Preaching a sermon in the Internet age comes pretty easily. In fact, spend just a few hours doing some research on your text, copy and paste from a few different sources, squeeze in a personal story or two and you are set for Sunday morning.
But if you prefer doctrinal preaching, you are going to have to work for it. It is as intense a workout as you will ever get as you pore over God’s Word in preparation for the sermon.
At least that’s what Robert Smith Jr. believes and hopes to communicate in his new book Doctrine that Dances: Bringing Doctrinal Preaching and Teaching to Life from B&H Publishing Group, the publishing arm of LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention. Within weeks of its release the book was named “Book of the Year” by Preaching magazine.
“Doctrine exists to make preaching as hard as it needs to be,” said Smith, professor of Christian preaching at Samford University’s Beeson Divinity School in Birmingham, Ala.
The Word must pierce, dissect, and saturate the one attempting to preach it, he added.
“Ministers can be guilty of spending much of their time preparing messages that will impact others but not enough time allowing the text of Scripture to impact themselves,” Smith writes.
“Ministers who dare to preach doctrinally must always remember they not only participate in rightly dividing or ‘cutting straight’ the Word of truth before their congregations, but they are also divided by that same Word.”
For all those who fear a congregation full of nodding heads before the pastor completes his first point, no worries, says Smith, a popular preacher at pastors’ conferences, denominational conventions, evangelism conferences, and teaching conferences worldwide.
“There is a misconception that doctrinal preaching is dull, boring and that it drags,” he said. “But I contend that it dances. It doesn’t drag. It is a blessing, not a burden. It is vivacious … and living.
“If doctrinal preaching doesn’t dance, then the escort (the preacher) is out of rhythm with the music (the text),” he said. “I’m not talking about clowning. I’m talking about approaching the text as alive and full of redemptive life rather than in a dull, lifeless manner that is just cranial and not cardiological.”
It takes knowledge from the head and emotions from the heart for the sermon to dance, he noted. “If there is only a head engagement, then the sermon is dull. If only the heart is used, then it is blind. But with both, it dances.”
Smith’s absolute focus on doctrinal preaching came naturally for him as a young pastor in Cincinnati in 1976, but it wasn’t until 1990 that he captured the concept of what was happening. That was the year he entered the Ph.D. program at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky. With a major in preaching and a minor in theology, preaching seminars were certainly on the agenda.
It was under James W. Cox that Smith took his first seminar on doctrinal preaching. It all made sense, he said. “As a pastor, I had lived it since 1976, but I didn’t know how I did what I did. I just helped to mature my people to move from the nursery to an army so that I would become unnecessary.”
After completing the doctoral program, Smith joined the Southern Seminary faculty as the Carl E. Bates Associate Professor of Christian Preaching and remained there until joining the Beeson Divinity School in 1997.
Timothy George, founding dean of Beeson Divinity School, complimented Smith’s teaching ability highly but emphasized his broader impact.
“He is a pastor to our community,” George said. “He interfaces with our students at a heart level. He is willing to spend time with them. He is a world-class preacher, but he is always with students. He’s just that kind of person.”
As far as Smith’s book goes, George noted, “I’ve told him over the years that he is such a great preacher, but he needs to put this in writing so that others who don’t have the opportunity to hear him and study with him can benefit from his wisdom.”
The book’s impact stimulated the idea for the theme at this year’s E.K. Bailey International Conference on Expository Preaching in Dallas (July 7–11) – Preaching Sound Doctrine that Dances – where Smith will be a keynote speaker. (Preaching editor Michael Duduit will also be a plenary speaker at the event.) George said it’s a book that will be “one of the premier textbooks on preaching in the field.”
Smith’s pastoral work and creativity are woven together with a “deep commitment to theological and biblical truth,” George added.
“It is just part of who I am,” Smith explained. “If I could be dissected and pared down to one cell, all that would be left of me would be doctrinal preaching. This is the heart of Robert Smith. This is my DNA.”
Smith said that to properly communicate the message, “You have to know it, internalize it, not memorize it,” he said. “Before the doctrine gets to the people, it has to go through you.”
Smith suggests reading the sermon passage 50 times before doing any research, and not all at the same time.
“We tend to read the Bible too quickly,” he said. “Live in the text so long that you start looking like the text.
“All five senses must be engaged and awakened. What do you see? What do you hear? What do you taste? What do you smell? What do you feel?
“The Bible is not a magical book,” Smith said. “It needs someone to interpret it. The Bible is living and is ready to dance.
“This is not bringing the doctrines to life but the communication of them to people’s lives,” he said. “Doctrinal truth must touch down upon life. We have to come to life and dance with it.” 

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