Why State Ideas Explicitly? – Part 2

Here’s the question again:

Since our culture is shaped by the communication of implicit and pervasive ideas, and much of the Scriptures use a narrative communication with ideas implicitly conveyed, are we communicating effectively when we state explicit ideas in preaching?

Two more thoughts:

Generally speaking, explicit statement of the idea is necessary if people are to have any chance of getting it. I’ve seen it time and again in preaching classrooms.  The preacher knows that the class will be asked what the main idea of the message was, so they try to exaggerate it, repeating it until they feel almost embarrassed to do so any more.  Then when the group is asked for it (knowing they would be asked and some looking for it throughout the message) . . . many fail to give the preachers idea accurately!  It is scary as a preacher to realize how easily people miss the main idea, even when we are explicit.  So we need to consider how to communicate that idea effectively.  Generally this means repetition, emphasis, etc.  Sometimes a better way is more subtle, but strong through subtlety (as in an inductive message – less repetition, but more impact).  Moving deliberately away from explicit statement of the main idea without a very good alternative strategy and plan seems like homiletical folly.

This question does raise a valid issue. Not only do we need to think about the explicit main idea of our message, but we need to consider our implicit communication.  How can we reinforce the main idea through implicit means during the sermon?  What other values and ideas are we conveying implicitly in this or any sermon?

Is it right to state the main idea explicitly?  I think it is.  But this does not call us to simple formulaic approaches to idea repetition.  It calls us to wrestle with our entire preaching strategy as we seek to convey the true and exact meaning of the biblical text with impact in the lives of our listeners.

Why State Ideas Explicitly?

A while ago I was asked a very perceptive question:

Since our culture is shaped by the communication of implicit and pervasive ideas, and much of the Scriptures use a narrative communication with ideas implicitly conveyed, are we communicating effectively when we state explicit ideas in preaching?

I think a question of that depth requires a better answer than I am about to give, but perhaps this post and the next can challenge both our theory and practice.  A couple of thoughts in lieu of a full-orbed answer:

Preaching is different since listeners cannot soak in it. I would suggest that the pervasive influence of our culture is a soaking influence.  People are constantly and gradually bombarded with messages about life, reality, meaning, self, beauty, satisfaction, money, sex and so on.  This “implicit” pounding continues moment by moment, day after day.  Then we stand on a Sunday morning and hope to counter with truth from God’s Word.  From one perspective, it is hardly a fair fight!

Culture, Bible and Preaching all influence both implicitly and explicitly. While the question recognizes the implicit nature of communication in both culture and the Scriptures, it fails to recognize that all three use both implicit and explicit communication.  Culture is implicit in the communication of the general main ideas of the world, but when “soaking” is not possible, it can become very overt.  An ad campaign that will be seen many times can be subtle, but witness also the numerous explicit “big ideas” communicated daily in advertizing, film, music, etc.  According to Robinson, the Bible communicates eight or ten big “big ideas” repeatedly throughout the canon.  Spend a life soaking in the Word of God and those ideas will mark you deeply.  Yet each passage also conveys its idea more directly – with language, propositional statements, images painted with words, even narratives that leave a mark on the reader (whether or not the reader bothers to try and put exact words to the idea that has been presented therein).  Preaching also communicates both implicitly and explicitly.  Over the years, listeners who soak in your preaching will be marked by implicit messages and attitudes conveyed in your preaching – attitudes toward God, toward truth, toward the Bible, toward people, etc.  Yet we also make explicit that which the listener should not miss – the idea of this passage, presented to us today.

Tomorrow I will add a couple more thoughts in response to this question.