Generally my default approach to preaching is to preach a single passage. Sometimes I will preach a more topical message where each point is the idea of a text and the points together make up the main idea. But there is a variation that might be called a weight of evidence sermon.
This is where the main idea of the message is repeated multiple times in the Bible. So while you may use multiple texts, it is not primarily to build the main idea, but rather to reinforce the main idea. For example, this past Sunday I essentially preached Isaiah 41:10, “Fear not, for I am with you.”
In one part of the message I quoted Genesis 26:24; Deuteronomy 31:8; Joshua 1:9 and Jeremiah 1:8 – all of which say the same thing in a variety of ways. I anticipated that I would be able to find examples of the main idea that addressed different circumstances in life, but then in my study found that the “fear not” part of the phrase was either overt or in the context of almost every text I found with “I am with you” or similar phrasing. So since over 90% of the 30+ passages I looked at had that fear context, I focused the message on God being with us, so we should not be afraid.
I touched down briefly in Hebrews 13:5-6, Psalm 23:4 and Matthew 28:20. He is with us when threatened by people, when facing death, and in our service for Him – all contexts in which we feel fear.
Here are 5 lessons learned on weight of evidence preaching:
1. This should not be the default. Typically our goal should not be to touch down in as many different verses as possible. Padding sermons with unnecessary cross-references is very common and often a detriment to healthy preaching.
2. Be very focused. If the message uses multiple texts, then the main point needs to be very clear and obvious. Otherwise the multiplied verses will confuse and lose listeners. For instance, there were verses in my list where the world noticed God being with his people and it causing them to fear, or verses that spoke of believers loving one another as the context of God’s dwelling with them. This message could have lost focus and therefore lost its force. Be selective in what you preach.
3. Keep their finger on one text. Preaching is not a Bible sword drill where we try to make people find multiple references. So I encouraged people to open to Isaiah 41:10, but I projected the text of the other verses used.
4. Feel the force of the frequency. The point of a weight of evidence message is to help listeners feel the force of the frequency. Time and again God’s word says this, so we should be sure to hear it!
5. Make follow up study possible. People may respond positively, but make sure the list of passages is available to any who want to study it for themselves. There is the benefit of the main idea punched home in the sermon, but there is also the possibility of people enjoying the Bible study chase for themselves, if they have the references.
I’d be interested to hear any more thoughts on this approach – both the pros and the cons.
2 thoughts on “Weight of Evidence Preaching: 5 Lessons Learned”
Weight of evidence-: So dangerously close to proof-texting ,that if you were training preachers, you would be hard-pressed to warn them against the unfaithfulness of proof-texting. A slight sloppiness in the choice of texts leads to twisting of textual message to mean the the point of the sermon. The urge to structure a sermon like this needs to be resisted, it’s a trivialisation of the word,the purpose can best be achieved by preaching one text whose main purport is Fear not, for I am with you,and do it expositionally.
This is a firm rebuke, and probably on target. My only defense is that the preacher needs to know the Bible well as a whole, and consider each passage in context during the study, to protect from proof-texting an eisegetical imposition on the text. I disagree that this is a trivialisation of the Word. To note both the frequency and the framing of such an idea does add something to the exposition, if handled correctly. It would be my standard approach to preach one text as suggested, and this would be healthier as a staple of a church’s diet. There are situations where weight of evidence can have benefit for the congregation, but these should be rare messages, certainly not weekly fare. Thanks for engaging thoughtfully with the site, much appreciated.