Selecting Sermon Form: The Preacher’s Strategy – Part 1

Over the next days I will re-assert a basic commitment of expository preaching on this site – there is great flexibility on form.  You can preach a text deductively or inductively, or a combination, or using some variation on these basic shapes.  You can choose three points, or two, or one, or four.  You can go verse-by-verse, chunk-by-chunk, logical thought by thought.  You can preach in first-person, second-voice, etc.  You can follow the Stanley 5-Step (me-we-God-you-we), the “Lowry Loop,” or the “Clowney Construct,” or Chappell’s variation, or Keller’s.  Whatever.  You have freedom to choose your form.  So why do we choose the form we choose?  It’s simple really.  It’s about strategy.  As Robinson puts it, the sermon idea is the arrow, your sermon purpose is the target, and your sermon form is how you think you can best deliver that arrow to its intended target.

Since there are numerous possible variations on sermon form, which should you choose?  It’s simple really.  Whatever will work best.  If you have a goal, then you will choose your strategy in order to achieve your purpose.  I see at least three implications here:

1. Resolute commitment to a good strategy may be foolhardy. Seems obvious, but circumstances change.  It’s true in war.  It’s true in sport.  It’s true in preaching.  If you preach in first person (in character) and you get great feedback, don’t automatically commit to always preaching in first person.  It will become old and lose some of its effectiveness.  Each sermon is an opportunity to choose your strategy according to the factors uniquely present on that occasion.

Definitions Without Jesus – Christian Preaching?

John raised an important question in response to the post on key elements of an expository preaching definition.  Should it not include some reference to Jesus?  Some say yes, others say not necessarily.  Interestingly, of the six definitions I have used in my preaching course, only one includes a reference to Christ (J.I.Packer uses the term, “Christ-related”).  Anyway, two positions to ponder:

Christocentric preaching – Bryan Chappell, influenced by Edmund Clowney, teaches and models a form of preaching wherein the fallen-condition focus of the passage is resolved by moving to the person and work of Christ.  People in this line of thought have made comments that a sermon which could be preached in a synagogue, or one in which Christ is not mentioned, is essentially a non-Christian sermon.  (Interestingly, Chappell’s definition of an expository sermon, on p132 of Christ-Centered Preaching does not make any reference to Christ – “An expository sermon . . . expounds Scriptures by deriving from a specific text main points and subpoints that disclose the thought of the author, cover the scope of the passage, and are applied to the lives of listeners.”)

Theocentric preaching – I’ve heard Haddon Robinson reject the charge that a message without Christ is essentially a non-Christian sermon by stating that he preaches theocentrically, and if God plays a key role in the message, then he knows no other God but the Trinitarian God of Scripture.  In practice, Robinson does move from an Old Testament passage to Christ when it works to do so, but he does not feel obliged to do so every time.

People who question the “always bring it round to Jesus” approach are not automatically advocating anthropocentric, “seven secrets for success,” or self-help sermons.  Chappell is right to critique sub-Christian preaching of the “be like,” “be good,” or “be disciplined” variety.  However, must every sermon include Jesus in order to be considered expository?  Certainly many sermons will naturally move to Jesus, but must every sermon?  I would say not, what would you say?