Sunday, February 18, 2007

What's the Main Point?

I'll be going to church in a little while, where I will worship God with my church family and also sit quietly with them to listen to our pastor preach a sermon. I've been doing this sort of thing on Sunday mornings, almost without fail, for about fifteen years. That's a lot of sermons. Lately I've tried to prepare for the sermon by writing down a few questions, and trying to answer them later in my journal or (more rarely) in conversation with others. Some of them are easy to answer, while others require a little thought? [And, btw, it is by no means an exhaustive list.]

1) What is the main Bible text on which the sermon is based? (also list the secondary citations)

2) In one brief sentence, what is the main point of this sermon?

3) Is the main point a justifiable exegesis of the text?

4) What "problem" is the main point intended to address?

5) How is Jesus Christ and the work of the cross depicted with regard to this problem? Is he necessary to its solution? Is he central or peripheral to the working out of the main point? [For example, if he is used an example that we should follow, perhaps alongside other Biblical examples, he is an illustration of the main point, but not essential to it.]

6) Is sin mentioned (not necessarily the word, but the Biblical understanding of its indwelling nature)? Or, in other words, is the problem sin, or is it only "circumstances"?

7) At the end of the sermon, are you more eager to give God glory for his incredible goodness toward you in Jesus Christ, or are you just more determined to try harder (i.e., pray more fervently, worship more ecstatically) in order to draw God's response?

Obviously, these questions are not formed on a blank slate, but are informed by past experience and personal biases, etc. That is, they are "loaded" questions. So be it. I have learned to ask questions like these of sermons, because I have heard so many that were not, in my opinion, Christocentric. They would have been every bit as appropriate in a Jewish or Mormon setting. So I enter into the sermon with questions like these as a way of sifting what I hear.

By the way, Tim Ellsworth has listed some fine guiding principles for sermons at his blog with A Layman's Advice to Preachers. [HT: Milton Stanley] Note well #2 on his list: "Preach the Gospel." Which leads me to my final question concerning today's (and every day's) sermon:

8) Was this a Gospel message? Explain.

1 comment:

Milton Stanley said...

Bravo! Excellent evaluation criteria.