Weight of Evidence Preaching: 5 Lessons Learned

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.

The Bible, Expository & Consecutive Preaching – Part 5

Daniel Goepfrich wrote a substantial interaction with this blog over on his site – here – this post is responding to the issue of relevant preaching from paragraph 12 to the end.


You then progress to the issue of contemporary relevance.  I agree with you that the Bible is full of God’s spokesmen addressing contemporary issues (prophets, Jesus, apostles, etc.)  As I have already mentioned, my understanding of expository preaching is not about form of preaching, but a commitment to understanding and communicating the biblical text with emphasis on its relevance now.  I quoted Wiersbe’s comment on Ironside to prompt thought, not to suggest that we should only preach straight through books, and I appreciate you noticing that early on and changing your post accordingly.

However, there is an issue worth thinking through here.  Do we “make the text relevant” or do we show “how the text is relevant?”  To use Stott’s approach in Between Two Worlds, is the text boss of the message, or is the preacher?  This is where expository preaching is separated from other approaches (again, not a form issue, an authority issue).  Does the biblical narrative speak with authority in reference to God and humanity, or is it merely a recounting of what happened?  Does the message of the prophets, or Jesus, or Paul, or James, speak with authority today, or is it merely an example to follow in that we too should speak relevantly?  I don’t think you are suggesting that, but I gently push your words toward a perhaps logical conclusion?  No, you are right when you say that we preach the Bible because it is relevant today.  I heartily agree.

In fact, what you suggest is that we use the Bible texts to speak to today’s situations, but we need not feel constrained to the form of writing in which they were recorded.  I do not advocate strict adherence to the form so that every sermon has to be a verse-by-verse re-presentation.  I would suggest that is a good default place to start though.  Why?  Because form is not merely a type of cultural baggage that we can dispose of and lose nothing.  No, the writers were deliberate communicators and we will not fully understand them if we do not seek to understand what they wrote in the way that they wrote it.  So I would urge the preacher to study a passage both in context, and with awareness of the genre and form it is in.

Do we have to preach according to that form?  Not necessarily.  However, if we want our listeners to know how to understand the Bible, then we do them a major disservice if we don’t show how form influences meaning.  Hence my position – the form of the text is a good default for the form of the sermon, but there may be good reasons to adjust the form of the sermon away from the form of the text.

I have really appreciated your post and interaction with my site.  I hope my response has been helpful in clarifying where I’m coming from?  Thanks for recognizing that I’m not dogmatic about form as some are (i.e. the “consecutive only” preaching proponents).  I hope this post has helped to clarify that while I see real benefits to consecutive preaching, my real commitment is to a true understanding of “expository preaching.”

I agree that we need to keep preaching what people need to hear, rather than just what they want to hear. That argument could be used by both sides on the consecutive versus topical debate.  The fact is, people need to hear what God is saying, and for that we must be committed to expository preaching – whether we choose to use a consecutive approach (as you will with Philippians) or a topical approach.  Not everything is expository, though, and I am concerned about preaching that uses the text to say what the preacher wants to say (which could happen in both consecutive and topical preaching!)  For that reason we need to be continually growing as students of the Word of God.

Every blessing in your ministry, Daniel, and thank you again for reading biblicalpreaching.net

The Bible, Expository & Consecutive Preaching – Part 4

Daniel Goepfrich wrote a substantial interaction with this blog over on his site – here – this post is specifically addressing the examples of poetry and prophets given in paragraphs 10 & 11.


Regarding Poetry, again I don’t insist that we preach through a book – that is not what I teach (thanks for correcting your post on that).  However, it would be a shame to miss the importance of written context for any biblical passage.  Proverbs seems to be the most randomly organized, until you read Bruce Waltke or someone like that and start to see the structuring of apparently random collections of proverbs.  Whether or not that can or should be communicated in preaching is another issue.   Ecclesiastes and Job are not random collections.  Psalms, I would suggest, is not as random as our contemporary hymn books (ordered alphabetically).  It contains collections, and increasingly scholars are recognizing structure and ordering throughout the collection.  My Hebrew prof did his OT PhD on the evidence of structure and order in Psalms 107-118.  His mentor, Gerald Wilson, has demonstrated that Psalms is anything but a mere hymn book.  Again, it would be a shame to have a superficial view of this part of the canon and miss some of the richness contained in the structure and sequencing of the book.  That does not require preaching straight through, but it does urge us to have a real awareness of the literary context in our studies.

You mention prophets, and likewise, I agree that we don’t have to preach straight through.  Again, though, I suggest that even if two oracles were given at different times, or in a different order, the way they are in the Bible now is the inspired text.  Our task is neither to dismiss ordering of texts and treat them as random collections, nor is it to “reconstruct” an original and better order.  Our task, in part, is to understand the inspired text as it stands.  Whether you preach straight through or not is up to you – I do both.  However, I would suggest that not studying a passage in context will seriously undermine your ability to understand the text (and why should you study in context if it’s just random?)


My final segment of response will come tomorrow.  Thanks.

The Bible, Expository & Consecutive Preaching – Part 3

Daniel Goepfrich wrote a substantial interaction with this blog over on his site – here – this post is specifically addressing the example of historical narrative given in paragraph 9.  Be sure to check out the comments on his site.  It’s great to enjoy a mutually respectful interaction like this.


You go on to address various genres.  A couple of comments.  Historical narratives are not always in strict chronological order – I touched on that yesterday.  Neither are all narratives offering normative example (i.e. that we should duplicate what happened).  However, they are written with theological purpose.  I sometimes say that the writers were neither drunk nor wasteful – they didn’t waste words and they didn’t waste parchment.

If we simply view these books as sometimes randomly ordered collections of stories that simply say what happened, then we inadvertently undermine great chunks of inspired Scripture.  All Scripture is inspired and profitable, useful.  The way you make the first 17 books of the Old Testament sound, they almost seem to be about as useful to my daily life as some not very well organized family photo albums.  That’s just what happened.  Important history.  But not really relevant now.

I know that is not your intent, but I exaggerate to make my point.  You raise important issues – that of normative and non-normative narrative, that of sequencing in composition (or redaction, I suppose), etc. Without getting into high levels of biblical criticism, it is important to recognize that our view of Scripture will influence not just how we preach it, but how we understand it in order to preach it.


I’ll go on to the examples Daniel gives of poetry and prophecy tomorrow.

The Bible, Expository & Consecutive Preaching – Part 2

Daniel Goepfrich wrote a substantial interaction with this blog over on his site – here – this post is specifically addressing this sentence in paragraph 8:

Most of the Scriptures were not written as sermons or messages to be taught straight through. Sure, some of the letters in the New Testament are designed that way and a few books in the Old Testament, but the majority of the Bible is not.


Whether or not the books of the Bible were written as sermons or messages to be taught straight through seems to be slightly besides the point.  NT letters, for instance, weren’t designed to be taught through, but were written to be read through in one sitting.  In a pre-literate world where orality was central, believers would almost always be hearers not readers, and capable of hearing and retaining in a way that we don’t need to be today. I would suggest that none of the Bible books were “designed” to be preached either straight through (one chunk at a time) or dipped into (topical selectivity).

One issue to consider, though, is that there is a unity and cohesion to each of the Bible books.  They are not random (with the possible exception of parts of Proverbs), but deliberately ordered.  I would suggest that historical books are anything but randomly ordered narratives.  The gospel writers and the OT narrative writers were theologians, as well as the writing prophets, who based their ordering neither on strict chronology as we might expect, nor on random order of recollection, as you later suggest, but on their theological goal in writing.  Recognizing the structuring of books does not require consecutive preaching (and many consecutive preachers are painfully unaware of the connections between their preaching sections).  However, whether we choose to preach through a book or topically, my concern either way is that the preacher should strive to understand the authorial intent in any given passage.  Understanding a passage in its written context is critical in achieving that understanding.


I will continue my response tomorrow.

The Bible, Expository & Consecutive Preaching – Part 1

Daniel Goepfrich wrote a substantial interaction with this blog over on his site – click here to see it. His post raises some important issues, so I’ve decided to respond with a series of posts here.  I’ll have to indicate which paragraphs I’m responding to each day, but I would encourage you to read his entire post first and get a feel for his ministry heart as well as his point in the post.


Dear Daniel,

Thanks for giving such a lengthy interaction with the brief post I offered.  And thank you for your kind words about my site.  You obviously have a much appreciated ministry and I praise God for that and for your work there at Oak Tree Community Church.

I will follow your lead and reply with a post on my blog.  Actually, I like to limit the length of each post and also appreciate having several days worth of writing done, so I will divide my response into several posts.

The first thing I would like to suggest is that your post doesn’t fully recognize the emphasis of my blog. Being a proponent of expository preaching does not mean always preaching straight through a Bible book.  You are right that I don’t affirm skipping around hitting various topics, although I do see the value of periodic intentional “expository-topical” preaching.  The issue, though, is how we define expository preaching.

I strongly resist attempts to define expository preaching as a form of preaching (as you seem to imply by the “straight through a Bible book” definition).  My definition of expository preaching has no reference to form in it, only commitments regarding accurately understanding the meaning of the text, effectively communicating it with an emphasis on its relevance to the listeners and a commitment to reliance on the Holy Spirit in the process.  Perhaps we’re not so far apart as you think!

Tomorrow I will continue my response to Daniel’s helpful post.  (The definition of expository preaching for this site is presented here and here, as well as numerous other posts.)

True Topical Takes Time

Some churches apparently have “topical sermons” every week.  Apparently some preachers think they are easier to prepare and easier to listen to.  Yes and no. A topical message is easier to prepare if you are simply wanting to say your own thing and bounce off a couple of verses along the way.  A topical message is easier to listen to if people have a taste for anecdotal soundbites.  However, true topical preaching, what you might call expository-topical preaching, this takes time.

(Incidentally, people may have a taste for lite-topical preaching, but often this is only because they’ve not heard decent expository preachng.  It’s never a fair contest to pit engaging topical messages by good communicators against dry and tedious lectures falsely placed under the label of “expository preaching.”)

By topical preaching, I mean preaching that is not initially birthed out of a passage or passages, but rather birthed out of the concept or title.  A good expository-topical approach will then select appropriate passages and do the exegetical work in those passages so that the part of the message coming from that passage actually comes from that passage.  Hence expository-topical.  Rather than using or abusing a bit of a text to say what I want to say, the onus is on me to let that text really speak for itself.

It may be easy to jump through my five favorite verses and link them together with anecdotes, but genuine expository-topical preaching requires me to wrestle with each passage chosen, in context, so that the text itself is boss over that part of the message.  True topical takes time.

I’m not of the opinion that every message should be from a single passage (I do think that is a healthy staple diet approach).  This week I finish a mini-series on the ‘christian virtues’ of faith, hope and love.  A broad title like “Love” takes time.  Time to select which of the hundreds of passages to use.  Time to understand them and develop a coherent message.  Time to cut out and drop material that could so easily fill a series on the subject.  If the subject were not so thrilling, I’d be tempted to say that I’m looking forward to preparing a non-topical message again next week!

Passage Selection – Stage 1

A little milestone was reached yesterday as the hit counter passed 100k. So I thought I’d take some days to offer a brief summary of the 8 steps of sermon preparation, suggesting some links back to posts that are particularly relevant to each step. Remember, you can see all the posts related to stage 1 by clicking on the “Stage 1 – Passage Selection” button in the menu. Thanks for visiting this site!

Step 1 – Passage Selection

Before you can design a message, you need to have studied at least one passage on which to base the message. Before you can study, you have to select the passage. There are two issues to bear in mind at this step:

Issue 1 – Which passage will you preach? If you are mid-series, then the next passage is already chosen. If you are preaching a stand-alone message, then you have to pick a passage to preach on (perhaps influenced by the occasion, the needs of the congregation or even your personal motivation). So sometimes selecting a passage is not an issue at all, but issue 2 always matters . . .

Issue 2 – Are you studying a complete unit of thought? This is always important to double check. Once you have you passage, you need to make sure it is a complete unit of thought. It is often possible to study and preach two or more units of thought that stand together (for example, two gospel stories presented together, or multiple paragraphs in an epistle), but it is very risky to try and study or preach half a unit (half a psalm, half a proverb, half a speech, half a story, half a paragraph . . . half a thought!) So for each passage you decide to study and preach, be sure to give thought to the true beginning and end of the unit of thought.

Previously – Concerning the first issue, selecting a passage, here’s some advice on how to select a passage, and another one. This post suggests preaching series, and in some churches there’s the practical issue of multi-speaker series, see also part 2.

Now concerning issue 2, the complete unit of thought. Here’s a post in which I point out that we can’t simply rely on the chapter and verse divisions, we have to select our passage personally. There is some helpful advice here in a post on longer narratives. And the issue of preaching several passage is addressed in this post on topical preaching. Finally, two posts on why I suggest generally sticking in one passage: A low fence and part 2.