Time to Kill the Big Idea? A Fresh Look at Preaching -- By: Abraham Kuruvilla

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 61:4 (Dec 2018)
Article: Time to Kill the Big Idea? A Fresh Look at Preaching
Author: Abraham Kuruvilla

Time to Kill the Big Idea?
A Fresh Look at Preaching

Abraham Kuruvilla*

* Abraham Kuruvilla is Senior Research Professor of Preaching and Pastoral Ministries at Dallas Theological Seminary, 3909 Swiss Ave., Dallas, TX 75204. He may be contacted at akuruvilla@dts.edu.

Abstract: This essay traces the history and development of the “Big Idea” in preaching and reviews its methodology—the distilling of a text of Scripture and the preaching of that distillate. Both operations are found wanting in hermeneutical rigor; the resulting detrimental ramifications are addressed. A fresh look at preaching then describes this central mode of Christian communication as a novel form of text-based address unknown to classical rhetoricians, calls for attending to authorial doings with texts (discerning the theology of pericopes), and considers textual interpretation as not only a science but also an art, texts being both discursive (in their sayings) and non-discursive (in their doings). Such a conception of texts entails that preaching be conceived more as demonstration than as argumentation. A narrow and circumscribed role for text reductions is also offered.

Key words: Big Idea, hermeneutics, rhetoric, homiletics, preaching, reduction, Pericopal Theology, interpretation, demonstration, argumentation, semantics, pragmatics

To craft a sermon that logically presents the big ideas of the text to hearers is not the same thing as designing a sermon as a piece of drama intended to precipitate a powerful and life-changing experience.1

The late Haddon Robinson, a stalwart of evangelical preaching theory and praxis, was the one who tagged and named the Big Idea in his magisterial work Biblical Preaching (1980). The multiple editions of this tome have made it one of the most widely used homiletics textbooks in evangelical seminaries worldwide. Expository preaching, Robinson asserts, is “the explanation, interpretation, or application of a single dominant idea supported by other ideas.”2 Essentially, this Big Idea is a proposition, comprising a subject and a complement.3 Though a variety of terms

have been employed, the label “Big Idea” has stuck and the notion has influenced evangelical preaching for close to four decades. In that span, language philosophy has come far, calling for a reevaluation of this basic tenet of hermeneutics for homiletics.


Robinson declared that ...

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