I had my Greek students read D. A. Carson’s Exegetical Fallacies. This is usually a popular assignment since the book is an easy read and interesting. There is something amusing about reading about other people’s mistakes, for some reason.
One of my students made several excellent observations based on his reading of the book. Jon Austin claimed in his review that “…there is a moral responsibility of pastors, professors, and myself to present the exegesis of the gospel with integrity.” I think this is an interesting way to put the problem. It is a moral responsibility to do good exegesis for sermons and Bible studies. I do not think the opposite of “good exegesis” is necessarily “bad exegesis,” but “lazy exegesis.” Most pastors have a very busy schedule and more likely than not do not get to spend quality time “doing exegesis” of the Bible for their sermons. I understand this and experience this regularly myself.
At best, most pastors have to struggle along with the commentaries rather than doing genuine exegesis. Hopefully they are able to use more than one commentary, but likely as not a single favorite source is all that informs the reading of a text. Hopefully the pastor is able to purchase a few new resources when they begin a new series, but I am afraid that some are content with the old standards they had in college or seminary.
What I fear is that many pastors limp along with the worst form of preparation: surfing the internet for ideas which they can cut and paste into their sermons. If the pastor’s moral responsibility is good exegesis, then the pastor’s moral failure is using sources without critical evaluation or worse yet, plagiarizing sermon elements from blog posts or considering Wikipedia “sufficient preparation.” This is just as much of a moral failing as plagiarizing a paper in college or lying on a resume. My guess is that there are too many pastors who do not agree and continue reading things they got in an email that week as part of their sermons.
Another factor is reliance on topical sermons rather than exegetical ones. I have commented on this before, but I am strongly in favor of expositional preaching, usually through books. Part of the reason for this is that it allows the preacher / teacher to address topics as the arise out of the text, rather than using the Bible as a proof text to support and already-assumed premise. Again, Jon was insightful in his paper: “When we are teaching our congregations topically, we tend to manipulate meanings of words and sentences to our advantage.” I am sure most pastors do not think they are “manipulating” the Bible, but it usually turns out that way when proof-texts are offered. When someone actually reads the proof-text in context and finds that it does not say what the preacher claimed, credibility is lost.
I think that more pastors need to take seriously their high-calling to present the Word of God powerfully by immersing themselves in the Scripture they intended to preach. Since we are dealing with the most precious thing imaginable, God’s Word, legitimate, quality preparation is absolutely essential.