Cross-Referencing in Preaching – Part 2

Cross-referencing may be a waste of energy.  Sunukjian rightly notes that often a move to another passage is a move in the wrong direction.  Having explained the preaching text, the preacher should then move forwards into contemporary life in order to illustrate in such a way that application is visualized by the listener.  Instead, when preachers move back to another passage, they may be wasting both opportunity and energy.  Opportunity because the text remains distant and unapplied in specific terms.  Energy because another passage will not illustrate the same idea, since it has its own distinct idea.  Furthermore, if people do not accept the teaching of one passage, they are unlikely to accept the teaching of another.  It is usually better to stay in one and teach it more fully.

Cross-referencing may be helpful if… well, there are two exceptions that I tend to take into account.  One was hinted at in part 1.  If your passage is heavily influenced by another, then the influencing passage may be a fruitful focus for a segment of the message.  The whole subject of New Testament use of Old Testament is potentially overwhelming to people (or even, in the words of John Sailhamer – Old Testament use of Old Testament such as the influence of the Torah on the Writings, etc.)  However, if the earlier text is studied in context, we’ll usually find the later text’s use of it makes sense in light of that study.  Don’t be too quick to assign hidden meanings to earlier texts and if that’s the best you’ve come up with, then don’t bother preaching that to your people. 

Cross-referencing may also be helpful if…ok, I said there are two.  The other is when a significant point in your preaching text appears to be new or unusual.  Then it is sometimes helpful for people to quickly hear a series of other texts or references that support the same point.  In this limited sense a series of quick quotes can work well.

If you do cross-reference, then…don’t make it into a sword drill.  That is to say, don’t overwhelm or distract people by expecting, or even allowing, them to hunt down every reference.  This is too much for many, and can create an inner crisis for note-takers!   This may be an occasion where I encourage the use of powerpoint.  Let people see the relevant part of each verse.  If the goal is to show that the point is not unique to this passage, then be explicit with your goal and don’t give the impression people need to remember all these references.  Sometimes just referring to the book rather than chapter and verse is sufficient.  If you do cross-reference, do it on purpose, and carefully construct that part of the sermon so people are not overwhelmed, distracted or confused.

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