Imposing Points On a Text?

In response to the Lazy Preaching? post, one reader asked the following questions – “Does not one run the risk of ‘imposing’ on the text your desire to extract one point? Should not the number of point(s) be driven by the text in question?” These are good questions. How would you answer them? Here’s a couple of things to bear in mind:

The text is in the driving seat – It is absolutely right to suggest that the text itself should inform the shape as well as the content of a sermon. We are not required to replicate the shape of the text, but that is the best place to start. If the text has two chunks, or three movements, then start off assuming your sermon will too. Then, when designing the sermon, evaluate whether this is the best way to communicate the message to your listeners. So we are not restricted to the shape or order of the text, but moving away from that should be thought through and purposeful.

A literary unit does have one “point” – Let’s not get confused on terminology. Here I am actually referring to the main idea, big idea, proposition, take-home truth or whatever label you prefer. That main idea will then typically be developed in more than one point or movement within the message. So while it would be wrong to impose any structure on a text, it is not wrong to look for the main idea. A true literary unit has a unity of thought. Whether it is a parable, a psalm, a poem, a paragraph in an epistle, a prophetic oracle, a proverb, or whatever, it has one main idea. The logic of communication determines that a unit of thought has inherent unity, and therefore that text can be distilled into one main idea by asking the two key questions – what is this author writing about? And, what is this author saying about what he’s writing about?

In reference to Andy Stanley, I don’t know much about him. I’ve never heard him preach. I just received his preaching book which I’ll review in due course, but all I know so far is what I read in that interview. He states that he preaches one point sermons. I wonder if he means sermons with one clear main idea? I’ll need to listen to him preach or read the book to find out. In reality, I suspect that he would use several movements within a message in order to drive home the one main idea (or point, if you want to use that terminology).

One thought on “Imposing Points On a Text?

  1. I’ve always been baffled by the dictum that a single literary unit (biblical or otherwise) has one main point. While for practicality’s sake we probably have to preach as if it does, the Scripture itself is multivalent enough that the “one main idea” approach runs the risk of violently dissecting the text. For example, Jesus’ use of anothen in John 3:3 comes immediately to mind.

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