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Developing a Biblical-Theological Sermon

I had a friend ask me how I develop/build a biblical-theological sermon.  Below I have outlined some of the steps I take in developing sermons from a redemptive-historical perspective.

1.) Read the Bible.  How can someone become familiar with redemptive-history unless they have a thorough knowledge of Scripture?  I suggest not only reading the Bible on a daily basis, but reading with a discerning eye for connections in the text between the Old and New Testament and reading large portions of Scripture.  As I have mentioned in a previous post, reading large portions of Scripture from both the Old and New Testament help you become familiar with the flow and theme of the book.  Moreover, many people make a distinction between devotional reading and reading to study the Bible.  I don’t think there is such a fine distinction.  When we read the Bible we should seek to better understand Jesus and this comes by careful examination and reflection on God’s Word.

2.) Read Books on Biblical Theology.  I would read as many books on biblical theology as possible.  I have provided a list of my top ten books on biblical theology.  Reading books on biblical theology will familiarize you with how the Bible fits together and show the unity and diversity found in the text.  Furthermore, introductory books to biblical theology will often have excellent footnotes and resource lists for further study, which will help expand your understanding of biblical theology.

3.) Read Good Commentaries.  No commentary will completely satisfy every reader, but find some good commentaries on the book you are studying.  Particularly, try to find some commentaries that read the text from a redemptive-historical perspective.  I have tried to provide commentary recommendations with this goal in mind.  Commentators are not always right, but they do help us see things in the text and cross-reference Scriptures that we might have otherwise missed, especially in regard to redemptive-historical issues.

4.) Read Other Resources.  I would suggest getting books related to the book of the Bible you are preparing to teach through.  If you are going to preach through Zechariah get books that are related to the prophets.  For example, O. Palmer Robertson has an excellent book, The Christ of the Prophets, where he discusses the prophets from a Christ-centered perspective.  There are all sorts of books that lend to developing a redemptive-historical perspective of the text.  I would also suggest reading articles.  There are a plethora of articles that can be found online that relate to particular books or passages.  If you are near a seminary library take advantage of it and search for articles on the related passage you are studying.  Galaxie software has an excellent set of Theological Journals for sale that you can have on your computer.  I would also suggest subscribing to theological journals.  I have found many good insights from the articles written by pastors and scholars in journals such as JETS, WTJ, Kerux, and SBJT

5.) Look for Connecting Themes and Ideas.  As you read the Bible cross-reference the passages you are studying.  Cross-referencing helps you see how various texts are related.  Most Bible translations have a cross reference edition.  I would also suggest using the cross-reference found in the Greek New Testament Nestle-Aland version.  This Greek text makes many good cross-references that I have not seen in English translations.  As you read your Bible cross-reference with related passages, but also make notes about key terms, ideas, themes, and phrases that are picked up elsewhere in Scripture.  A perfect example are the words “lovingkindness and truth.”  We see these words used to describe God in Exodus 34:6-7 and developed throughout the Old Testament.  We then see it applied to Jesus as God’s Son (John 1:14).  There are many connections between the Old Testament and New Testament beyond direct quotations, we just have to be familiar enough with the Bible to see these other connections.

6.) Show How the Text Connects to the Rest of Scripture.  One of the biggest problems with preaching today is that the individual texts are often divorced from the whole of Scripture.  While we do not neglect the details (e.g., word studies, grammar, syntax, historical setting, individual texts), we must be sure to show how the Bible fits together.  The Bible is a story with many books; thus, we must be careful to show how these books and stories all fit together.  Richard Lints has listed some helpful stepsfor examining particular texts within the larger context of Scripture.  I would also suggest preparing sermons on larger portions of Scripture, rather than one or two verses.  How can we possibly see the big picture if we miss the forest for the trees?  The Bible did not come to us in chapters or indivudual verses, but as whole books.  For some reason many pastors think they are treating the text “indepth” when they spend five years preaching through the book of Matthew or spending five weeks on two verses.  I think we should get people to see the big picture by preaching larger portions of Scripture, which will also allow us to get to other books of the Bible during our ministry.  I am not suggesting to ignore the details of the text, but simply understand that the Bible is a book of literature and should be read and taught as such (as a book or a whole). 

7.) Use Plenty of Scripture.  I think that using a lot of other Scriptures in connection with the text you are preaching helps people see how the Bible fits together.  I often use many Scriptures to elucidate the text I am preaching.  I often try to draw from lesser known texts (in a responsible way) to support the text I am preaching, which introduces people to the rest of the Bible.  We must follow the Reformers at this point and allow Scripture to interpret Scripture.  Because of the Bible’s intertextuality, we must be aware of the way Scripture uses Scripture to explain itself, whether it be a direct quotation, an allusion, a symbol, a type, or a theme. 

8.) Exalt Christ.  Jesus makes very clear the role of the Spirit.  He will come and point us to and bring glory to Christ (John 14:16-17; 16:5-15).  We know that the Spirit is at work when Jesus is glorified.  In my opinion, Spirit-empowered preaching is not characterized by pounding the pulpit or screaming and yelling, but is demonstrated when Jesus Christ is exalted and glorified.  The great strength of redemptive-historical preaching is that it seeks to demonstrate Jesus as the goal of Scripture.  Jesus is to have supremacy in all things.  He is Lord and King of his church and creation (Col 1:15-18).  Jesus and the apostles repeatedly make the assertion that Jesus is the fulfillment of everything the Old Testament promised.  For us to properly preach in the power of the Spirit is to exalt Jesus and to show him from all the Scripture as the goal and hope for God’s people. 

9.) Provide Application.  Application in most sermons today is moralistic, legalistic, and man-centered.  The proper reaction to bad application is not having application, but having biblically based application.  The biggest knock against redemptive-historical preaching is that it lacks application.  However, when we read the New Testament it is full of application.  The New Testament instructs us how to live as God’s redeemed covenant community.  Because we share the same eschatological plane as the apostles (i.e., the already-not yet), the ethical injunctions given to them apply to us too.  Those who employ redemptive-historical preaching must apply the text.  While the New Testament does a fine job for us applying the truth of Christ, there is nothing wrong with outlining other points of application as long as we avoid equating these applications as the sum total of our Christian faith.  In other words, we must avoid making these applications legalistic.  Application is not easy.  It is one of the hardest things I have had to develop in my preaching, but it is important and we should seek to apply the text in responsible and Christ-centered ways.  I have written some previous posts (1, 2, 3) on this topic.

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