The Struggle for Reference Simplicity

Yesterday I was sharing about the issue of complexity in explanation.  Another aspect of complexity is that of over-cross-referencing.  I have addressed this issue before, but it is worth another take.  The danger is two-fold.  First, that too many cross-references will mean the preaching text is lost.  Second, that too many cross-references will mean the listeners are lost.

1. Lose the motivation to overwhelm.  That might seem strange, but some preachers really do seem to love cross-referencing.  For some, the practice was learned by observation and they have never seen any different.  For others, the practice is the fruit of a yearning to impress people (after all, more verses referenced means more kudos for me as a Bible person, right?)  But if asked outright, I suspect none would affirm the desire to overwhelm listeners, so for that reason alone, it is worth diminishing this desire.

2. Gain the motivation to preach your passage.  This is the other side of it.  We don’t want to negatively overwhelm folks, but do we really want to preach our passage?  Some preachers will cross-reference liberally to fill time since they feel like they have so little to say on the actual preaching text.  It is really hard to know what you don’t know, but take my word for it, it is possible to understand a passage better.  As a result, it is possible to preach without filler material.  More than that, it is possible to be in a text and the text to get into you in such a way as you can’t wait to preach this particular passage to the listeners.  Once your motivation is positively stirred by the passage, you’ll be less desirous of canonically wandering eyes.

3. As a default, stay put.  I suppose it is like saying that when you are riding a bike, as a default, look in front of you.  There will be times to do something else, but make it a standard practice to be where you are in the Bible.  Once you are more settled there, then you’ll be less likely to stray into safari mode without good reason.  Speaking of which…

4. Select cross-references hesitantly and carefully.  There are some good reasons to cross-reference, but not too many.  If your passage is relying on an earlier text either by quotation or by thematic development or by theological reliance, then maybe it is worth going there.  If your passage sets up a later development in the canon, then you might choose to take a sneak peak.  Or if your passage yields an idea that seems to be anti-biblical, then it might be time to wheel out the proof that other writers are saying the same thing.  Otherwise, more or less, stay where you are.

I believe these four steps would bring a helpful simplification to some sermons.  More than that, it would allow for some genuine profundity to flourish in place of the Bible sword drill!

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