Yesterday we pondered some aspects of profundity in preparation for preaching. Today let’s probe a little more on the issue of profundity in explaining a biblical text. Almost every preacher does some sort of explanation of a text, but what makes for a high enrichment without unnecessary obfuscation, uh, unnecessarily complicating it or overwhelming listeners?
5. Help listeners feel the original situation, don’t just bring imperatives over to today. To be a bit more specific, help listeners feel the original relational situation. If they can enter into the felt intent of the author, then the force of the text will be more effectively communicated. The writer didn’t typically write to simply convey information – discourse intended to move, narrative intended to engage, poetry intended to stir. As much as people claim to like straight application or direct commands, the truth is that application will always be more effective when the authority of the text is felt in its context.
6. Be theologically enriched, but don’t impose your theology. Walter Kaiser speaks of an informing theology that is flowing into a passage – it might be the backdrop of the Fall, the plan of the promise, the history of the nation, etc. Don’t treat a passage as if it were a standalone story in a sterile vacuum, but don’t trample all over it with your theological system either. Be sensitive to the hints in the text, to the passage in its context, and in its place in the greater story.
7. Select the pertinent elements of explanation, don’t be exhaustive. It is tempting to want to show all the study that has gone into the message, to cite all the commentaries, to note all the interesting anomalies in the syntax or the cross-references in your Thompson Chain Reference. Think through how much explanation is really necessary and genuinely helpful. Be targeted and purposeful. Omit anything that isn’t genuinely helpful. Better to give just enough explanation and leave space for application and relevance throughout the message, rather than over-packing the explanation and making it too dense, too broad or too irrelevant.
8. Seek to plumb the text, don’t just harvest imperatives. I see this a lot with preachers in the epistles. Rather than offering the uniquely inspired content of a passage, they make it feel much like any other and simply present what we must do. But that is like judging a person by their shoes and wristwatch – why not get to know them as a whole person? Get to know the passage, its flow, its logic, its relational framing, its purpose, its mood, its tone, its strategy. Then preach the imperatives as part of the whole.
Tomorrow we’ll move onto aspects of profound application.