Polished preaching vs raw preaching

There’s no one way to deliver a good sermon. The strengths of one preacher mean that they lack the strengths of another. A short sermon has weaknesses, but then so does a longer sermon.

Another area where preachers differ and advice on preaching diverges is how polished the sermon is. 

Some advice speaks of massive amounts of rehearsal and drafting, seeking feedback in the composition process, careful systems of illustration filing and so on. So we might be pointed to the carefully crafted political address and carefully composed speechwriting skill.

And yet there are other forms of effective public communication, and analagous preaching styles, which are less crafted. Think, for example, of some stand up comedians, who speak with a great degree of thought and planning, but not from a teleprompter. So also I have heard preachers who are more ‘free’ in the precise form and content of their sermon, and yet equally effective in a different way. I’d hate to lose the benefits of that kind of preaching by conforming them to the polished approach.

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Getting from the Old Testament to the New Part 1: putting things in historical order

It is sometimes hard to read and understand the Old Testament as Christians. Which means it is also hard to preach and teach the Old Testament, and difficult to answer questions from sceptics about the Old Testament.

The overall idea of biblical theology is very help in this: seeing how the Bible is one book, with one great theme; one big story, with a climax in Christ, his work and its fulfillment. Books like According to Plan by Graeme Goldsworthy, and teaching content like Strand 2 at National Training Event is so brilliant.

But the details of working from particular passages from the Old Testament remains obscure even to those who have mastered the basics of biblical theology. And so we can fall into two errors:

  1. Every passage gets forced into a simplistic mold, sapped of any unique insight, flattened out. Preaching on the Old Testament becomes an odd exercise in expounding the text and then ignoring it in a clumsy jump to the gospel.
  2. The overall framework is used to justify the move to the New Testament, without taking the time to see how this movement is implicit in the Old Testament texts themselves. As a result to sceptical hearers this move appears strained or even irresponsible.

This little series is my attempt to give more detail to this move, in a way that can be concretely applied to particular texts.

Part 1: Putting things in their historical order

The first and most obvious way to move from the Old Testament to the New Testament can be found in narrative texts, especially those that are clearly part of the larger narrative that begins particularly with Abraham and ends in the New Creation.

In this way of moving from Old Testament to New Testament, we are not working with complex things like ‘typology’, but simply plugging the small story into the larger story, showing how the small story contributes to the flow of the larger story and then giving the ultimate ‘spoiler’ of the gospel.

A clums]y acronym of 3 pairs and 1 triplet gives some ways this works: STORY’S END:


1. What Sting is Taken away?

Some Old Testament stories end in tragedy or judgment or failure. The end of the book of Judges, or the exile to Babylon, for example.

These ‘cliffhangers’ in the Old Testament text drive the narrative forward into the next step in God’s dealings with Israel, and never find ultimate resolution until the Christ returns at the second coming.


2. What Obedience does only Christ’s Righteousness perfect?

Although the Old Testament is more than a series of moral lessons, some stories are told in a way that clearly celebrates or condemns the behvaiour of the characters: Joseph showed integrity in his sexual morality, while David failed disastrously in this same area. in addition to this, there are also explicit laws and commands given of a general nature: such as that first command to Adam, or the law to Israel.

These stories and commands give us an opportunity to praise virtues and decry vices. But they also give a legitimate opportunity to speak more widely on the Bible’s teaching about God’s perfect standard, our universal human inability to meet that standard, and Christ’s active righteousness of life, passive righteousness in his atoning death, imputed righteousness to those who trust in him and transforming righteousness by the Spirit both now in part and in full when he returns.


3. What Yearning does the gospel Satisfy?

The Old Testament also presents us with ‘problems’ that are not quite tragedies or judgments or failures, but rather godly desires for something more.]

For example, when Moses longs that all God’s people would be prophets, he is yearning for a good, additional thing, which ultimately God does grant in the pouring out of the Spirit on all those in Christ.


4. What Explicit promise find its Normal fulfillment or Deeper fulfillment in Christ?

The LORD often makes explicit promises about what he will do in the future. And occasionally these promises find their immediate and explicit (‘normal’) fulfillment in Christ Jesus himself. This is the easiest kind of passage to apply to Christians today. The promise that the seed of the woman will one day crush the head of the serpent, in Genesis 3:16 is perhaps one such promise.

But at other times, the promise has more immediate fulfillments in the Old Testament history itself, while its ultimate, ‘deeper’ fulfillment is in Christ. The promise to Abraham is a promise like this.

I will unpack this more in a coming post.

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