A Sermon Should Not Reproduce the Text

Preaching is not narrative, poetry, or apocalyptic. It is a distinct form all its own, its own genre if you will. Therefore, we should not try to reproduce the text in our preaching. We should preach from the text and make sure the people know why we believe the text is teaching what it is teaching. But the goal is not to reproduce the text. I recently finished The Shape of Preaching by Dennis Cahill. It was a good book overall. But the author says, “The literary form of the text ought to bear a significant relationship to sermon shape.” If all he means by this is that we ought to consider what genre we are preaching, use the structure of the passage to help determine meaning, and possibly use the structure to help structure our sermon then I am fine with that. Nothing new there.

But it seems that he is saying our sermons ought to reflect the genre we are preaching in a more concrete way. It is hard to say exactly what he or others who express similar sentiments mean. But the impression I get is that a sermon on an apocalyptic text will be different than an sermon on Ephesians 3 or Psalm 51.  For example, a sermon on a narrative text should have more story telling in it. I once heard a sermon on Ruth that was all dialogue and story telling, like a play. Or the idea could be that a sermon on the Psalms should be more poetic than a sermon on I John. The point is that the sermon should reflect the type of passage we are preaching.

But a sermon is not supposed to reproduce the text. It is supposed to explain and apply the text.  In our sermons we do explain Hebrew poetry, symbolism in apocalyptic passages, and the flow of a narrative.  We do not take the particular genre of the text and try to make our sermon fit that genre. Preaching is not narrative, poetry, an epistle, or an apocalypse. It is a sermon: An oral exposition of a Biblical passage that explains and applies that text to a certain group of people at a particular point in time.

Second Helvetic Confession: On the Scriptures

I have been reading the Second Helvetic Confession. What is that you ask? Here is a little background. Here is the document itself, which is longer than either the Westminster Confession or the Belgic Confession. While I don’t agree with all of it, such as its “ever virgin” phrase or its excessive pessimistic view of the church in history, overall it is rich and is worth consulting. Here is the first section of the confession on the Scriptures.  I have put in a bold a few phrases I enjoyed.

CANONICAL SCRIPTURE. We believe and confess the canonical Scriptures of the holy prophets and apostles of both Testaments to be the true Word of God, and to have sufficient authority of themselves, not of men. For God himself spoke to the fathers, prophets, apostles, and still speaks to us through the Holy Scriptures.

And in this Holy Scripture, the universal Church of Christ has the most complete exposition of all that pertains to a saving faith, and also to the framing of a life acceptable to God; and in this respect it is expressly commanded by God that nothing be either added to or taken from the same.

SCRIPTURE TEACHES FULLY ALL GODLINESS. We judge, therefore, that from these Scriptures are to be derived true wisdom and godliness, the reformation and government of churches; as also instruction in all duties of piety; and, to be short, the confirmation of doctrines, and the rejection of all errors, moreover, all exhortations according to that word of the apostle, “All scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof,” etc. (II Timothy 3:16-17). Again, “I am writing these instructions to you,” says the apostle to Timothy, “So that you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God,” etc. (I Timothy 3:14-15). SCRIPTURE IS THE WORD OF GOD. Again, the selfsame apostle to the Thessalonians: “When,” says he, “You received the word of God which you heard from us, you accepted it, not as the word of men but as what it really is, the Word of God,” etc. (I Thess. 2:13) For the Lord himself has said in the gospel, “It is not you who speak, but the Spirit of my Father speaking through you”; therefore “He who hears you hears me, and he who rejects me rejects him who sent me” (Matt. 10:20; Luke 10:16; John 13:20).

The sufficiency, authority, and clarity of Scripture are key battlegrounds in the church today and will be in the coming years. Those of us in the reformed world would be wise to read not just the key works on Scripture (Warfield, Whitaker, and systematics), but also to mine the depths of the confessions and catechisms.