Sunday, 29 November -0001 18:42

From Our Students

Written by Joel Overduin and Jason Keuning
In previous updates I have conducted short interviews with our students, asking them to describe the courses they are taking and other matters pertaining to their studies. This time I decided to do something a bit different. I decided to ask the students to write about a particular subject of their program of study. They were asked to explain what it is and why it is important. I asked Joel Overduin to write on the subject of homiletics (sermon preparation and delivery) and Jason Keuning to write on the subject of exegesis (the study of the method of biblical interpretation). It is hoped that this will better inform you as to the various subjects which comprise a program of theological study - Editor.
What is Homiletics?
There is a brief but wonderful section in HandelÕs Messiah where the choir sings from Psalm 68:11: ÒThe Lord gave the word: great was the company of those that published it.Ó In solemn, majestic tones, the choir sings, ÒThe Lord gave the word.Ó Then follows a burst of harmonious sound as choir and orchestra joyfully race along proclaiming, ÒGreat was the company of the preachers.Ó In one delightful minute, Handel captures musically the sense of the text; additionally, his presentation points to the need for homiletics. On the one hand, God has spoken. The Word of the Lord is revealed to His church in the Scriptures. And the responsibility of the church is to proclaim that Word, to preach it, to publish it abroad: ÒGreat was the company of the preachers.Ó But how are preachers to perform this task properly so that they go forth in harmony with what God has revealed, so that they deliver messages in tune with GodÕs Word? Are there any ÒrulesÓ for preachers to follow? Is there anything a preacher can do himself to sharpen his preaching skills? And are there pitfalls to beware of in preaching?

To these and similar questions, we answer with the discipline of Homiletics, a branch of theological training that concerns preaching. Simply stated, homiletics aims to train men in the holy art of preaching the whole counsel of God. It is the scientific study of how best to exposit and apply the Word. For instance, how does a preacher choose a text from which to preach? Homiletics helps him to select a text that is at least a grammatical unit and expressive of one complete thought. In another example, homiletics guides a preacher in constructing a sermon outline, one that is simple, logical, and memorable. What theme and divisions will he use? How many points will he make in the sermon? At the same time, proper homiletical training enables a preacher to know when and how to apply the Word he has expounded.

Another area covered by homiletics concerns delivery. God has ordained the Òfoolishness of preachingÓ but He has not commanded preachers to be foolish and so discredit the very Word they preach. Homiletics endeavours to enable men to deliver the Word in a manner that brings honour and praise to the Word and its Giver, God Himself, not to the preacher. One of the first rules necessary for an effective delivery is preparation. Indeed, a preacher is dependent ultimately and totally upon the Holy Spirit for any and every blessing, but he remains responsible to prepare thoroughly. That means he must know the material he has prepared, and he must know the best way to present that material. Will he use a manuscript? A detailed outline? Homiletics helps a preacher to know what is the best way to preach the sermon he has prepared. Another aspect of delivery is the use of the voice. Is a preacher crisp and clear? Does he know how to vary his tone and pitch? Homiletics deals with these issues.

Some people challenge the need for homiletical training. Among their objections, they point out that several of the greatest preachers in church history never had formal homiletical training. Others believe that homiletical training supplants the work of the Spirit, and so, they say, a true preacher will not encumber himself with all kinds of human helps but rely solely upon the Holy Spirit to bless the Word, no matter how poorly the preacher delivers it. But these objections have no foundation in Scripture. For three years, Jesus trained His disciples to preach. Paul trained Timothy, teaching him not only to preach the Word, but how to preach the Word, namely, being Òinstant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrineÓ (2 Tim.4: 2). Our forefathers too believed in an educated ministry. If a lawyer studies hard to know the best way to present his case, how much more ought preachers to strive to learn the best way to use their God-given gifts to beseech people everywhere on behalf of Christ to be reconciled to God?

Indeed, for nothing but the Word must speak. The Lord gives the Word; preachers proclaim it. And because it is the LordÕs Word, preachers do homiletics best only when they listen to the Word. This is the cardinal rule of homiletics as expressed by the prophet Micaiah the son of Imlah: ÒAs the LORD liveth, what the LORD saith unto me, that will I speakÓ (1 Kings 22:14). Our own homiletical instructor, Rev. C. Schouls, aims to drive home this very point when in his lectures he declares to us students three times, each time with increased intensity: ÒListen to the text! Listen to the text! Listen to the text!Ó Ours is a day when many people demand certain kinds of preaching, whatever suits their taste or fancy. In contrast, we as Reformed churches strive to preach only the Word, and the Word alone.

Finally, homiletics must begin, proceed, and conclude always in complete dependence upon the Triune God. For it is by means of the Word preached that the Father calls sinners, the Son redeems sinners, and the Spirit sanctifies sinners. Biblical homiletics is commissioned by the Father. Biblical homiletics is concerned to exalt the Son. Biblical homiletics seeks the blessing of the Holy Spirit. When these things are secured through earnest prayer, diligent study, and careful preparation, preachers may and must go forth, thoroughly trained and equipped to proclaim the whole counsel of God. The result, by GodÕs grace, will be Òthe lively preaching of the WordÓ in harmony with the Word to the praise and honour of the glorious Giver of the Word.

- Joel Overduin -

What is Exegesis?
It is a common sight--the preacher walks to the pulpit with Bible and sermon notes in hand. After prayer, Bible reading, singing, a collection, and perhaps a creed, he begins to proclaim GodÕs Word.

Now wait a minute, he doesnÕt just read the Bible, he preaches from his papers! Why then do we call it the preaching of the Bible?

IÕm glad you brought that up. To get from the Bible to the sermon is obviously an important process. If the process goes amuck, then the preaching is not biblical.

Several steps are required for Bible exposition (whether teaching or preaching): translation from the original languages, proper exegesis, the utilization of good hermeneutics, and the homiletical development of the final product. Translation involves working with the Greek and Hebrew texts and lexicons, understanding manuscript traditions, and inspection of various existing translations. Exegesis involves making sense of the text of Scripture--interpreting it. Hermeneutics tells us why we can interpret Scripture the way we can. A good understanding of homiletics helps the minister put together the sermon in an organized, logical, interesting, relevant, Christ-centered way.

Allow me to illustrate. In John 1:18 John writes: ÒNo man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him.Ó This word ÒdeclaredÓ comes from a verb which means Òto relate, explain, expound, give a detailed report, or reveal.Ó So John 1:18 teaches us the astonishing concept that during His earthly ministry, Christ expounded the Father to man. In Him all the fullness of the Godhead dwelt bodily (Col.2: 9). The disciples beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth (John 1:14).

Interestingly, the word ÒexegesisÓ comes from this same Greek word. So when the minister exegetes a text or passage of Scripture, he is seeking to determine what that text or passage means in order that he can explain it to the Church. In other words, he is interpreting the text.

This process begins with prayer. Before putting his hand to the Òpen and paper,Ó the minister Òlifts his handsÓ in prayer. He begs for illumination and insight into the text. He humbles himself before God and dedicates himself to God. He seeks crumbs from the MasterÕs table. He may sing or read part of Psalm 119 (e.g. ÒGrant light unto my soul O Lord I prayÓ).

After translating the passage, the minister analyzes the grammar of the passage. He notes the genre (poetry, narrative, parable, epistle, etc.). If necessary, he diagrams or otherwise structures the grammar of the passage, noting the relationship between words, phrases, and/or poetic lines. If he is dealing with a complex argument, he will sketch out the logical flow of the text. He carefully reads the passage, noting things like conjunctions, tenses, word order, repetition, narrative flow, character development, and so on.

He then briefly summarizes his understanding of the text. As he writes this summary, he pays careful attention to the historical setting of the text. He must ascertain the context of the passage within the chapter, the book, and beyond. He may need to use maps, and books on history, geography, archaeology, and so on. He observes the role of the passage in the context. When finished, he checks to see if his summary coheres with the text. He examines any discrepancies in detail. As he examines the text, he tries to find out what the Author/author of Scripture is trying to communicate in this passage.

Then he finds appropriate boundaries for the text. He discovers the theme of that text, and the major sub-points that support and unpack that theme. He determines how these major elements logically cohere and progress. From this, he makes an analytical outline of the passage.

Finally he consults several commentaries, sermons, books and articles to see how his interpretation compares with that of others. He may need to revise some aspects of his interpretation.

Now he begins to pay especial attention to theological themes. What does this text say about God, His purposes, ChristÕs person, ChristÕs work, the churchÕs duties and privileges, the final consummation of all things, and so on? At this point he puts his hermeneutics and systematic theology to full use. Historical-redemptive themes such as seed, land, covenant, kingship, and salvation are studied. Issues such as typology and prophecy are resolved.

When exegesis is nearly complete, it is time for reflection. Does this interpretation agree with the rest of Scripture? Is God honoured by this interpretation? Is this interpretation natural to the text, or is it forced?

When this is all complete, it is time to write the theme and points, the full outline, and then the sermon (these steps are part of homiletics). At this point, the minister has lots of notes and rough work. He has been immersed in GodÕs Word. He has seen something of the glory of God. Though he has been praying throughout, it is now time for focused praise, reverence, and thanks to God for what he has just experienced.

- Jason Keuning -

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