Yesterday I introduced the idea of tracing a grain through the length of a Bible book. Today I’d like to offer a few more thoughts before moving on to the bigger idea of tracing themes beyond the borders of a single book.
1. “Knowing tones” don’t do the job of preaching the richness of the Bible. It is easy to preach through a book and emphasize certain terms with knowing looks, vocal emphases and passing remarks. This doesn’t mean that you are doing anything significant. People may not get the point that unity has emerged again in Philippians 4 after taking a back seat in chapter 3, just because you intonate in some way. They haven’t been soaked in the text as you have…
2. Be overt in highlighting some grains if it is helpful to the listeners. Not only should we be overt to help people spot it, but we need to be clear in explaining what we are referring to. We can’t assume listeners have picked up on something subtle. If we make only a subtle nod toward a theme, then we can’t rely on that nod to carry the sermon forward significantly.
3. Be clear in explaining how a thematic grain is worth noting. Most people aren’t collecting biblical trivia as they listen to us preach. Some love that kind of stuff, but most tend to value things based on their perceived value. We need to be clear how the theme is present and what the writer is doing with it.
4. Preaching thematically doesn’t negate the need for deliberate message unity and purposefulness. It may be tempting to see thematic grains as something that is overlooked by preaching textual slices, and therefore a shortcut to preaching “something new” . . . this is not the goal. We need to preach clear, biblical, relevant and engaging messages. Help people see the grains, but do so with a purpose in line with the purpose of the text itself.
5. Beware of repetitious overload in a series. We need to repeat things in preaching, but beware that a shorthand reference to a theme can creep in, especially in a series. The negative here is that some may not understand the knowing tones and passing asides, while others who have heard about it before may not be finding the rediscovery of a theme as a wonderful delight. Be sure that each sermon preaches effectively, and that the whole effect of the series is sensitizing rather than dulling to listeners. Let the main thought of a passage drive the message. Sometimes this means that a theme may recede in a particular message, even if present in the text.
Tomorrow I’ll start to ponder canon-wide thematic grain issues. What would you add here?