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Has this ever happened to you? You hear someone singing the praises of a particular preacher using words like “world-class expositor.” Curious, you look the guy up online, listen to a few sermons, scratch your head, and think, “I would never call that expository preaching. That wasn’t even close!”

What’s going on here? How can there be two totally different conclusions about the same preacher? Is he an expository preacher or not? Well, in the words of John Stonestreet, it’s possible that “we’re using the same vocabulary . . . but not the same dictionary.”

Dictionaries provide definitions of words based on usage. So if we want to define expository preaching, we would need to start by examining the various way in which the word expository is employed with reference to preaching. Then we would need to group those uses into categories or senses.

That’s exactly what Harold Bryson did in his book Expository Preaching. He argues that people use expository preaching in three primary ways.


First, some use expository in connection with its etymology. Based on its root, expository refers to preaching that exposes, expounds, explains, or sets forth the Scripture. Expository preaching, then is preaching that majors on explaining the Bible, much like a running commentary on the text. Usually the focus is more on the facts and less on the application of those facts. Like a miner digging for gold, great stress is given to unearthing individual nuggets of information and examining those details with delight from every conceivable angle. (See my post on Fragmentary Exposition for what this approach might look like.)


The Expository Sermon

When a caterpillar morphs into a butterfly it changes form. A morphological use of expository highlights the form of the sermon. Typically the form is this: the main points and subpoints of the sermon come from one text (thought unit) of Scripture and are developed from within that text and its context.

Here’s an example. Well-known homiletician and author of Christ-Centered Preaching Bryan Chapell describes the expository sermon this way: It is a sermon that

explains a particular passage of Scripture by clarifying the main and subordinate ideas of the author in the context of the biblical passage and by applying these spiritual truths to our contemporary situations. (Christ-Centered Sermons: Models of Redemptive Preaching)

Notice a couple of things about Chapell’s definition:

  • The expository sermon is limited to “a particular passage of Scripture.” So we’re talking here about one primary text not multiple ones.
  • The expository sermon consists of explanation and application. So it’s not only a matter of text selection and form but of content and intent.
  • The expository sermon is concerned with developing the main and subordinate ideas of a passage in its context.

(Thanks to Logos Mobile Ed you can watch Chapell answer the question “What Is Expository Preaching” here.)

The expository sermon form, then, is one in which the sermon gets it main point (the big idea) and its main points (think I., II., III.) and its subpoints (think A., B., C.) primarily from one thought unit of Scripture. That thought unit might range from one paragraph (in an epistle) to multiple thoughts units. In fact, it’s possible that one whole section of a book or even the entire book might constitute the preaching text.

In the minds of some, however, expository preaching is not just one message from one unit of the Bible, but it’s a series of such sermons through a book of the Bible. It’s what we might call consecutive exposition or an expository book series.

The Textual Sermon

Used morphologically expository preaching can be distinguished easily from other sermon forms like textual and topical. The textual sermon is traditionally classified as a sermon that gets it structure (or form) from one text of Scripture. If you’re thinking that sounds a lot like Chapell’s definition of expository preaching above, hold on. Though a textual sermon may derive its organization (main points) from one passage, it develops those main points from other passages of Scripture outside the immediate literary context of the preaching text.

Usually the text for a textual sermon is one verse (maybe two), but that verse has certain unique qualities about it. It tends to have a clearly recognizable structure that allows the preacher to organize and develop the sermon theme quite easily based on that structure.

Take John 3:16, for example. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” Not only is the verse well known, it is easily divisible–the parts or sections are easy to spot.

The first point in a textual sermon from John 3:16 might be something like “The Love of God for the World.” The second point might be related to “The Gift of God to the World,” and so on. The main points of the sermon are coming from that one text. However, the development of those points would come from passages outside of John 3 and likely outside of the Gospel of John.

The expository sermon as Chapell describes it would deal with John 3:16 in connection with its larger unit of thought–the paragraph in which it resides–and within the immediate and broader literary contexts of John’s Gospel. Both the main points and the subpoints would be developed primarily within those parameters. Sure, other passages would be acceptable as cross references, but they would be employed for the purpose of shedding light on the point John is making in chapter 3.

The Topical Sermon

Topical preaching is also easy to distinguish from expository preaching if expository is primarily a matter of sermon form. The topical sermon has two or more distinct passages that relate to a particular topic. It is not limited to one text, and typically the preacher is the one who determines the organization and development of the sermon not the text itself (as is the case in a truly expository sermon which is bound by the content and organization of the preaching unit).

Now, as I’m sure you’ve already figured out, classifying sermons by form can be a bit tricky at times. Some sermons are a combination of forms (like the textual-topical sermon) and some seem intent on defying categorization.


That brings us lastly to the philosophical use of the word expository. For those who employ the word in this way, expository preaching is a broad, umbrella term for any kind of preaching that is truly biblical.

Haddon Robinson, in his classic textbook on preaching, defines expository preaching as

the communication of a biblical concept, derived from and transmitted through a historical, grammatical, and literary study of a passage in its context, which the Holy Spirit first applies to the personality and experience of the preacher, then through the preacher, applies to the hearers.

Hopefully by now you could classify such a definition as more morphologically-based. Notice he limits expository preaching to “a passage.” Clearly, topical preaching is not in view here. However, he is quick to say that “expository preaching at its core is more a philosophy than a method.” Perhaps that’s why he titled his book Biblical Preaching and not Expository Preaching. From a philosophical standpoint the two are the same. It’s like John Stott says in Between Two Worlds: “All true Christian preaching is expository preaching.”

If that’s the way you see it, you can speak of preaching a textual or topical sermon (in terms of form) expositorily (in terms of philosophy), as long as any text employed in the sermon (even if there is more than one) is handled in a hermeneutically faithful and responsible manner.

A Way Forward

Is there a way forward that will contribute to clarity and reduce the confusion? Perhaps. One approach (apart from discontinuing the use of expository altogether) is to distinguish between expository preaching and the expository sermon. The word preaching is broad enough to handle the philosophical dimension of proclamation. Sermon, on the other hand, is more narrow and could be limited to the form of preaching.

Or, we could take our cue from Haddon Robinson and use biblical preaching to speak of our expositional philosophy of preaching and expository preaching to refer to the particular form.

Can we change the course of English usage and eliminate the confusion? Probably not. Or in the words of Miracle Max, “It would take a miracle.” But we can certainly have fun storming the castle!

In all seriousness I think there are several ways we can contribute to greater clarity and unity in this area:

  • Understand what others mean by the word expository. When you’re in a conversation with someone or reading a book or blog post, don’t assume their definition matches yours. Work hard to understand where they’re coming from and what they mean by what they say.
  • Don’t insist that your view is the only right view and that everyone else is wrong. Paul does not say to Timothy, “Preach the Word expositionally.” The Bible does not use the label “expository preaching.” It does inform and govern our philosophy of preaching which in turn does inform our forms of preaching. But God has not given us a detailed, step-by-step instruction manual for how we are to craft our sermons and how we are to label them.
  • Understand what you mean by expository and be consistent in your usage.


Question: Do these three categories–etymological, morphological, and philosophical–cover the bases for our use of the term expository? Are there other uses that fall outside of these lines? What recommendations do you have for contributing to greater clarity and unity in the way we speak about expository preaching?




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One question we must ask in assessing our preaching is this: “What are my listeners impressed with at the end of my message? Or you could put it this way: “Who are my listeners impressed with at the end of my message?”

Consider the following except from Jonathan Leeman and Matt Chandler’s book Reverberation: How God’s Word Brings Light, Freedom, and Action to His People.

A group of American Christians in the nineteenth century planned to visit London for a week. Their friends, excited for the opportunity, encouraged them to go hear two of London’s famous preachers and bring back a report.

On Sunday morning after their arrival, the Americans attended Joseph Parker’s church. They discovered that his reputation for eloquent oratory was well deserved. One exclaimed after the service, “I do declare, it must be said, for there is no doubt, that Joseph Parker is the greatest preacher that ever there was!”

The group wanted to return in the evening to hear Parker again, but they remembered that their friends would ask them about another preacher named Charles Spurgeon.

So on Sunday evening they attended the Metropolitan Tabernacle, where Spurgeon was preaching. The group was not prepared for what they heard, and as they departed, one of them spoke up, “I do declare, it must be said, for there is no doubt, that Jesus Christ is the greatest Savior that ever there was!”

I recently heard this story from Richard Phillips. He heard it from his seminary professor. Whether it actually happened or is a piece of folklore that has grown up around Spurgeon, known as “the Prince of Preachers,” I’m not sure. What is sure, however, is that this is the response Christian preachers want to produce in their congregations–a reveling in Jesus Christ. And this is the response, I hope, that Christians want to have Sunday after Sunday.

Christian preaching, if it’s about anything, is about announcing the amazingly good news of Jesus Christ. (emphasis mine)

So, preachers, make it your greatest ambition to impress your listeners with the person and work of Jesus Christ. Pray to that end. Prepare and craft your sermon to that end. And preach the Word in the power of the Holy Spirit to that end.

Have you ever been deeply disappointed with your own preaching, felt like a failure, and considered leaving the ministry?

Bryan Chapell did, and in a recent Faithlife Today interview, Chapell relates how his sense of failure as a preacher led him to write his book Christ-Centered Preaching.

I was first introduced to Christ-Centered Preaching in a seminary class called Expository Sermon Preparation. To be honest my initial impression was that the book was too formulaic. I didn’t care for the recommended (or required, as some of us thought) indicative-imperative structure of the homiletical idea (“Because this is true, you must respond in this way.”), and I was not convinced that the Fallen Condition Focus (FCF) was a legitimate or necessary concept.

Fast forward almost 20 years, and I now have a different perspective on the book. I have come through experience (both in preaching and in teaching preaching) to buy in to many of the concepts presented in Chapell’s book. Each year I have my advanced homiletics class read chapters 10 and 11 on the theology of Christ-centered messages. We have some great in-class discussions, and I love seeing the lights come on for my students as they realize that preaching Christ doesn’t mean forcing Jesus into every text.

Here’s how Chapell put it, and in my opinion, this has to be one of the most important sentences in the entire book:

Christ-centered preaching rightly understood does not seek to discover where Christ is mentioned in every text but to disclose where every text stands in relation to Christ. (emphasis mine)

Others have since written on this subject and provided valuable and additional light on what it means to preach Christ, but let me encourage you to read those two chapters if you haven’t (or haven’t in a while). And why don’t you take five minutes to listen to Chapell share the story behind one of the most-used books on preaching. You will be reminded that the heroes of the Bible are often a mess, but that God in his grace still uses them. And he can use you and me too.

Effective expository preaching finds it origin and power not so much in clever construction as in detailed, obedient listening to God’s voice in the text.
~ David Jackman in The Art & Craft of Biblical Preaching, 229.

Effective Preaching Begins with Obedient Listening

Students regularly ask me when and how to cite sources in their sermons. There is, of course, no easy, one-size-fits-all, black-and-white answer to their question.

As J. D. Greear points out,

The question of plagiarism in sermon preparation is rather tricky, primarily because we are interpreting a document (the Bible) which has been interpreted by thousands of people for the last 3000 years. Almost everything we say, especially relating to Christo-centric interpretation, Greek and Hebrew linguistics or historical context, comes from commentaries and other sermons.

I think we would all agree that it is wrong to steal ideas from someone else and present them as our own. But exactly when and how to cite our sources is not always clear.

Case in point. As a sophomore in college if I had seen the following test question–True or False. It is wrong to steal ideas from someone else and present them as our own.–I would have marked “true” without hesitation. And yet that didn’t stop me from preaching the sum and substance of one of my first sermons right out of Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ commentary on Ephesians without giving him any credit, as far as I remember! I do recall thinking that he said things a lot better than I could, and I really didn’t see any way to improve upon it.

Looking back at it now, I’m sure people must have been amazed by the maturity and depth of my message as a 19-year-old. Perhaps that’s why one of the deacons came to me afterwards and asked me if I had ever considered the possibility of becoming a pastor someday.

All that to say, even if we are opposed to plagiarism in theory, it is sometimes difficult to know how to apply the principles of honesty and integrity within a sermon.

Greear has adopted for himself 5 general “rules” for avoiding plagiarism in a sermon.

  1. If I ever preach the gist of another person’s sermon, meaning that I used the lion’s share of their message’s organization, points, or applications, I give credit.
  2. If I glean an interpretation of a passage from someone, but the organization of the points, application and presentation are my own, I generally do not feel the need to cite.
  3. When I take a direct point or a line or the creative wording of a truth from someone, I feel like I should cite.
  4. When I give a list that someone else has come up with or offer some piece of cultural analysis, I feel like I should cite.
  5. If I hear a story told by someone else that reminds me of a story of your own, and I tell that story from my own life, I don’t think I need always to identify where I got the idea for that story from originally.

These “rules,” of course, do not cover all the bases, but I would say in general “When in doubt, cite your source.” It is always better to err on the safe side and give credit when none was technically necessary. However, be careful that your sermon doesn’t end up coming across as an academic paper full of bibliographic citations.

There are ways to give credit without bogging your listeners down with bibliographical information.

Let’s say, for example, that you wanted to reference or use Greear’s blog post in your next sermon.

You could go all-out and introduce the material this way:

J. D. Greear (author) posted an article May 21, 2013 (date) at Between the Times (source) entitled “What Counts As Plagiarism in a Sermon?” (article title).

But I think in most cases in a sermon (which is not an academic paper or scholarly article) it would be sufficient to introduce the material in one of the following ways:

In a recent blog post J. D. Greear gives 5 rules for avoiding plagiarism in your preaching. Here they are . . .


One blogger recently posted on this topic and gave 5 rules for avoiding plagiarism in your preaching. Number 1, . . .

To me the key in preaching is that you give the audience some kind of indication (whether general or specific, long or short) as to what is yours and what is not. The thoroughness of the detail given will depend on the particular situation, but the need for integrity remains.


Question: Do you have any rules or guidelines for when and how to cite sources in a sermon? If so, I’d love to hear them.

Regardless of what you think of Roger Olson’s theology, this excerpt from his book The Story of Christian Theology serves as an important reminder for preachers to fact-check their sermon illustrations.

A popular misconception—perhaps a Christian urban legend—is that the United States Secret Service never shows bank tellers counterfeit money when teaching them to identify it. The agents who do the training, so the legend goes, show bank tellers only examples of genuine money so that when the phony money appears before them they will know it by its difference from the real thing. The story is supposed to make the point that Christians ought to study truth and never heresy.

The first time I heard the tale as a sermon illustration I intuited its falseness. On checking with the Treasury Department’s Minneapolis Secret Service agent in charge of training bank tellers to identify counterfeit money, my suspicion was confirmed. He laughed at the story and wondered aloud who would start it and who would believe it. At my request he sent me a letter confirming that the Secret Service does show examples of counterfeit money to bank tellers.

I believe it is important and valuable for Christians to know not only theological correctness (orthodoxy) but also the ideas of those judged as heretics within the church’s story. One reason is that it is almost impossible to appreciate the meaning of orthodoxy without understanding the heresies that forced its development.

I won’t ask for a raise of hands, but I wonder how many of you have heard the counterfeit money illustration in a sermon? If you have, I hope it wasn’t one of mine.

Even though the principle we are seeking to illustrate may be valid, we have to be careful that our illustrations are not, uhm, . . . counterfeit, right? If our listeners know the facts, our phony illustrations will only undermine our credibility.

Question: What do you do to maintain integrity and credibility in the use of sermon illustrations?


Okay, so you have your preaching text selected for this Sunday and you’re ready to dig in and start studying. Question–where should you start?

Should you begin by studying the broader literary context (a macroscopic perspective) or by examining the details of the text itself (a microscopic perspective)? In other words, should you move from the context inward or from the text outward?

Here’s what NT scholar Gordon Fee says in answer to that question:

Before the investigation of any sentence, paragraph, or other subsection of a document, one always needs to have a good sense about the entire document. . . . You never start exegeting a book at chapter 1, verse 1. The first step is always to read the entire document through. You need a provisional sense of the whole before analyzing any of its parts. (New Testament Exegesis, 3d ed., 8-9, emphasis mine)

Martin Luther pictures it this way:

I study my Bible like I gather apples. First I shake the whole tree, that the ripest may fall. Then I climb the tree and shake each limb, and then each branch and then each twig, and then I look under each leaf.

The Expository Book Series

No matter what kind of preaching you are doing (expository, textual, or topical) big-picture thinking and study are critical. But if you’re planning to preach through a book of the Bible, you need to start by studying the book as a whole.

The best way to do that is to read through the book multiple times. This was the practice of the well-known British expositor, G. Campbell Morgan:

After having selected a text, Morgan would read the entire book in which it was found, as many as forty or fifty times. Then he was able to feel the scope, the main structure, of the book. This was done before he took his pencil in hand to put down the outline of the general movements of the book. For Morgan believed the minister’s work should first be original, and afterward he should consult the commentaries.” Arthur F. Katt, “G. Campbell Morgan and Sermon Preparation,” The Seminary Review 7, no. 1 (Fall 1960): 4.

Whether or not you read through the book 40-50 times you should have a good grasp on the following:

  1. Author: what do you know about the author of the book?
  2. Audience: who were the recipients
  3. Occasion and purpose: what situation prompted the author to write the book, and what response did he seek to elicit?
  4. Organization: how is the book structured, and how do the parts fit together?
  5. Themes: what is the big idea of the book, and what are the main theological themes that develop that idea?

Now here’s the beauty of the expository book series: once you begin your series you won’t have to go back and redo this big picture work for each sermon. That doesn’t mean you won’t shake the whole tree from time to time. But now you can focus more of your attention on the branches, twigs, and individual leaves–the details of your preaching text and immediate context.

Again, that doesn’t mean you won’t continue to grow in your understanding of the broader literary context. As you study the parts you will continue to refine your understanding of the whole. But in general you’ll be happy to know your next preaching text comes with batteries included. Or, to put it another way, each new text comes preloaded with the necessary context. Now the task becomes one of understanding the text and relating it back to the context.

The Topical Sermon

Understanding the big picture is extremely (and at the risk of being redundant, let me say it again–extremely) important when preaching a topical sermon.

Topical sermons are notorious for their abuse of texts. In a topical sermon you are pulling in verses from multiple books of the Bible. Each of those verses has a literary context. If ignored the results are often disastrous.

That’s why topical sermons are actually the most difficult to do well, because they require the greatest amount of Bible knowledge and contextual consciousness.

Mastering Biblical Content

Be encouraged. As you grow in your mastery of biblical content, you won’t be able to come to individual texts without bringing the context with you.

If you decide, for example, to preach a single sermon on the Christian and the armor of God from Ephesians 6:10-17, your Bible-saturated brain will immediately download the information you need to get your contextual bearings. Within a matter of seconds, you will recall the author, audience, purpose, themes, and organization of Ephesians.

So make it your ambition over time to master more and more of the Bible.

Here’s a suggestion I give to my young, undergraduate homiletics students: pick one book of the Bible and master it. Make it yours to the point that if you were cut you would bleed the contents of that book. Then, as God gives you opportunities to preach single sermons here and there, your default should be to preach from that book since you already know the context of each unit. Then add another book. Now you have two books to choose from when given the opportunity to preach.

Zoom In and Out

Finally, in the real world of sermon preparation, it is not a sin to have some level of familiarity with your preaching text before branching out to explore the broader literary context. I think it is natural (and perhaps even beneficial) to have some level of familiarity with your preaching text before zooming out.

In the world of Google Maps, there are times when you start with a particular house and zoom out, and there are times when you start with a county or neighborhood and zoom in. The important thing is that you’re getting both vantage points.

The reality is this: both perspectives (macro and micro) are vital, and neither should be overlooked as you prepare to preach on a particular passage.

There’s a sense in which the approach should resemble something of a sanctified dance with the text–the preacher moving back and forth, in and out, near and far.

But, as a general rule, if you’ve got your text, but you’re not sure where to begin, the first thing you should do is shake the whole tree.

Question: Which direction do you tend to move in as you prepare your sermons? Do you have a preference?



I find it helpful at times to take a step back from the nitty-gritty details of weekly sermon preparation and think about preaching from a big picture perspective.

There are lots of ways to look at preaching and describe the process of preparing an expository sermon. I’m always trying to refine my thinking in this area and come up with better ways of articulating and explaining the process to my students. In some cases I’m just trying to remind myself of what this thing called “preaching” is all about. Too often we lose sight of the forest for all of the trees.

So here are 10 P’s of preaching. (Honestly I’m not a huge fan of alliteration, but if it shows up at my door and doesn’t contort everything, I’m probably not going to turn it away.) This is intended to be a basic, simplified overview of the preaching process. In general the first 7 capture the hermeneutical phase. The last 3 represent the homiletical phase.

1. Steep the Process in Prayer.

Sermon preparation must always begin (and continue) with prayer. We need to be reminded at the outset that we desperately need God’s help to understand and communicate the Word.

2. Begin with a Passage.

Biblical preaching begins with the Bible. The form of preaching called expository preaching begins with a passage from the Bible.

3. Consider the People.

That passage was written by a particular person. In the case of the Bible there is a human author (small “a”) and a divine author (capital “A”). Those authors are addressing a particular group of people—one ancient and one modern (1 Pet. 1:10-12).

The preacher must consider all these people in his preparation of an expository sermon. What do we know about the original writer? Who are the people he is writing to? How does this information help us understand the passage?

Preaching from a passage begins by thinking of the people involved.

4. Uncover the Problems.

Anytime you have people you have problems. Not always sin problems, but sometimes problems associated with being a finite person living in a world that’s broken. (This is what Bryan Chapell refers to as the “Fallen Condition Focus” in his book Christ-Centered Preaching.)

What are the struggles of the biblical writer? What is the situation of his target audience? What are their circumstances, questions, fears, and weaknesses? In what areas are they experiencing pressure from the world? Where are they falling short of the glory of God?

Preaching from a passage begins by thinking of the people involved and their particular needs.

5. Understand the Purpose.

With the situation in mind, the preacher needs to think deeply about the objective of the biblical writer. Knowing what we know about him, and knowing what we know about his audience, what does he want to accomplish with them? What is his purpose? To encourage? To warn? To instruct?

6. Identify the Point.

Driven by his objective the writer sets out to communicate a point (or two or three). Even if there are many points, there is usually one overarching point—what some might call his “big idea.”

7. Trace the Pathway.

Let’s put some of the pieces together now. The people who make up the target audience have needs. The person writing has a burden to address those needs (the purpose) with a particular message (the point of the passage).

So we have answered the who, why, and what questions. But what about the how question? How is the author going to go about accomplishing his purpose with his point? Of all the options available to him, he is going to choose a certain pathway to get from A (where his readers are) to B (where he wants them to be). He may decide to move down the path deductively or inductively. He may decide to employ strong argumentation or moving illustrations.

8. Parallel the Process.

With all this in mind the contemporary preacher begins to parallel this process. He thinks of the passage with reference to his people. He compares their situation to that of the original audience. He thinks pastorally about the problems they are facing and begins to develop a burden to preach the the point of the passage in a way that accomplishes the purposes of the biblical writer and the Holy Spirit for that text.

The preacher must then consider the best pathway forward. Follow the order of the passage? Inductive or deductive? What explanation, application, argumentation, and illustration (and in what order) would best accomplish his purpose?

9. Preach the Word.

Now it’s time to preach and to do so in a way that represents the point and purpose (and maybe even the pathway) of the passage. The preacher’s re-presentation of the text must be done faithfully, clearly, and passionately.

10. Aim for God’s Praise.

The ultimate objective of preaching is the praise and glory of God. From the standpoint of the preacher, our objective is to glorify God through a faithful, Christocenric proclamation of his Word. With reference to our hearers, our goal is the glory of God in their glad and believing submission to the truth.


Question: If you were trying to talk someone through the process of preaching, what would you tell them? How would you describe the steps (without using any P’s 🙂 )?

What is the difference between preaching that works the crowd and that which awakens God-honoring emotions?

That’s the question Voddie Bauchum, John Piper, and Miguel Nunez tackled in a recent TGC podcast.

As John Piper says, “Every human being is wired with a heart and a head.” That’s why we preach to both. It’s not one or the other.

The danger, of course, is preaching to the heart in a way that is manipulative.

But how do you know when you have crossed that invisible line between God-honoring emotion on the one hand and emotionalism on the other?

Here it is. This one question will help you sort through the difference: Have the emotions been stirred by the truth of God revealed in Scripture?

So there’s a sense in which I don’t preach directly to the affections. I preach to the mind in such a way that the affections are awakened powerfully by the truth.

The ditch on the other side of the road is intellectualism. That happens when a preacher targets the mind at the expense of the heart. The careful, line by line analysis of a text in expository preaching is good, but it is often done in such a way that hearers are left empty and un-affected.

Where’s the balance then? Piper quotes Jonathan Edwards as saying,

I consider it my duty to raise the affections of my hearers as high as I possibly can, provided I raise them with nothing but the truth, and in proportion to the truth.

Why is it our duty? Because God is not boring. Sure, some who hear us preach may be dull of hearing. But let’s hope they are not bored with God because of the way we represent him in our preaching.

If we ever hope to to convey the emotion of a text authentically and powerfully, we must first be moved and affected by the truth of that text ourselves.

In Piper’s words,

Preaching this stuff to ourselves so that we are moved is going to be key to whether people are awakened to that truth. Because if I preach like what I’m saying is of modest importance, that’s what they’re going to think; that’s what they’re going to feel.

So go ahead–“raise the affections of [your] hearers as high as [you] possibly can.” But do so “with nothing but the truth, and in proportion to the truth.”

You can listen to the entire 13:45 podcast here.


How would you answer the question, “What is the difference between preaching that works the crowd and that which awakens God-honoring emotions?”

Preacher, Doodle. Doo.

March 18, 2016

David Prince is one of my favorite contemporary authors in the field of homiletics. His blog posts, book Church with Jesus as Hero, and dissertation on “The Necessity of a Christocentric Kingdom Focused Model of Expository Preaching” are clear, engaging, theologically robust, and yet eminently practical. He’s a pastor, homiletics professor, a passionate proponent of Christocentric preaching, and huge baseball fan. I mean, what’s not to like about that combination!

In a recent blog post David gave three approaches to sermon preparation “that are not usually considered as normal parts of the discussion when one thinks about how to prepare a sermon.”

One of those approaches was “Doodle the Word.”

I use the term “doodle” here rather than “draw” because no one could confuse the sketching I do in sermon preparation as legitimate art (you may be a far more capable artist than I am). Doodling helps me attempt to conceptualize the message of the sermon. I usually have the text that I will be preaching printed on a sheet of paper, and if possible, I prefer to have it all on one page so that I can see the entire text. As I think through and study the text, I simply doodle circles, highlights, lines, and a variety of other things, most of which, no other human being would be able to make sense of, on the paper. Sometimes, I also draw pictures that aid me in conceptualizing the imagery or scene of a given text. Other times, I attempt to write a rhyming verse (I am certainly no poet), trying to encapsulate the message of the text. Putting pen to paper helps me internalize my thinking in a way that a keyboard does not. This kind of creativity in sermon preparation was common with John Bunyan, John Newton, Isaac Watts, and others.

I too have found it helpful to doodle. I guess that shouldn’t be surprising in light of the number of articles and studies confirming the benefits of writing things out by hand.

Here’s an example of the kind of doodling I do when preparing to preach on a particular text.

As you can see there’s nothing truly artistic here (like what the super creative guys over at The Bible Project are doing)–just some boxes and lines and circles. But I am engaging my hand and my head in ways that help me see, and therefore, understand the passage with greater clarity.

The Process

  1. I begin by doing a structural display of the passage. This visual helps me see the passage “at a glance” and discern its organization. It also helps me understand the relationships between the individual clauses and phrases. (Mine is in English, but you might prefer to use the original languages.)
  2. Then I print out several copies of the display for use as I take notes.
  3. The first copy I use to record my own personal observations and reflections on the text.
  4. Subsequent copies are used as I interact with commentaries and other secondary sources. In the example above I used the display to take notes as I read through George Knight’s commentary on the Pastoral Epistles in the NIGNT series.

The display not only allows me to doodle on the text, it also allows me to verify from the text. Here’s what I mean–as I interact with the data and conclusions coming from the commentators I want to be able to see for myself from the text that what they are saying is truly biblical. So I am constantly glancing back and forth between the text of Scripture and the words of the commentator. Can they convince me based on the details of the text or context that what they are arguing for is accurate?

Doodling on the text keeps the details of the text before me.

Doodling on the text keeps me from mindlessly embracing what some guy with a Ph.D. says without Berean-like verification.

So, preacher, perhaps it’s time you doo some doodling.


Question: Do you doodle as part of your sermon preparation? What kind of doodling do you do? Have you found it helpful?