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.