Vague Preaching Ideas

When you study a chunk of biblical text, you are looking to state the idea of that chunk.  The idea encapsulates, condenses, summarizes and usually abstracts from the details present.  In terms of the hermeneutical process, we sometimes refer to the stage of principlization (coming between interpretation and application).  The reason for deriving the principle from the passage is to allow for an application of that principle in another setting, namely our setting today.

The first part of the study process involves understanding the author’s idea to the best of our ability.  It is all “back then” in focus.  The statement of the author’s idea will initially be historically specific.  In order for that idea to cross over the divide between then and now, the idea will need to become slightly more abstract.  For instance, “Israel” might become “God’s people,” and so on.  The challenge in this process, however, is not to go too far.  There has to be a limit to how much abstraction takes place in the move from interpretation to application.

Here’s the test I use of my own study and preaching, and the test I use when evaluating student sermons.  Does the end result remain sufficiently specific that it can be reasonably and directly tied in to the passage in question?  To put it another way, if I only hear the idea, is there a reasonable chance that I could identify the passage (presuming I know the Bible well enough)?  If not, if the idea is so vague that it could come from any number of passages, then it is too vague.  You’ve gone too far up the abstraction ladder.

Use this test of your last main idea, and your next one.  Is it really the idea of the passage (with all its details feeding into it), or is it merely a vague statement of biblical truth?


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