Preaching The New Testament Letters -- By: David L. Allen

Journal: Journal for Baptist Theology & Ministry
Volume: JBTM 14:1 (Spring 2017)
Article: Preaching The New Testament Letters
Author: David L. Allen

Preaching The New Testament Letters

David L. Allen

David L. Allen is Dean of the School of Preaching, Distinguished Professor of Preaching, Director of the Southwestern Center for Expository Preaching, and George W. Truett Chair of Ministry at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas.

I have always been an advocate for expository preaching. In more recent years, this term has been used with such elasticity that sometimes preaching marches under this banner that is not really expositional in nature. What’s worse, instead of expounding the text, some preachers skirmish cleverly on its outskirts. Instead of preaching prophetic truth, they are pirouetting on trifles. Without a text to ground the sermon, the preacher becomes something of a magician who, with conjuring adroitness week after week, keeps producing fat rabbit after fat rabbit out of an obviously empty hat.

For more than twenty years now I have been using the term “text-driven preaching” to describe what I think expository preaching should be. In text-driven preaching, sermons should be not only based upon a text of Scripture, but should actually expound the meaning of that text. The biblical text is not merely a resource for the sermon; it is the source of the sermon. A sermon not only uses a text of Scripture, but should be derived from a text of Scripture, and should develop a text of Scripture. We are not just preaching sermons; we are preaching texts.

Basically, text-driven preaching attempts to stay true to the substance, the structure, and the spirit of the text.1 The “substance” of the text is what the text is about (theme) and what is it saying about it. Homileticians sometimes speak of this as the “subject and compliment” or “topic and assertion.”

The “structure” of the text concerns the way in which the author develops the theme via syntax and semantics. A text has not only syntactical structure but also semantic structure, and the latter is what the preacher should be attempting to identify and represent in the sermon. The “spirit” of the text concerns the author-intended “feel” or “emotive tone” of the text which is influenced by the specific textual genre, such as narrative, expository, hortatory, poetic, etc.2

While I was a pastor of two churches for twenty-one years, I preached through books of the Bible, including many of the New Testament letters. I believe the best way to approach preaching the letters is to divide the letter up according to its paragraph s...

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