Details and Clarity

This week I am reworking old posts as I transfer my family back across the ocean.  Here’s one on details.

Preparation and presentation are not the same thing.  For example, consider the issue of details in the preaching text.  In one sense every text is made up of details.  Nouns, verbs, adjectives, participles, grammatical constructions, quotations, allusions, etc.  It can be a narrative, a speech, a letter, an exhortation, a poem, a wisdom saying, or whatever.  Every text is made up of lots of details.

In preparation we begin with an interest in every detail.  It is important to see and interpret every element of a text.  It is often helpful to note what is not present too.  As diligent exegetes we consider every detail important enough to study and interpret in its context.  We continually move back and forth between analysis and synthesis, between details and big picture.  However, during the course of the study process, some details will be seen as more critical to a solid understanding of the text.  Every detail matters, but not every detail is equal.  The goal in preparation is, in part, to find clarity in our understanding of how all the details are working together.

In presentation we are limited by time and motivated by purpose.  Our purpose in preaching is not to present every avenue of inquiry that we have pursued at our desk.  Our purpose in preaching is not to download (or dump!) all of our acquired knowledge to our listeners.  Our purpose is tied to our main preaching idea and its application.  So we carefully cut unnecessary explanation of details that do not drive forward the main idea and purpose of the message.  It takes cutting to achieve a preached clarity.

In the study, diligently analyze the details.  In the sermon, remember that some details need no more than a passing comment, others just a careful presentation in the reading.  However, some details are critical and central, calling on us to highlight them and clarify their significance to our listeners.  We don’t want to lose the forest for the trees, but in order to enjoy the forest fully, some trees have to be highlighted.  Details.  They all matter, but they are not created equal.

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2 thoughts on “Details and Clarity

  1. Hi Peter,

    Thank you for putting this up.

    I do agree with you when it comes to the power of clarity. However, when you talk details, I am really guilty for not doing it enough.

    Should pay more attention the next time I prepare a sermon.

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