Making Truth Memorable

“Homiletics is all about making truth memorable.”  That’s what I was told recently.  It was explicitly focused on the issue of sermonic outlines.  While I can see some merit in the statement, I ultimately have to disagree.

I think this is an old way of thinking that is rooted in a limited understanding of both the Bible and the listener.  It assumes the Bible is a repository of truth statements muddled by different genre.  It assumes the listener is a mind-centred creature that will live well if well informed.  It assumes preaching is primarily about the orderly transfer of information.

There may be some value in memorable preaching outlines for the listener.  I suspect they are overrated.  Do people really review passages and ponder the outlines they have heard preached?  Perhaps.  A few thoughts:

1. Transferring an outline to the listeners is not the goal of preaching.  In fact, it might even distract preacher and listener from what is more important…understanding the passage, encountering God in His Word, feeling the force of its application, etc.

2. Overly crafted outlines might have some negative side effects.  For instance, the listener may equate crafting alliterated outlines with accurate interpretation of Scripture and then either copy the method, or feel inadequate to handle the Bible for themselves.  In this generation, perhaps more than before, the listener may find the preacher with clever outlines to be inauthentic and perceive him to be something of a performer.  We need to be wary of over crafting.  It would be better to understand the passage more, especially since many passages are not written as equally weighted paralleled points.

3. There are some things to make memorable.  The main idea of the message, the application of the passage, perhaps the sense of encounter with the Lord, the sense that the passage was helpful (better for them to go back to the text, instead of  relying on a simplified outline).

4. There is more to preaching than making something memorable.  The human is created as a more complex creature than a computer.  We don’t simply live from coding placed in our memory.  We are heart-driven responders and relaters.  We need to be informed, but in that informing process we ultimately need to encounter the Lord who reveals himself to us in His Word.

Tomorrow I will ponder another overly simplistic explanation of preaching, hopefully with some value for us as preachers.

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3 thoughts on “Making Truth Memorable

  1. Outlines of books and passages are invaluable, but you are right, they should serve as guidelines and not be the point. I doubt if Paul had a nice alliterative outline in mind when he wrote, even a very structured book like Romans, so finding one in (or worse yet forcing one on) a text is artificial and will likely come across as such.

    • Thanks David – I agree that there is massive value in accurate outlines of books. I am thankful for them. But it strikes me that preaching being seen as outline generation is problematic.

  2. Good thoughts. I believe true Bible preaching will naturally be memorable, as Scripture is packed with word-pictures and concrete illustrations that are clear in all ages and all cultures.

    The main necessity (as you have emphasized) is that the hearer becomes a heartfelt doer of that memorable word!

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