The Theology Bridge

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).

3 thoughts on “The Theology Bridge

  1. Peter,

    Thanks for blogging. You have done a great service to those who believe and practice expository preaching. I enjoy and learn a lot from reading your blog.

    I have a question: You have been attributing Robinson for “theological idea” or “theological outline.” I searched his Biblical Preaching, I couldn’t find where he used the term. I was in his classes and know that he believes in the exegetical, theological and homiletical process, but where can we document it that he does cover theological idea and outline.

    I once heard him saying that theological outline is too difficult for a first-year homiletic students.


    Seahawk Lun

  2. Thanks for the comment. You are right, I don’t see it in either edition of Biblical Preaching either. Perhaps I am attributing to him language taught by his disciples. But, if you look at chapter 80 of The Art and Craft of Biblical Preaching, there Haddon Robinson explains the concept of the ladder of abstraction, which is critical in his methodology. While the label (theological idea) may be missing, the concept is definitely there – you start specific, abstract up theologically and then return to specific for the sake of your listeners.

  3. Thanks for the prompt reply. Yes, Robinson’s disciples used the term often. But I haven’t seen any written document from Robinson talking about it. It was Sunukjian (may be Richard) that popularizes the concept. Later, Warren used the term extensively in his articles and papers.

    I had the privilege of studying under all three (Robinson, Sunukjian and Richard). In fact, Robinson told our class that he would not teach first-year homiletics students about theological idea or outline.

    Keep up the good work!

    In His service,

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