Lazy Preaching? – Part 2

Well yesterday’s post stirred more response than usual!  Andy Stanley stated his point in strong terms, which probably sparked some response.  While as an Englishman I might state the same point in a slightly more understated way, I do urge people who attend my preaching courses to stick in their primary passage most of the time.  Naturally people ask for exceptions to that suggestion.  I have two main exceptions in my own thinking.  Let me share those with you and then ask what other exceptions you might add to the list.  As I wrote yesterday, there are fewer legitimate reasons to use multiple cross-references than we tend to think.

1. When the idea of the primary text does not sound biblical.  If you preach a passage and clarify the point, but people internally react with a metaphorically raised eyebrow.  “Is that biblical?”  In this instance I might run through a series of other passages very quickly that support the same idea.  In this situation I am not developing each cross-reference in detail, or going topical for multiple points, but simply allowing the weight of evidence to underline the biblical nature of what the primary text is saying.

2. When the primary passage leans heavily on another biblical passage.  For example when preaching the middle of 1Peter 3 recently, I was very aware of how much Psalm 34 was influencing Peter’s thought at that point, so I took some time to go back there during the sermon.  Again, not a topical approach, but supportive of the primary passage.

I can imagine one or two other reasons to go to other passages that may be legitimate too, but these are the main two in my thinking.  I’d love to hear more interaction on this subject.

I think we should be wary of anything that sounds like “memory trigger cross referencing” (you won’t find that in any book, I just made up the label!)  So you’re preaching through a passage and a word or phrase triggers your memory of another (perhaps more familiar) passage . . . so you go over there for a moment.  Carrying on you find numerous opportunities to go on a safari through the canon.  Often there is no scriptural reason for doing so, no awareness of what texts influence which writers, no awareness of specific contexts and meaning, and no genuine purpose for the excursions in respect to the specific purpose of the primary text and the sermon.  Memory trigger cross referencing is indeed very easy, all you need is a concordance, or a few favorite passages.  Surely we would agree that is lazy preaching?  But when should we consider going elsewhere in the Bible?  The lines are open  . . .

8 thoughts on “Lazy Preaching? – Part 2

  1. I think you have narrowed it well Peter. I know you have another post on this subject somewhere. I have been turning preachers on to it (how to cross reference and when?). I do think this could be a technique with the use of biblical illustrations. Is it cross referencing (or similar) when illustrating with an example of a biblical character going through the same point made in the sermon? What do you guys think?

  2. Thanks for your post. It simply takes a lot of hard exegetical work to get to the author’s intention and the main point of the passage, far more work than I ever imagined when I was in Bible college and seminary, and when I began pastoring nearly 30 years ago. Many of us were ignorant of how superficial we were in our preaching. We had not had adequate role models and did not have a clue as to what preaching ought to be. In teaching courses on expository preaching, I have described my earlier preaching as lazy because I had found it easier to chase themes rather than to elucidate the passage at hand, but I am not sure that I knew any better. Speaking of lazy preaching, I have been on the platform as a pastor opened his Thompson Chain Reference Bible to a topic in the back and simply “preached” the list of verses under the topic.

    Having said that, I do believe that there is a place in expository preaching to demonstrate the unity of Scripture by judiciously referencing other passages. The fulfillment of prophecy is a valid example. One danger, of course, is to introduce ideas that are foreign to the text or anachronisms, imposing New Testament concepts on Old Testament passages. Another danger is tracing a theme and failing to preach the passage at hand with the result that the congregation has only heard what we think about a subject and does not learn what God wants to say through the passage.

    Thanks again for your post. I appreciate getting to read this blog.

  3. I agree that the times you mention are indeed appropriate times for some cross-referencing and that “memory trigger cross-referencing” is lazy or simply undeveloped preaching. Thanks for asking.

  4. While I understand the arguments that you present, I am guilty of using a lot of Scripture. Often too much I feel. Not only do I understand, but many Monday mornings, I totally agree. But …
    When I read through books like Hebrews … that guy really used a lot of Scripture, was he wrong?

    • Great question, Kevin. Seems to me that while the preacher to the Hebrews did quote a lot of Old Testament, his message was essentially an expository-topical message. The main idea in chapter 2 is from Psalm 8. Then the three big movements of the message each present a main idea from a specific passage. Psalm 95:8 for the first grand movement. Psalm 110:4 for the second. Habakkuk 2:4 for the third. These are then supported by other relevant texts, such as Jeremiah 31 in chapter 8, etc. I suppose I would be uncomfortable with the same frequency of Bible quotes today for several reasons. One, because preachers often don’t tend to be adding, but simply circling (Hebrews is a phenomenal presentation!). Two, because today people feel obligated to look up references and so are distracted or overwhelmed by references, but Hebrews is the speaking of familiar texts to OT saturated believers. Three, because generally texts are touched so superficially today that I would rather encourage preachers to scratch below the surface, rather than offering a smattering of scattered thoughts. Hebrews offers profound presentation of great Old Testament themes in light of Christ. If people were preaching as well as Hebrews, I wouldn’t be so concerned about the issue (if the listeners were also so prepared to handle it).

  5. Peter – Do you consider it improper cross-referencing when familiar stories or passages are alluded to (not necessarily read in detail)?

    An example of what I mean: As part of the intro to a sermon on 1 Peter 1:1-9, which I titled “Happy Trials”, I said:
    Peter is going to help us understand our salvation more clearly. Remember who Peter is.

    Peter is:
    • Part of Jesus’ inner circle (Peter, James, and John).
    • One of those present at Jesus’ transfiguration.
    • The one Jesus told to feed His sheep.
    • The one Jesus called “a rock.”
    • The only person other than Jesus who has walked on water.
    • The only person the Bible says Jesus appeared to one-on-one after His resurrection.

    But Peter is also:
    • The guy who to whom Jesus said “Get behind me, Satan!” when he rebuked Jesus.
    • The one whom Jesus rebuked when he cut off the ear of a soldier who was arresting Jesus. [Jesus then healed the man’s ear.]
    • And of course Peter is the one who, when the going got tough, denied 3x that he even knew Jesus.

    Peter misunderstood his calling as often as he understood it. Thirty or so years later now, Peter writes this letter to Christians who are suffering.

    Curious if you think this sort of reaching outside the immediate text is appropriate.

    My purpose, of course, is to help listeners remember that Peter was like they are, that he was writing lessons he had learned the hard way – to help soften their resistance (“Sure! That’s easy for Peter to write as an apostle of God, but it’s tough to follow in real life!”)

    • No, I would consider this to be helpful contextual content. To give each reference would feel overwhelming, but as you have it here, it is more an issue of context than it is cross-referencing. What I would be more concerned about is when we, as preachers, use up time to go to other references that are sort of saying the same thing, or come to the preacher’s mind when looking at the preaching text, or connect vaguely to a sub-point in the message, etc. This kind of cross-referencing can distract from the preaching text, dissipate the impact of the text being preached, confuse listeners without good biblical familiarity, and teach listeners that good Bible study is about never looking at what you are actually studying, but rather going on wild goose chases without any real logic. I would tend to consider going to a “cross-reference” if it is directly informing the text being preached (i.e. it is quoted, alluded to, underlying the thought, etc.), or I would list cross-references if the idea I’m presenting seems to be non-biblical. Otherwise I would tend to use phrases or quote in passing only if it really helps me preach this particular text, citing the reference only if necessary, etc. I tend to prefer cross-references from the same author, or that have some sort of link. I’m wary of cross-referencing, but I’m not setting up a hard and fast rule. As preachers we should evaluate whether it is helping our message, rather than doing it because that’s what all preachers do.

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