Overly Narrow Application of a Principle

I’d like to build a little on the post from three days ago.  Here is a post I wrote a while back, but am fairly sure I forgot to post on the site.  It offers another angle on the challenges of application, again overtly leaning on Haddon Robinson’s work.

In simple terms the homiletical process involves three stages.  The first is the exegetical work of determining the original writer’s meaning.  The second stage involves abstraction of that meaning via theological principalization to derive a timeless truth.  The final stage is the earthing of that principle for the listeners sat in front of you – the homiletical application stage.  At this point our task is to not only demonstrate the meaning of the passage, but also to emphasize how it is relevant to the listeners.

Application is set up for illustrative material.  By definition, application involves demonstrating how the biblical principle might be applied in a contemporary setting, what difference it makes to us today.  At this point in the message, it makes sense to use illustrative materials.  But beware, there is a trap that is easy to fall into.

The incomplete variety of application error.  The meaning of a passage, and the derivation of principle, are both inclined toward single statement results.  That is to say, there is one meaning.  But how is that principle applied?  There are usually numerous possibilities.  If you only present a single example application, even if you state that this is one possible application, listeners will tend to presume that is specifically what you are preaching (or even, what the Bible is teaching).

Haddon Robinson gives the example of “honoring your parents” in a Pulpit Talk audio journal.  One possible application he gives from his experience with his own ageing father – that he ended up in a nursing home.  Another possible application he gives from their experience with his mother-in-law – that she was cared for by Haddon’s wife in their house.  To give one example without the other runs the risk of communicating only one option for applying the principle derived from the passage.

When you are applying a passage, demonstrating and emphasizing its relevance for your listeners, be sure to indicate the variety of possible applications, rather than leaving people with a faulty understanding of the passage because of an overly narrow applicational example.

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