Dying to Preach
For Truth and Beauty: Thoughts on Argumentation in Sermons
2. Pan Out
Perhaps the most inter-textual book of all the canonical books is the book of Revelation. It is very dependent on Old Testament concepts. But this is true of all the books of the New Testament. Psalms and Isaiah are among the most quoted OT books in the NT. It is hard, for example, to preach through Matthew without noting the numerous Messianic prophecies that are there.
We could isolate a text and preach it without reference to the OT backdrop. But why would we do that, when Matthew's point in the text is so often imbedded in the fuller canonical meaning? So, remember to pan out. Think of this text in its context, but then move out to show the people how this fits into the organic whole.
3. Stay the Course
While we are arguing Scripture from Scripture we face a big temptation. We may find ourselves moving away from the explanation of a particular text to preaching the concept that is in the text. This is nuanced, but it is very important. We are not preaching truths, we are preaching texts. So, when we argue a particular text, by referencing other texts, it is tempting to get off point.
However, we must be careful to argue from other texts only in such a way that points back to the text, not away from it. To press the map metaphor, we are showing them how an Old Testament road leads to a New Testament truth. The author intended it that way. If we rhetorically park on the road, they never see the connection. The road exits to serve the destinations. So, argue Scripture from Scripture, but stay the course with a single text.
4. Don't turn to multiple texts...most of the time.
In order to stay on point, we will generally have to avoid showing the congregation multiple texts during a single sermon. Multiple texts make a sermon unwieldy, and often divert the sermon into a discussion of a topic instead of a discussion of a text. This is just a general rule of thumb. To never refer to other texts, as some might advocate, is self-defeating.
My pastoral goal for the hearers of my sermons is that they should fall in love with the words of the Word. In the Word is protection from sin (Ps. 119:11), in the Word is sanctification (Eph. 5:26; Jn. 15:3) and in the Word is the revelation of Christ Himself (Rev. 1:1; John 5:39)! I want them to understand how the Bible relates to itself. It is a beautiful tapestry and each thread is more stunning when seen in its whole. So show them other texts, but do so sparingly and with caution.
Arguments in Service of Beauty
The text we preach is absolutely ravishing. It is special and beautiful, and filled with nuance, verve and life itself! Yet when that beautiful text is shown as a part of a beautiful whole, it becomes even more beautiful.
I will not be a preacher who preaches a topic but not a text. Neither will I be a preacher who preaches an individual text while veiling how this text fits into the whole of Scripture. In these ways, argumentation serves me. It provides, on balance, the best way to show how this particular truth fits into God's redemptive history and thus becomes more beautiful indeed.
Steven W. Smith is a preacher and author who is attempting to die in the pulpit and call a generation to do the same. He is the Dean of the College, and Professor of Communication, at the College at Southwestern. Follow him on Twitter.