Saturday, November 2, 2013

I have a new theory on preaching

Here it is.

If you have a doctrine kind of a mind you should preach from shorter passages.

If you have more an exegetical kind of a mind, you should preach from longer passages.

Neither is bad. Just different.

Most preachers in my circles are big passage guys. They are engineer types who glory in logic and structure. At college they felt more at home in OT and NT lectures than they did in systematic theology.  In their preaching they have taken very naturally to a Stott type approach of preaching a passage from one end to the other. If an idea is not in the passage directly before them, they'll generally leave it out. They are big on context - but seeing the passage that they are preaching in the context of the book it comes from more so than seeing the passage in the context of the whole bible.

Most of my minister friends try to preach like this. But for some of them it is really unnatural. They read a verse and their minds jump to other parts of the bible. They find that a chain of logic doesn't make their hearts sing, and at the thought spending 20 minutes showing how 2 chapters of Matthew's gospel hang together perfectly... well they yawn.

In the old days of preaching from a 'text', guys like this were in their element. It came fairly naturally. I'm not suggesting we go back to that. Single verse, out of context, pious reflections... who wants that? But. What I think guys like this need to do is simply preach from shorter passages. Maybe just 8 verses instead of 30. Take the time. Explore them closely. Go on that excursion round the bible that you always want to go on. If you are only preaching a few verses it needn't detract from your big idea. Give us depth. Really apply it.



  1. I like that.

    I am a chapter by chapter kind of preacher. Not because I'm an engineer (how dare you) but because I like stories.

  2. No, no, no, Jana!

    (I can say it like that because you're a Qlder and will get the reference)

    No, what we need to do is break the absurd nexus between what is read and what is preached upon.


    Not at all:

    - you might read a whole chunk, only to preach on one verse from within it as a springboard to a doctrinal sermon. But reading the chunk means your verse isn't just a prooftext, and gets given in its setting

    - you might read half a chapter, but preach on five. In fact, I did it a couple of weeks ago. The bit you read acts as an intro, or as a question-beggar, or contains your conclusion, or...

    It's also worth observing that the Bible is not a collection of 66 commentaries, and so all that nonsense that you find in the front of each commentary, dividing passages and subpassages and sub sub sub points is just a whole bunch of Aristotelian hooey. So why should we preach like that?

    Stott did a wonderful job of showing us how we need to say what the text says. It's a shame that he also modelled the need to do so in the most methodical and unimaginative order. What we want to do is not read a commentary from the pulpit, but open people's eyes to how the writer/book/divine being communicate. Some books do work on a preach-by-numbers order, but others work far better when sliced and diced thematically. Horses for courses.

    (Not that I have an opinion on this or anything)

  3. ... of course if you preach for a long time, you can do both :-P....