Preach Text or Title?

What do you do when you are asked to preach a title with a text?  My simple answer is to honour the title, but preach the text.

Isn’t that the obvious answer?  No, I think there is an alternative that is very common and may be legitimate – preach the title by using the text.  And then there is the option of preaching the title and ignoring, or even abusing, the text.  The challenge is where the line is drawn between these two options.  So why would title take precedence over the text?

Sometimes the title is highly relevant, or highly theological, or highly specific.  What if the title is “What is the Gospel?” and the text is John 3:16.  Or maybe “Are there many ways to God?” and the text is Acts 4:12.  Or “Guilt and holistic health” with Romans 8:1.

The temptation then is to try to give the definitive lecture on biblical soteriology, or the exclusivism of Christ, or whatever.  You’ve gone from preaching the Bible to preaching theology with the Bible as a key exhibit.  I won’t say this is totally wrong.  We have probably all benefitted from some “definitive lectures” from great speakers.  But personally, I find there is something lacking in this approach.  I would rather preach the text.

Personally I find it satisfying when I feel like I’ve done a good job of engaging the text and presenting it in such a way that it has “lived” in the imaginations of the listeners. A well crafted lecture on exclusivism is all well and good, but a text genuinely experienced text is much rarer.  As long as it addresses the requested subject by way of application, of course.

So in simplistic terms I might be looking at something along these lines:
Intro – raise the question in light of contemporary thinking so people say “yep, that’s a big issue, what’s the answer?”
Text – take them back there, set the scene, make it vivid, help them experience the unique reality of the situation, and preach the text.
Application – return to today and answer the question . . . “so if that was true for them, what is true for us, under pressure to conform to the world’s way of thinking?” Preach the point of the verse again in reference to the opening of the sermon.
The big thing to remember is that you can either formulate the most brilliant systematic theological presentation of the issue and impress a few.  Or you can make the text live, preach vivid and engaging . . . and as long as you answer the question, everyone will love it.  And, also, you’ll probably love it more because you will feel like you’ve truly preached the text, rather than pulled a phrase out of context in order to satisfy a contemporary theological question.

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2 thoughts on “Preach Text or Title?

  1. I think you hit it right on the mark with the “big thing to remember.”If given the privilege to preach, we should take the opportunity to demonstrate to the audience, how a text should be handled and the way that you suggested is a very gracious way of accomplishing both. Thanks

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