Chapter 11

My Theory of Homiletics

Three ideas shape my approach to preaching.

Expository preaching is 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 the experience of the preacher, then through the preacher, applies to the hearer.

My approach to homiletics is reflected in the presuppositions in this definition.

1. Preachers communicate ideas

Do I, as a preacher, endeavor to bend my thought to the Scriptures, or do I use the Scriptures to support my thought?

Although preachers may study the words and the grammar of a text and even present some of the study in the sermon, words and phrases cannot be ends in themselves. If preachers are ever to get sermons, they must get them as ideas. Those who have studied and practiced public speaking over twenty-five hundred years have agreed that the most effective way to structure a speech is to build it around a single concept. I build on this and apply it both to the study of the Bible and also to the communication of its truth. The Bible and the sermon are both forms of literature and both communicate ideas.

Therefore I devote a chapter of my textbook Biblical Preaching to determining the anatomy of an idea. It comes from asking two essential questions. "What exactly is this person talking about?" The full, complete answer to this question is the "subject" of a passage or of a sermon. The answer to a second question "What is this person saying about what is being talked about?" leads to the "complement" of the idea because it completes the subject. The subject and the complement together lead to the idea of the text and of the sermon.

2. The idea of a passage should govern the idea of the sermon

Ideally the authority for the sermon does not lie with the preacher but in the text. Biblical preaching at its core is more a philosophy than a method. Whether or not a minister does biblical preaching starts with the honest answer to the question: "Do I, as a preacher, endeavor to bend my thought to the Scriptures, or do I use the Scriptures to support my thought?"

Taking into account the history, grammar, literary forms and the context of a passage, the expositor ponders what the biblical writer wanted to get across to his original readers.

3. Biblical preaching must be applied

After unearthing the biblical writer's thought in its context, preachers then must discern what the Holy Spirit wants to say to men and women in the current generation to whom they preach. The stance of effective expositors is not that they are lecturing to their listeners about the Bible. Instead, they are talking to their listeners about the listeners from the Bible. Application, therefore, isn't incidental to expository preaching. It is essential.

A biblical sermon can take many forms. Just as the biblical writers used many different genres of literature to communicate their ideas, preachers are free to use any form that will adequately represent what the Scripture teaches. In constructing the sermon, the same two questions can also be used to nail down the idea of the sermon. Preachers, too, must know the subject of their sermon and what precisely they are saying about their subject.

Strong biblical sermons must be "bifocal." They reflect both the idea and the development of the text, and they also reflect the concerns and questions of the listener. It is only through relevant, biblical preaching that men and women can come to understand and experience what the eternal God has to say to them today.

Haddon Robinson's approach to preaching is spelled out in his text, Biblical Preaching (Baker, 3rd edition, 2014), which is used in seminaries and Bible colleges throughout the world.