Between Commentaries and Sermons

We need to preach somewhere between commentaries and sermons.  The majority of commentaries are very atomistic.  In a sense, they have to be.  The writer focuses in on each verse, or sentence, in turn.  They try to plumb the depths of lexical, semantic, syntactical and cultural meaning.  Once that verse is exhausted they probably deserve a fresh cup of coffee and a break.  When they return it’s on to the next verse.

Commentators are a real blessing to us and we should be exceedingly grateful for the range and quality of commentaries available.  At the same time, let’s be wary that we don’t just preach a commentary (or a compendium of information garnered from several commentators).  Our task is not to exhaustively present every detail, neither is it to place historic labels over sections of text.

On the other hand, there are many sermons that are anything but atomistic in that sense.  They bounce off a text and range to and fro all over the canon without rhyme or reason.

Somehow our preaching needs to fit between these two extremes.  We preach a text (or texts), but we need to present them in their context.  This means making sense of them in the flow of the book, and appropriately making sense of them in the flow of the Bible as a whole.  In effect we need to cut the log both in slice-ward directions, but also in long cuts along the grain.  How we balance those and make sense of the passage is part of the science and art of preaching.  But somehow that fits between the often necessarily atomistic approach of commentaries and the unnecessarily free movement of many sermons.

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2 thoughts on “Between Commentaries and Sermons

  1. For me another way to look at this is the way the text interacts with the church. It seems like the atomistic approach is all about the text and the leap-frog approach is all about the church.

    The middle way is about how the text affects the church. It requires the preacher to exegete the community as much as the text. Difficult, but rewarding.

  2. That’s why I prefer to do the text work first, and then read commentaries for help in either phrasing or clarifying what I’m trying to say. It is also a good fact checker to make sure I’m not swimming in heretical waters.

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