Practically Theologians

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011 - Biblical Preaching Stages 4-6

December 25th, 2018

We discuss stages 4-6 from the book "Biblical Preaching" by Haddon Robinson.  Here is the link to the INTRO PODCAST we did on the subject. Also, the podcast with stages 1-3 is HERE.

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Chapter 1 - The Case for Expository Preaching

Robinson makes the case for expository preaching by showing how at the end of the day it allows the preacher to say with confidence, “thus saith the Lord.”  Expository preaching expounds and applies concept derived straight from the text of Scripture, applying it to the personalities and experiences of the congregation after having first been applied to the preacher himself.  Expository preaching does not import the preacher’s ideas into the text, rather the ideas that are preached and applied come from the text to the congregation by way of the preacher.

Chapter 2 – What’s the Big Idea?

Preaching must be a “bullet and not buckshot.”  In other words the congregation must be given a single idea that coheres the entire message preached in order to be able to grasp and apply what the preacher is bringing to them from the text.  In order to get this idea one must find the “subject” and the “complement” of the exegetical unit. The subject is that which the author is talking about, and the complement is what the author is saying about what he is talking about.  

Chapter 3 – Tools of the Trade

Robinson gets into the stages of sermon preparation here:

Stage 1 – Selecting the Text

The selection of the text involves looking at thought units, sections of the text that contain an idea.  One must balance the size of the thought unit with a determination of the amount of time one has to preach.  Combining these two factors will give the preacher the right length of text to cover in one go. Another way to preach is the topical approach, and the texts may be selected in much the same way.  One thing to be careful about with a topical approach though is that you don’t import the topic into the text; one must let the text speak for itself.

Stage 2 – Study Your Passage and Gather Your Notes

The next stage gets into studying the passage and context.  Robinson gives five points to consider as you study the passage.  First take the context of the passage as it sits within the book into account.  In order to do this one may need to read the book many times. The goal is to be able to see how the passage relates to the overall message of the book.  Second take the context of the passage in light of its immediately surrounding passages into account. Third read several translations and write down the problems in translation that you observe. Fourth try to state the subject and complement, at least roughly.  Fifth is the study of the passage’s structure, vocabulary, and grammar. It is during this time that knowledge of the original languages becomes very useful, even essential, to being able to see clearly what is being said in all its nuances. He lists several resources that the preacher will want to avail himself of.  Lexicons, Concordances, Grammars, Word-Study Books, Bible Dictionaries, Commentaries, etc.

Stage 3 – As You Study the Passage, Relate the Parts to Each Other to Determine the Exegetical idea and Its Development

In this stage you are analyzing and synthesizing the text, zooming in to get the particular details of the text, then zooming back out to understand how the smaller units fit into the larger.  During this time the subject and complement should be further refined to better reflect the particular idea within the thought unit. In order to do this Robinson gives some instruction. For the subject, what the author is talking about, he recommends using who, what, how, when, why, and where to ensure that the subject you get truly reflects the idea the author is talking about there.  For the complement you must focus in on the main assertion or assertions of the text. When you find the correct complement it will be supported throughout the paragraph by its supporting arguments.

At this stage Robinson says you should be able to do two things, state the idea of the text in a single sentence, and outline the development of that idea.

Chapter 4 – The Road from Text to Sermon

Before getting to the next two stages, Robinson makes the statement that exegetical preaching is the taking of ideas from the Scriptures and relating them to life.  In doing so he points out the need for the preacher to be aware of and interact with three spheres of life, the Biblical world that the text was written in, the world in general currently, and the personal world of the preacher, in order to be able to come to the application of the idea of the author to the congregation of today.

Stage 4 – Submit the Exegetical Idea to Three Developmental Questions

This stage deals with how to being life to the sermon.  Robinson points out that when someone declares something there are four things that can be done to develop the statement.  It can be restated, explained, proved, or applied. Developing the sermon runs along recognizing this fact and working with these four aspects to craft the sermon into something that lands in the hearts of the hearers.  The three developmental questions have to do with the explaining, proving, and applying of the sermon.

“What does this mean?” In restating you use different ways of saying the same thing to better illumine what it means.  In explaining you answer the question of meaning, where things in the text are not clear you can get into the context of the statement, or into the definition of the words, or into the particular doctrine that the statement touches on.  The point is to know your congregation, and imagine one of them asking the question “what does that mean?” to you during the sermon.

Is it true?” Proving something should take place when a claim is made that may make the hearer ask (in their head if not out loud) “Is this true?”  People may hear the word preached and believe that it is God’s word, but they may still need to be convinced and convicted that what was said is really true.  Or they may hear the preacher say something that they may not believe the Bible really teaches, and they need help seeing that that is indeed what is being taught in Scripture.  And the final aspect is the application of what is said to the hearer. Why should they care? The preacher should seek to answer the question of what difference what he is saying makes to the hearer.  This application that comes to the hearer from the preacher should be drawn directly from the purpose of the author of the text as well, and Robinson gives us five questions to help us arrive at that purpose.  1. Are there in the text any indications of purpose, editorial comments, or interpretive statements made about events? 2. Are theological judgments made in the text? 3. For narratives asking if the story was given as an example or warning and in what way, if the incident is a nor or an exception, and what limitations should be placed on it can help with the particular difficulties that narratives present. 4. What message was intended for those to whom the revelation was originally given and also for subsequent generations the writer knew would read it? 5. Why would the Holy Spirit have included this account in Scripture?

“What difference does it make?” He then gives some questions for helping to take the purpose of the original author and apply it to the listener of today. 1. What was the communication setting in which God’s word first came? What traits do modern listeners share with the original audience? 2. How can we identify with the original audience as they heard God’s word and responded or failed to respond – in their situation? 3. What additional insights have we acquired about God’s dealings with His people with further revelation?  As an aside, I think that this is a key point that has popped up here and there, the need to remember that we are in a different situation redemptive-historically. This means that we are not just trying to get the meaning of the text that the original author meant for the original audience, but we are also recognizing that the Holy Spirit has this in there for us. And the original author and audience may not have known why something was written as they wrote and heard because of where they were in redemptive history.  As Peter writes, the prophets searched and inquired as to what manner and what time these things would take place. 4. And finally, when you discover an eternal truth or an abiding principle what specific practical application does this have for me and for my congregation today? And this last point brings up the difficulty the preacher may have in understanding the connection between what the Bible says and how modern problems are addressed there.

Stage 5 – In Light of the Audience’s Knowledge and Experience, Think Through the Exegetical Idea and State it in the Most Exact, Memorable Sentence Possible

This stage brings the exegetical idea, the one that the author intended, to the audience in the homiletical idea, the idea that connects the Biblical teaching to the modern audience. Getting this idea and stating it creatively is the most difficult piece of the preparation of a sermon, but once it is done the message of the sermon is there with it.  You want this statement to be as simple, clear, and memorable as possible. It may be the same idea as the exegetical idea, with maybe some simplification. The main point is to work at it so that it becomes easy to remember, it grabs the audience’s attention, and it accurately expresses the main idea of the text.

Chapter 5 – The Power of Purpose

This chapter deals with the question, why are you preaching this sermon?

Stage 6 – Determine the Purpose for This Sermon

In this stage one must get to what effect they expect this sermon to have on the hearers.  In order to arrive at the purpose one must look at the purpose of the author, what effect they intended to have by what they wrote.  When preaching, you are aiming at changed behavior or thinking. A sermon is delivered to change the hearer in some way. This purpose can be thought of in categories of knowledge, attitude, insight, and skill.  So anywhere from knowing something better to taking action in life.

Chapter 6 -  The Shapes Sermons Take

Stage 7 – Think About the Homiletical Idea, Ask Yourself How This Idea Should be Handled to Accomplish Your Purpose

Ideas expand with the purpose of the sermon, so the questions addressing explanation, validation, and application apply again to the overall idea of the passage as you go through it.  He addresses the form of the sermon here as well. They can be delivered deductively, inductively, or with a combination of both. The point would be to use the method best suited to deliver the idea and accomplish the purpose of the text.  

Stage 8 – Having Decided How the Idea Must be Developed to Accomplish Your Purpose, Outline the Sermon

An outline takes the major points supporting the idea and makes them the main points, represented with Roman numerals, the sub-points are indicated with capital letters, and further points Arabic numerals.  The outline would also include the introduction and conclusion. Each point in the outline should be a complete sentence, and a statement, not a question. After the points, transitions should be used to help the listener understand they are being brought to a new point.  This can be in the form of a question, a statement of where they are going, a restatement of the idea, a statement that reviews the last point and introduces the next, etc. The transitions can be placed in the outline in parenthesis preceding the points.

Chapter 7 – Making Dry Bones Live

Stage 9 – Fill the Outline with Supporting Materials that Explain, Prove, Apply, or Amplify the Points

Restatement – saying the same things using different words.

Explanation and Definition – amplifying the meaning of what was said.  This can be done with definitions, with comparing and contrasting, or examples.

Factual Information – sharing information of the type that the audience can check out for themselves in order to illumine the message.

Quotations – these would be used for impressiveness and authority to help establish a point. Use sparingly!

Narration – telling a story to bring the listener into the text.

Illustrations – helping the preacher bring abstract ideas to earth by applying the idea to experience.  Illustrations should not be used just for the sake of gaining attention, they should be used to throw light upon what is being said. The listener must know not only the concept, but also what difference it should make.

Chapter 8 – Start With a Bang and Quit All Over

Introductions and Conclusions have an impact that is not proportionate to their length.

Stage 10 -  Prepare the Introduction and Conclusion of the Sermon

The Introduction:

Commands attention. The introduction must capture the attention of the audience and make them want to listen for the next 30 minutes!  And Robinson says this should happen in the first 30 seconds of the sermon, or attention will be lost. The listener is going to make a decision, whether or not to give you their attention for the next half hour, in this time. Make the most of the first 25 words of the sermon to grab the ears and attention of the listeners.

Surfaces needs.  The preacher must understand his congregation and their needs in order to connect to them in his preaching, as Tizard said, “a preacher must feel the needs of men until it becomes an obsession of his soul.”  Application begins in the introduction, the audience must know the preacher is talking to them about them. A preacher who brings to the surface people’s questions, problems, hurts, and desires to deal with them from God’s word will have done the bulk of the work of getting and keeping the congregation’s attention.

Introduces body of sermon.  The introduction should introduce where the preacher will be going, at least touching on the subject of the sermon, so that the congregation knows where they will be going.  The preacher may state the main idea too, but must follow that up with questions of explanation, veracity, or application so that the listener’s attention is grabbed by the tension of waiting for the resolution of those questions.  Once that tension is resolved, the sermon is over.

The introduction must not promise more than it delivers.  It should also be kept short. Scripture reading should be done well, with short passages read after the introduction in order to help the audience listen to the reading.  If the passage is read before the sermon, the congregation may take it as a necessary step before getting to something interesting, which is unfortunate, unless the passage is read well.

The Conclusion:

The conclusion is very important.  It takes all that has been said and seeks to ground it in the minds of the hearers.  One technique to use to ensure a good conclusion is to write it before the sermon in order to help keep the sermon on point.  The listener should know the complete idea and what consequences that holds for them, “what God’s truth demands of them.” It should answer the question “what difference does this make?”

Some elements used in an effective conclusion are:

A summary of the sermon, tying loose ends together.

An illustration designed so that the listener grasps the meaning instantly without explanation.

A quotation, carefully selected to cement truth into the listeners mind.

A question.

A prayer, used carefully and not just a device.

Visualization, which projects the congregation into a future situation they may face that will call them to apply what they have just heard.

A conclusion should not contain new material.  A sermon aims the guns, “the conclusion fires the shot into the listener’s minds and emotions.”  In a well-planned sermon a conclusion should be come upon the listener without needing to be introduced, and don’t promise a conclusion that is not immediately forthcoming.

Chapter 9 – The Dress of Thought

Write out the sermon, using words carefully and a style that faithfully reflects God’s word as well as connects to the audience well.  Don’t preach from a manuscript if possible though, just use it to help internalize the phrasing and words you will use in your delivery.  “A listener sits at the mercy of a speaker, and the speaker, unlike the writer, must make himself understood instantly.” Be clear. Speak with clarity, aim for simplicity and clarity.  Be clear by using clear outlines and simple sentences.  Use short sentences and short words when possible. Be direct and personal. Bring the words to bear personally upon the people, not generally.  Be vivid. With both sight and sound engage the listener’s senses.  Use gestures to engage visually. Think and speak in pictures to connect to them audibly.  Use active verbs, not passive. Use figures of speech. Don’t sound uninteresting: 1. Pay attention to your own use of language, 2. Pay attention to how others use language, 3. Read aloud to increase your vocabulary and to imprint the style and words into your nervous system.

Chapter 10 – How to Preach So People Will Listen

The success of a sermon depends on the content of the sermon, and how that is delivered.  

Ingredients in making up a sermon in order of significance are:






However in priority of making an impression the order reverses, gestures and voice are most important. They are what first strike the hearer and they convey his feelings and attitudes to the hearer “more accurately than words.”  Developing good speaking habits is very important in order to better connect the message to the messenger so that the listener can better decide to trust and accept or distrust and reject what is being said to them.

How you dress and groom, the way you move and gestures you use (spontaneous, varied, definite, and timed), eye contact, and vocal delivery (pitch, volume, rate, pause) are all aspects of the delivery of a sermon that will affect how the congregation receives it.  All of these can be worked on to improve the impression being made upon the hearer.