When Homiletics Took A Wrong Turn . . . . . Pt #3

wrong way sign.jpg
Where Did Homiletical Theory Take A Wrong Turn?  —- Pt. #3


Where did homiletics make the wrong turn?   Whether or not you think that the wrong turn took place with . . . .

√ John Broadus’ publication — “On the Preparation and Delivery of Sermons”
√ or prior to Broadus — as homiletics was reacting to allegorical or polemic sermonizing
√ or after Broadus, by his students who took it further than he himself did

. . . . homiletical theory took a wrong turn when it saw “exposition” as that which takes place in the pulpit, and not the study (see below for a typical example of today’s homiletical theory put in practice.). 1

As previously stated, the mantra found in almost every lengthy discussion on homiletics is — “expository preaching is the most faithful and/or only way to preach.”

I understand the intent behind such a mantra and/or such an approach, but it wrongly confuses where the exposition takes place — AND without any corrective amendment(s), cautions, or rectification.

That has led to a “homiletic” approach which does not work on driving home the argument of the passage —  but instead focuses bringing the congregation through the exegetical process.

Instead of using the results of the exposition worked on in the study, the preacher-teacher is walking the audience through the steps used to arrive that results — a study of the words, phrases, theology, cross-references, and verses.

It is the result of Bible study, the exposing of the argument being made by the writer, which should be the focus of preaching and teaching biblical truth — “How do I now best communicate and drive home that truth – Big Idea – argument – the author’s purpose and intent?”

The results . . . .

√   The “audience” / congregation has been brought into the study and is working along in the same general process (though by necessity shortened – in most cases!) which engaged the preacher.

√   The message grows in length, when in fact the length could have been much more reasonable and to the point (I didn’t want to say “shorter” because that excites the emotions of preachers.).

√   The sermon is now a verbal commentary — a running commentary — being presented to the  “audience” / congregation, similar to one of the commentaries a preacher would read to gain his understanding of the passage.

√   The sermon is now a running commentary on the obvious — and “the obvious” is indeed the operative word since most passages are clear to the reader.  We do believe that a layman can read the Scriptures and understand what it is teaching.  We do not hold the position that only the clergy can understand the Scriptures.

The reality may be that the main argument of the selected passage, the driving truth which is being taught and intended by the author, is rather clear and obvious!

Luke 15 is about lostness.
Ephesians 4 is about putting on and putting off.
Jonah is about a rebellious prophet and God’s love for the lost.
Acts 15 is about the Gospel of Both Jews & Gentiles.

And – yes — it is understood and conceded that . . . .

•  there are some difficult passages which require more time for the sake of clarity and interpretation
•  there is a level of clarity which a preacher/pastor can bring to bear on a passage by pointing out keywords and theological terms
•  preachers “travel & trek” in the Bible and general theology on a full-time basis, which gives them a broader understanding of a passage or verse which is useful in understanding a passage
•  our ability to go back to the original languages makes a difference

. . . . and therefore there are times when preaching needs to include some “running commentary” on what was learned in the study  There are times when we can and probably will add some linguistic, contextual, and informational commentary to an examination of this-or-that passage of Scripture.


There are times when — what you have done in the kitchen — needs to be shared with those dining because as they come to understand what you have done in the preparation time — what you have learned in the study — will give them a greater appreciation of what the passage is teaching!


Nevertheless, when you get into doing that, at least understand and recognize . . . .

√  what you are doing when you are doing that, and
√  why you are doing what you are doing when you do that

. . .  else it can easily fall into the category of a tiresome and tedious “exposition”
of the insipidly apparent!

The theme of the passage, the point of the passage, the argument of the passage, the intent of the author, may well be far more simple that preachers and teachers might be willing to consider . . . .

“It teaches ___________!”
It teaches us that every man in need is our neighbor! – Luke 10
It defines and describes what it means to be a divine Shepherd! – Psalm 23
Rebellion is one of the reasons for lostness – & self-righteous is another! – Luke 15
You can be right in your theology, but wrong in your practice – I Cor. 8
Don’t fall in love with the postmen — we are but ministers by who — I Cor. 3
There is a sure and certain hope which ought to stabilize us — I Peter 1

I would suggest that the “meal” may not be all that complicated, or at least complicated for the listeners.  However, there are some are looking for the novel, the so-called “insightful thought” or twist on this-or-that passage, the different-unique, the “wow you are smart” . . . .

Likewise, the passage or verses being addressed is likely “known—to— well-known” to an audience which . . . .

•  is generally consistent in attendance
•  has heard the Bible taught over the years
•  has and uses a “study Bible” — and are even reading the study notes as you preach and then coming to you after the message to remind you about what they read in those notes, along with cross-references
•  has read other Christian authors (some authors who write some very readable and practical Bible commentaries which don’t get into a word-by-word study, except as needed)
•  has listened to other Bible teachers in Sunday School, at conferences, on the radio/television, via itunes, mp3s, etc.
•  reads the Bible on a regular basis ( I understand the response to that statement — “They don’t regularly read the Scriptures as they ought!”  — but then what hope do you have that they want to go word-by-word with you on Sunday morning and/or listen to a running commentary on what they already realize is “the obvious.”)

Those operating factors which may singularly or compositely define the typical Sunday morning audience.

And where those operating factors are not present, a different approach is needed — but such does that mean — argue for a more technical /word-by-word message!

I do recognize that a sermon which is a running commentary on the obvious works best and is typically well-received with an audience composed of the newest of believers, those who are just getting to understand what the Bible even teaches.




1.  This is taken from a class syllabus on preaching.

sample sermon outline

I could list out examples like this — “line upon line.”  This is not the exception, this is what is taught as homiletics, and what is “taught by example” to those listening week after week.



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