in which it is done. Sometimes, too, preachers fail when they themselves are unacquainted with the power and experience they are attempting to preach to others. This is often readily apparent to the auditor and then rings hollow. And last, but certainly not least, any kind of preaching without the unction of the Holy Spirit will become tedious. That is why we need to seeking him and his power in preaching earnestly. And in so doing, aren't we practicing some of the very things that lead to the experimental components of preaching. We are prepared for it. And God will bless.
It just seems that when we say ‘experiential,’ something extra has to be brought, to ‘stir up the heart.’ That sounds kind of charismatic. I don’t think that’s what Pastor Beeke or you or anyone else is saying. So I think I’m in agreement with these responses.
 

ADKing

Puritan Board Junior
It just seems that when we say ‘experiential,’ something extra has to be brought, to ‘stir up the heart.’ That sounds kind of charismatic. I don’t think that’s what Pastor Beeke or you or anyone else is saying. So I think I’m in agreement with these responses.
It ought to be the Word of God itself that is stirring our hearts. Preaching should make clear how.
 

Vernon

Puritan Board Freshman
It just seems that when we say ‘experiential,’ something extra has to be brought, to ‘stir up the heart.’ That sounds kind of charismatic. I don’t think that’s what Pastor Beeke or you or anyone else is saying. So I think I’m in agreement with these responses.
Agreed. As an Arminian, I had a profound disrespect for glossolalia and so-called pentecostalism. That has not changed. Further, as an Arminian, I was cautious about any emotional tendencies that might be deemed “spirit filled”, for fear their source was questionable. I remain cautious, but have lost the sense of fear.

Now that I am more fully immersed in the Word, I am increasingly aware of, and experiencing, the presence of Christ in his Spirit, communicating and illuminating his truth. Attendant therein is great joy, or as Peter would say, “seasons of refreshing from the presence of the Lord”.
 

A.Joseph

Puritan Board Senior
Just curious. Does the bible provide instruction on how to do experiential preaching (and even receiving)?

I'm not saying that the bible is an instruction manual on how to expound on the Word of God. But what would be a few examples of taking a biblical topic or theme and delivering an experiential message to the hearers?

Obviously, we can never live out our faith perfectly. We fall so short. Are these types of sermons a call to action and a call to daily reform in conjunction with daily repentance and dependence? Does the bible give specific instructions in these ways or does the preacher frame certain events in a way to provide experiential examples of faithful and unfaithful servants?

Im hoping for some scriptural citations to bring this all together.
Is experiential instruction and receiving specifically referenced?
What are some words that can be used interchangeably with experiential without losing this necessary connection?
When did experiential preaching become defined thus?, and how did believers receive spiritual life prior to? Was something lacking in the majority of preaching prior to that? How did it become synonymous with reformed preaching in particular?
 
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MChase

Puritan Board Freshman
Just curious. Does the bible provide instruction on how to do experiential preaching (and even receiving)?

I'm not saying that the bible is an instruction manual on how to expound on the Word of God. But what would be a few examples of taking a biblical topic or theme and delivering an experiential message to the hearers?

Obviously, we can never live out our faith perfectly. We fall so short. Are these types of sermons a call to action and a call to daily reform in conjunction with daily repentance and dependence? Does the bible give specific instructions in these ways or does the preacher frame certain events in a way to provide experiential examples of faithful and unfaithful servants?

Im hoping for some scriptural citations to bring this all together.
Is experiential instruction and receiving specifically referenced?
What are some words that can be used interchangeably with experiential without losing this necessary connection?
When did experiential preaching become defined thus?, and how did believers receive spiritual life prior to? Was something lacking in the majority of preaching prior to that? How did it become synonymous with reformed preaching in particular?

You can read the prophets and their sermons of judgment and promise to see that they were not merely preaching doctrines abstracted from application to the present needs and wants of the people. Another thing to notice is how often older ministers asked questions of the congregation and how infrequently it is done today. Is Christ precious to you? Do you tremble at the demands of the law? Do you love it in your inmost being? Etc. The key is that the congregation must not simply be taught doctrines but exhorted, comforted, and so on. The minister’s job doesn’t stop when the text is exegeted. It must be applied to the lives and hearts of his people. The text doesn’t merely teach. It makes demands of those who read and hear it. Men, women, and Children should come from the sermon having a sight of Christ and their sin. Of course particular sermons may focus on one part of preaching more than others (some more doctrinal, some more experimental, some dealing more with an exegetical point) but the thrust of a minister’s sermons Year after Year should be well rounded and not forget the experimental aspect that is often lost in preaching.
 

RamistThomist

Puritanboard Clerk
I guess the sticking point for many would be:

"What constitutes x as "experiential" enough?"

I've listened to some Reformed ministers (young men, interestingly enough) who met all of the above criteria and gave the driest lectures imaginable. I'm fairly certain we would not call that "experiential."
 

Vernon

Puritan Board Freshman
Just curious. Does the bible provide instruction on how to do experiential preaching (and even receiving)?….
Im hoping for some scriptural citations to bring this all together….

It seems to me that Lamentations is a book ripe with content on experiential preaching.

Henry Scougal (see my avatar) has only nine sermons on record, but two are from Lamentations. One, entitled “The Necessity and Advantage of Early Afflictions”, is from 3:27-28: “It is good for a man that he bear the yoke in his youth. Let him sit alone in silence when it is laid on him.”

Unfortunately, I have not read the sermon, as I cannot find it. However, considering the content of the book (which was not written with the intention of becoming a volume for print), I am certain the sermon has heavy experiential content.
 

ADKing

Puritan Board Junior
It seems to me that Lamentations is a book ripe with content on experiential preaching.

Henry Scougal (see my avatar) has only nine sermons on record, but two are from Lamentations. One, entitled “The Necessity and Advantage of Early Afflictions”, is from 3:27-28: “It is good for a man that he bear the yoke in his youth. Let him sit alone in silence when it is laid on him.”

Unfortunately, I have not read the sermon, as I cannot find it. However, considering the content of the book (which was not written with the intention of becoming a volume for print), I am certain the sermon has heavy experiential content.
It is found here https://books.google.com/books?id=C...ce=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false (on p. 116)
 

Taylor

Puritan Board Graduate
I have and it is a good book. While it's been 17 years since I have read it, it seemed heavy on logic and rhetoric (which I think it is good). If that is what experiential preaching is, well and good.
You’re right. And I recommend it because Dabney does a really good job of defining what "experimental" preaching is, and clearing up misunderstandings of what it is not. Basically, he has a really thorough understanding of the human constitution. He says we must reach the heart, but through the head. His book presents the whole package, basically.
 

A.Joseph

Puritan Board Senior
Interestingly, if you look up experiential preaching, expository preaching comes up. Are these two forms interchangeable or is there variation between the two? I don’t get the impression that all expository preaching is experiential but I could be incorrect about that.
 

VictorBravo

Administrator
Staff member
Interestingly, if you look up experiential preaching, expository preaching comes up. Are these two forms interchangeable or is there variation between the two? I don’t get the impression that all expository preaching is experiential but I could be incorrect about that.
Experiential preaching should be expository, but expository preaching is not always experiential.

One succinct example in Scripture is Peter in Acts 2. He points to Jesus Christ. He draws from Scripture, here, the Psalms, he points to the facts of Christ's life and death and resurrection, brings sound doctrine based on Scripture, and applies it to his hearers.

The people's response? "They were cut to the heart."
 
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