When we think through the expositional process, we are really concerned about three stages. The first stage is understanding the text (exegetical). The final stage is producing the sermon (homiletical). The link between the two is the bridge in John Stott’s metaphor (in Between Two Worlds). The bridge is the theological abstraction process. In Haddon Robinson’s book you’ll find reference to the exegetical idea, the theological idea and the homiletical idea. You could equally refer to the “at that time” – “timeless” – “at this time” progression of the stages. This basic concept is important to grasp. In order to accurately preach the message a passage today, we have to first consider the timeless theological abstraction of the main idea. Here are a couple of questions to consider as you move from the exegetical to the theological stages of the process:
1. What does this passage say about God? Whether God is mentioned directly or not, every passage should be considered and preached theocentrically. The Bible is God’s self-revelation, and since He doesn’t change, the timeless truth of a passage will relate to God in some respect. This does not mean that the passage is stripped of human interest, but that God is recognized as the key character, whether or not He is mentioned in those specific verses.
2. What does this passage say about humanity in relation to God? Throughout the Bible we see humanity interacting with God. Some respond with faith, others with self-trust. Some love Him, some hate Him. Bryan Chappell refers to the Fallen Condition Focus that can be observed in each text. In respect to a fallen humanity’s response to God, contemporary listeners will always have a point of connection.
3. Where does the teaching of the passage fit in the flow of progressive revelation? It is always worth thinking through where the passage sits chronologically and progressively in God’s plan of self-revelation. Technically I suppose that asking this question in the exegetical stage of the process might lead to presenting the meaning of a text in a way that the original readers could not have understood it. Nevertheless, contemporary readers have to understand a passage in light of the whole canon. Whether the broader understanding needs to be emphasized will depend on the particular passage and audience.
We study the text to understand what the author meant at that time (exegetical idea). We abstract the timeless theological truth of that idea (theological idea). Then we shape our presentation of that idea for our particular listeners at this time (homiletical idea).