Sermons like “a bullet”!

March 27, 2007

For the last Classic Materials for this month of March I’ve chosen Haddon W. Robinson’s Biblical Preaching (Expository Preaching; UK). If you’re familiar at all with Robinson, you’ll know that a facet he always stresses the importance of identifying a text’s main theme. See what you think of his logic.

“Preachers, like their audiences, may conceive of sermons as a collection of points that have little relationship to each other. Here textbooks designed to help speakers may actually hinder them. Discussions of outlining usually emphasise the place of Roman and Arabic numerals along with proper indentation, but these factors (important as they are) may ignore the obvious – an outline is the shape of a sermon idea, and the parts must be related to the whole.

Three or four ideas not related to a more inclusive idea do not make a message; they make three or four sermonettes all preached at one time. Reuel L. Howe listened to hundreds of taped sermons and held discussions with laypeople. He concluded that the people in the pew ‘complain almost unanimously that sermons often contain too many ideas.’ That may not be an accurate observation. Sermons seldom fail because they have too many ideas; more often they fail because they deal with too many unrelated ideas.

Fragmentation poses a particular danger for the expository preacher. Some expository sermons offer little more than scattered comments based on words and phrases from a passage, making no attempt to show how the various thoughts fit together as a whole.

At the outset the preacher may catch the congregation’s mind with some observation about life, or worse, jump into the text with no thought about the present. As the sermon goes on, the preacher comments on the words or phrases in the passage with sub themes and major themes and individual words all given equal emphasis. The conclusion, if there is one, usually substitutes vague exhortation for relevant application, because there is no single truth to apply. When the congregation goes back into the world, it has received no mesage by which to live because it has not occured to the preacher to preach one.

A major affirmation of our definition of expository preaching, therefore, maintains that ‘expository preaching’ is the communicatio of a biblical concept.’ That affirms the obvious. A sermon should be a bullet, not buckshot. Ideally each sermon is the explanation, interpretation, or application of a single dominant idea supported by other ideas, all drawn from one passage or several passages of Scripture.


  1. I think Robinson’s point is well worth reflecting seriously. Being in an academic setting currently, I wonder if the lack of a unifying message in expositing the text has something to do with the present fragmentation of knowledge. I’ve actually come across Bible scholars who are embarrassed at claiming that there’s an underlying doctrine that holds the parts of the text together. They prefer to limit themselves to the particularities of the text than widen the scope of consideration by analogy of Scripture and come to a more settled doctrine or message or teaching from a given verse or passage.

  2. I just attended a class on biblical preaching last week in Canada with H. Robinson, ant it was a great blessing, as well as interesting and inspiring for any preacher. Most of the material we covered was already in his book, so I highly recommend it to anyone willing to preach effectively. This is no magic formula for either preparing or delivering a sermon, but it is really helpful and Robinson’s long experience can bring much to a younger generation of expositors.

  3. Well said and right to the point. Thanks for posting this.

  4. Very thought provoking on sermon prep…
    I had these comments to make on my own blog after reading yours:

    My seminary preaching professor taught me that each sermon should have at least one point! …read more at http://millervillage.wordpress.com/2007/03/29/sermons-like-a-bullet-or-buckshot/


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