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Christ Centered Preaching: Preparation and Delivery of Sermons Lesson 2, page 1 What is the Big Idea? In this lesson, let me review what we did last time. Who alone has the power to change hearts? The Holy Spirit, working by and with the Word in our hearts. Remember, that is the point. It is not the Holy Spirit working independently of His Word but rather taking the Word and applying it to our hearts. The One who inspired the Word also inspires the messenger so t
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  Christ Centered Preaching: Preparation and Delivery of Sermons Lesson 2, page 1 © Fall 2006, Bryan Chapell & Covenant Theological Seminary   What is the Big Idea? In this lesson, let me review what we did last time. Who alone has the power to change hearts? The Holy Spirit, working by and with the Word in our hearts. Remember, that is the point. It is not the Holy Spirit working independently of His Word but rather taking the Word and applying it to our hearts. The One who inspired the Word also inspires the messenger so that our hearts receive it properly. Thus the Holy Spirit, working by and with the Word in our hearts, is the power by which God transforms people eternally. He does not merely change their behavior but transforms them. What aspect of preaching is the most persuasive, ethos ,  pathos , or logos ?  Ethos  is the most important. What is logos ? It is the verbal content. That includes not just the words, but also the logic content as well. Pathos  means what? The emotive content of the message. And what is ethos ? The perceived character of the speaker. Those are key thoughts. It is important to know, of course, that when you are inadequate in ethos , it is the sufficiency of the Word that takes the burden of transforming men and women off of us. But that is not to say that the Spirit does not use our gifts. We are instruments. Granted, the Spirit can get around our weaknesses, but the normal way God works is by using the character of the one speaking to confirm the authenticity of the Word. God can work past us, and that takes the burden off of us. At the same time, we have the blessing of being instruments in God’s hands. For those who are renewed by the Spirit, being able to serve God for His glory is part of our blessing and our joy. Let us pray to God this morning as we praise Him for the joy He works in us. Let us pray together.  Heavenly Father, we thank You that Your blessings are new every morning. Great is Your faithfulness. We know it is Your faithfulness that has brought us here and ultimately that will equip us to go from this  place with the message of Your Word. And so we pray that the mercies You give us would be plain not only to our hearts, but that You would be equipping us through what we do in this class to make those mercies plain to others as well. We acknowledge before You in humility that we are only earthen vessels, but with joy we proclaim that You pour Your glory out of earthen vessels so that the glory is all Yours. Grant, Father, Your blessing on us by Your Spirit even now, making us conformed to Your purposes and  filling us with Your glory. For the sake of Your Son and our Savior, we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen. As we begin, the goal of this lesson is to understand the essential components of a well constructed sermon. Just to think about what that is, let me reflect from your readings a bit. Why would the following be a terrible outline for a sermon? Here is my first point: agape  is one of three Greek words for love. My second main point is this: Esau was a hairy man. And my third main point is this: expiation   refers to the turning aside of the wrath of God. Now, everything I just said is true. Everything I just said is biblical; it is all in the Bible. Why would this make a terrible sermon? What do these three main points lack that is necessary for a well-constructed sermon? They lack unity. There is nothing that seems to pull together the components of this sermon. Though it is all true, there is nothing linking these three very disparate ideas of three Greek words for love, Esau being a hairy man, and expiation. It also lacks purpose. While we may begin to think that there is some reason to know about three Greek words for love, at the same time knowing that expiation is the turning away of God’s wrath—while true—does not appear to have the same purpose as the earlier point. And because it does not have purpose, it also lacks apparent application. It is these three things that are necessary for all good sermonic preparation. Every sermon must have unity, purpose, and application. Having said these things, we now want to explore them in depth. Unity is the key concept. How many things is a sermon about? One thing. Sermons may have many facets, many components, many subsets of a central idea. But essentially, every sermon is about one thing. Now, we need to talk about why that is. What is the need for sermonic unity? Well, the first  Christ Centered Preaching: Preparation and Delivery of Sermons Lesson 2, page 2 © Fall 2006, Bryan Chapell & Covenant Theological Seminary  reason we need unity is that preachers need focus. The speaker himself needs focus. Why? Well, first because the old hymn is true of us: we are prone to wander, yes we feel it. There are so many interesting and wonderful things to say from the Scriptures! And yet we recognize that we have been in sermons and, sadly, may have produced sermons that just seem to wander about. They do not seem to have a central purpose that people can grab onto. A second reason we need unity as preachers is that preachers need focus to funnel the infinite exegetical possibilities. If you were to go over to the library and begin to research any particular verse, you will be overwhelmed initially. You will see that there are many commentaries dealing with any portion of the Scriptures. That means books have been written or could be written on practically any verse. There are near limitless exegetical possibilities of what could be said about any portion of Scripture. And while it seems at first constraining—oh no, I just have to concentrate on this one central idea!—ultimately you will find it to be very liberating. When you are in that labyrinth of infinite exegetical possibilities, there are so many things you could say that you just get overwhelmed with the possibilities. When you are able to say, “I know there are many things I could say, but I will relate those things that deal with my central purpose,” then actually you feel freed from all the possibilities, all the complexities of the sermon that could be there. John Stott in some tongue-in-cheek way says, “The torture of every preacher is that he has to throw away 90% of what he knows about any particular message when he preaches the sermon.” There is so much any passage contains, but being able to focus is what allows us to move forward and our listeners to move forward with us. Of course, that is the other reason we need sermonic unity. It is not merely because speakers need focus. Our listeners need focus as well. If you were to go to research virtually any passage of Scripture, you will find in the commentary sections of the seminary library book after book on any passage you are looking at. Now you have to say, “I have to preach on this in a timeframe.” It varies from state to state and from nation to nation, but the average for evangelical churches is about a 30-minute message. Well, you will come across material that would be sufficient for 300 30-minute messages as I look at virtually any passage. Thus, if I have these infinite exegetical possibilities, how do I know what I will grab on to? How do I know, out of all these possibilities, what I will say? The thing that will free you from this infinite labyrinth of possibilities is unity. We will press hard on it this semester, and we will say, “Yes, all those things are true, but what is the thing you are trying to say in this message?” I will just tell you, initially it feels so constraining—I could tell you all of this, but you are making me focus on just this! When I know where I am directing things to, I actually have some basis for the choices I will be making out of all the possibilities available. Thus, speakers need unity because we are prone to wander. But also, it actually helps us with the infinite exegetical opportunities. Of course, another reason for sermonic unity is not only that speakers need focus, but that listeners need focus. One of the things we will talk about with some frequency is this: almost all of us have been trained quite well in how to write essays for readers. But sermons are not essays. Sermons are for listeners. There are different ways in which you communicate to a listener versus  a reader. There are things we will talk about that your sixth grade literature teacher will not like. We will talk about things like one of the most powerful tools preachers have is repetition. Now, if you were writing an essay, your English teacher would say, “Do not say it again. That is redundant.” But in an oral medium we will say, “It is not redundant. It is power.” A listener does not have the ability to back up in the paragraph and read it again. Thus what we do is provide all kinds of cues, signals, and means to grasp the material as it goes by, and that includes unity. We have to have some way to coalesce things, to let people know what the kind of wall of words that is coming at them is all about. Unity is a means to help them find their way, because sermons are for listeners, not readers.  Christ Centered Preaching: Preparation and Delivery of Sermons Lesson 2, page 3 © Fall 2006, Bryan Chapell & Covenant Theological Seminary  And beyond that, all good communication requires a theme. Even a novel that is many, many pages long somewhere has its theme, what it is basically about. Certainly an essay would reflect that. We would say the temptation for all of us as preachers is to say, “I have so many good things to say, and it is all important and all true,” and just to kind of throw it at people. But it is so much easier to catch a baseball than a handful of sand. They may weigh the same, have equal gravity, but if you do not pull it together, it is very hard to grasp. In fact, what we know as a rule of communication is if the preacher does not supply unity, the listener will. He is required, somehow, to pull the information together. If I were just speaking about different subjects, not spiritual but just generally telling you about a movie I saw last week, I would find some way to not tell you the whole plot but to sum up the storyline. “It was a boy-meets-girl movie,” or “It was a cops-and-robbers,” or “It was a western.” I would have some way of pulling it together before I expected you to deal with all the details. That is what preaching is about as well. As we prepare sermons, we should recognize that we have to have unity for our sake and for the listener’s sake. Let us talk about the nature of sermonic unity—what goes into making it what it should be. You already know one key idea. In expository preaching, the meaning of the passage is the message of the sermon. We want what God says to be what we say. So part of unity is saying, “What is the big idea of the passage? What is it dealing with?” When I identify that, it will also be the big idea of the message, if it reflects the main idea of the text. The Bible says what God says, and I want to say what God says. Thus I need to make sure that its theme is my theme. The meaning of the passage is the message of the sermon. Second, the meaning of the passage that becomes the message of the sermon is the big idea. Now, some of this is just terminology. In preaching circles, that word, “big idea,” is mentioned over and over again. “What is the big idea?” By that we are looking for the unifying theme of the passage that is also reflected in the message. What is the unifying concept of the sermon? The srcinator of that terminology, simple as it sounds, is a man named Haddon Robinson, who still teaches at Gordon-Conwell Seminary. Here is Haddon Robinson, who is kind of the beginner of preachers this day in the teaching of preaching. He says it this way, “You determine the big idea by asking this: what is the purpose of the biblical writer here? What is he trying to communicate? What is his theme? What is his idea? What is his concept? This leads us always to srcinal intent.” Now, that is the key terminology. The big idea is seeking to get us to the srcinal intent of God and the author of the text. My goal is not eisegesis, to bring from my experience what the text means. My goal is to have God speak to me through the text. What was the srcinal intent of the author? Now, you recognize that so much of what you do in seminary, exegesis, New Testament studies, Old Testament studies, church history, all of that, is saying, “What did the writer mean to say?” This is because that is what I want to say, if I am being true to his intent and therefore to what God is intending to say. The definition therefore is this: in expository preaching, unity occurs when the elements of a passage or expository unit (new terminology again) are legitimately shown to support a single, major idea that is the theme of a sermon. Why do homileticians talk about an expository unit rather than just a passage? Are the verses and chapter divisions inspired? Did Luke write those down? No, not at all. Sometimes you will find that the expository unit has to cross over what in our English translations appears to be the passage. Those paragraphs and even verse divisions were not inspired. They were not included srcinally in the text. Thus it is for us to come with our understanding and say, “Do I need to cross over a verse? Do I need to cross over a chapter?” In fact, you will discover at times that the expository unit, what needs to be preached on, may run over many chapters. If you do not know what happens in Job 40-42, it is very difficult to explain what happens in Job 1 and 2. The expository unit tries to say, “What did God mean to say? And what chunk of Scripture (sometimes very little and sometimes very large) will be  Christ Centered Preaching: Preparation and Delivery of Sermons Lesson 2, page 4 © Fall 2006, Bryan Chapell & Covenant Theological Seminary  necessary to get the big idea and to actually within context say it?” Thus, in expository preaching, unity occurs when the elements of a passage or expository unit are legitimately shown to support a single, major idea that is the theme of a sermon. Haddon Robinson says it this way, “The big idea of a sermon is a subject and its complements.” A subject and its complements. Sometimes the notion of one big idea of a message gets people a little frightened because they think, “You mean I have to talk about this one thing over and over again for 30 minutes?” No, you talk about that one thing in terms of its development. There may be many facets, many subsets, but it is all about one thing. Now you will join the last 20 years of homiletic students in knowing this: a sermon is like a stool. The unifying concept is the seat of this stool. It is all about one thing. So the big idea is the subject, with its complements, the things that support it. We get in danger in preaching when we have a subject and its support is over there somewhere. Or the subject of the main point may not appear to support the subject of the sermon at all. Thus we want to make sure, for unity, that we have a big idea and its complements. That is, all the major parts of the sermon complement the main idea. Now, what happens when I have to say something to be true to the text, and it does seem to be unrelated? Then I recognize that I have the wrong seat, the wrong subject. I do not yet have a unifying concept that deals appropriately with the subjects of the text. I may have said this text was about God’s guidance, but the more I study, the more I say, “You know, there are things in here that really do not reflect much about guidance. That does not appear to be what Paul’s main idea was. I will have to change, then, what I said was the big idea as I prepare this message, because it does not adequately reflect the material in the text.” And my goal is to say what the text is. Thus one of the tests of whether a sermon has unity and also whether it has truth is if the main idea can be supported by the major components of the text. I test myself by asking, “Do my supporting points support what I said is the main idea?” And I also ask, “Do those supporting points adequately cover what the text is talking about?” A sermon is about one thing. That is the key concept of sermonic unity. The process by which we obtain unity is not a mystery; it is not really hard. We read and digest the passage to determine first, what is the big idea of the writer? I read and digest the passage to determine what the (here the article is important) big idea of the writer is or what themes in the passage have sufficient material to develop the main theme of a sermon. Believe it or not, I just led you into one of the major debates in the history of homiletics. Do you recognize the debate? The question is this: can a minor theme of a passage be the major theme of a message? Now, there are certainly those in the history of homiletics who say no. But I want you to think about it for a little bit in this way. If you were looking at Luke 15, you would recognize that there is a series of parables there relating to “lostness,” right? There is a lost sheep, a lost coin, and a lost son. I will guess that at some time in most of your spiritual experiences, you have heard a sermon on your assurance of God’s love because God is like the father who received again the prodigal son. If you have sin in your life, if you have been prodigal, you can still have the assurance of God’s love because of the nature of that father toward his son. Have you ever heard such a sermon? Would you say that sermon came out of that text? Would you say it is wrong? Most of you would say no. But if you say, “The purpose, the big idea of the total passage of John 15, is to assure prodigal sons of God’s love,” is that what that is about? No. Who is the passage actually directed to? Who is listening in, and what are they concerned about as Jesus tells these three parables about lost things? What just preceded the parables of “lostness”? What are the Pharisees doing? They are upset because Jesus is eating with the publicans and prostitutes. They are saying, “How can you deal with people like this? If you were really a representative of God, you would know that you are not to deal with people like this.” Now Jesus tells parables of “lostness.” For those who are sinners, there is the wonderful assurance of how the father
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