Pillar Journal

Biblical, Doctrinal, Experiential, and Practical

Reformed experiential preaching aims to bring together the doctrinal, experiential, and practical dimensions as one unified whole.

Experiential preaching, then, teaches that the Christian faith must be experienced, tasted, and lived through the saving power of the Holy Spirit. It stresses the knowledge of scriptural truth “which [is] able to make [us] wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim. 3:15). Specifically, such preaching teaches that Christ, the living Word (John 1:1) and the very embodiment of the truth, must be experientially known and embraced. It proclaims the need for sinners to experience God in the person of his Son. As John 17:3 says, “And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.” The word know in this text, as elsewhere in the Bible, does not indicate mere casual acquaintance but a deep, abiding relationship. For example, Genesis 4:1 uses the word know to express marital intimacy: “And Adam knew Eve his wife; and she conceived, and bare Cain.” Experiential preaching stresses the intimate, personal knowledge of God in Christ.

Biblical preaching must combine doctrinal, experiential, and practical elements. This subject was discussed by John Newton (1725–1807) and other evangelical ministers at one of their Eclectic Society meetings in London in 1798. John Clayton (1754–1843), an English independent minister, raised the question, “What are we to understand by doctrinal, experimental, and practical preaching?” He pointed out that doctrinal preaching by itself tends to produce argumentative thinkers, experiential preaching can overemphasize our inward feelings to the neglect of truth and action, and practical preaching may become man centered and self righteous, belittling Christ and the gospel. Clayton said that all three components must have their place in preaching, quoting Thomas Bradbury (1677–1759) as saying, “Religion is doctrinal in the Bible; experimental in the heart; and practical in the life.”1Quoted in John H. Pratt, ed., The Thought of Evangelical Leaders: Notes of the Discussions of The Eclectic Society, London, During the Years 1798–1814 (1856; repr., Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1978), 77–78.

John Goode (1738–1790) said, “In the members of our flock, there would be sight, feeling, and obedience; and to produce these, all three—doctrinal, experimental, and practical preaching—must be combined in their proper proportion.” Newton declared the organic and vital unity of these three, saying, “Doctrine is the trunk, experience the branches, practice the fruit.” He warned that without the doctrine of Christ we say nothing more than pagan philosophers.2Quoted in Pratt, ed., Thought of Evangelical Leaders, 79.

Thomas Scott (1747–1821) also warned that there is a false way to handle each dimension of preaching: doctrines may not be biblical truth or may be only half-truths, which effectively are lies; experience may follow human prescriptions or be based on visions, impressions, or man-made schemes; and we may substitute mere morality for evangelical or gospelempowered obedience.3Quoted in Pratt, ed., Thought of Evangelical Leaders, 80.

So we see that Reformed experiential preaching aims to bring together the doctrinal, experiential, and practical dimensions as one unified whole. Though we must humbly admit that in our sermons we often do not attain the kind of balance and completeness we strive for, we must stress that we cannot neglect any aspect of biblical preaching—doctrinal, experiential, and practical—without damaging the others, for each one flows naturally out of the others.

Excerpt from
Reformed Preaching
By Joel Beeke