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Monday, April 6, 2015

"Preaching with Accuracy" (Randal E. Pelton)

TITLE: Preaching with Accuracy: Finding Christ-Centered Big Ideas for Biblical Preaching
AUTHOR: Randal E. Pelton
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2014, (176 pages).

Time and topic are two of the biggest challenges facing preachers who have to preach frequently, especially weekly. While books on preaching are many, books that directly speak to pastors who preach every week are less numerous. With such people in mind, Pelton shares his method to preach with accuracy. He begins with Os Guinness's apt warning about our tendency to be so relevant to culture that we lose faithfulness to the gospel. He wants to highlight the need for expository preaching rather than for pastors to search for the hippiest, trendiest, or most 'relevant' topic to preach each week. There is a danger of the pastor turning the preaching time into a relevance-driven pulpit. The central concern is that the Word of God needs to be preached. Rather than to let topics drive the Word, we need to let the Word drive the relevance effort.

According to Pelton, choosing the passage to be preached is important because it has implications on whether the passage has a big idea, many ideas, or simply no clear idea. The apostle Paul uses "attention-getting observation" before unloading biblical truths on the situation. Jesus's model does not seek to be seeker-sensitive but to minister the Word to the condition of the hearts of individuals. In preaching with accuracy, one needs to be aware of the multiple ideas of the chosen texts as well as the multiple ways they could be perceived by listeners. Accurate preaching means being able to connect these dots into one central theme, how little ideas within the texts add weight to the major idea or theme of the text. He states:

"Preaching with greater accuracy involves knowing how big ideas and little ideas interrelate to create meanings. We run the risk of misinterpreting and misapplying preaching portions if we major on minor ideas." (33)

Key to understanding Pelton's method is to distinguish three preaching portions.
  1. texbi: The textual big idea in the text.
  2. conbi: The contextual big idea in the immediate context of the passage.
  3. canbi: The canonical big idea of the whole Bible.
Using three concentric circles as below, Pelton presents to us the the dilemma of which big idea circle we are to preach then. Very simply put, the first concentric circle is about what the big idea means to the individual; the second about what the big idea is with respect to the context, the covenant; and the third about what it means in the light of the entire Word of God.

(Randal Pelton, Preaching with Accuracy, Kregel, 2014, p35)

Chapters three to six describe how this method is used. In "Cutting the Text," he drives home the point that accurate preaching begins with accurate cutting of the text. It is also referred to as "pericope" where one tries to find a text that "possess a sufficient level of independence." Pelton gives us tips on how to cut the text.
  1. Start right from the beginning of the chapter, or book if necessary.
  2. Note the structure.
  3. Note the genre. (Didactic, Narrative, Parables, Poetry, Proverbs, Prophecy, Visions)
  4. Increase or decrease the preaching portion accordingly when studying.
He spends time describing texbi, conbi, and canbi. In 'texbi' Pelton uses the famous "Big Idea Preaching" popularized by Dr Haddon Robinson. He summarizes this idea concisely in one chapter. If you do not have time to read Dr Robinson's "Biblical Preaching" (although you should), Pelton's summary is sufficient for the purpose of understanding what 'texbi' is about. He gives examples on how to discover the texbi in narratives, didactic (or teaching portions), poetry, and other genres.

In finding out the 'conbi' big idea, we are reminded that context is like location of a point. Is there a theme or connection to a larger narrative? How does it fit in with the rest of the chapter or book? What is the immediate context? He gives us an idea of what the unique characteristics are for Old Testament literature, the gospels, and the New Testament epistles.In the Old Testament, the main character is God. The narrative context guides the understanding of the larger context. This means we understand that God's redemptive purpose comes before the issuance of the laws. It means the holy people of God are there to be part of God's redemptive purpose. For the gospels, the main character is Jesus, with the gospels often filled with an interplay of different genres. Each gospel is filled with poetry, narratives, didactic passages, prophecy, and many others. When studying the gospels, special care needs to be applied to understanding the many genres and how they connect with one another. For the New Testament epistles, passages are often structured around a line of argument. There is a logical flow that ties the texts with the larger contexts. There is also a common authorship that links the epistles together in such a way that the letters all tell of a bigger story.

In 'canbi' big idea, which is the canonical interpretation, we are called to preach all three contexts: the 'texbi' meaning of the passage; the 'conbi' meaning of the contexts; and now the way the passage is related to the whole Bible. Pelton perceives four things in Tim Keller's Christ-centered preaching style.

  1. In preaching, point out aspects of Christian life
  2. Explain that we cannot go it alone on our own strength
  3. Point toward the works of Jesus
  4. Preach about how faith in Christ enable us to do what we cannot do on our own.
The Bible needs to be core in a preacher's "informing theology." He needs a "canonical center" to zoom into an accurate preaching idea. Avoid moralism. Avoid under-interpretation which turns a passage into some list of do's and don'ts. Textual meaning needs to fit in with the larger contexts and the overall biblical theology. Move the sermon from Story to Savior. There is a helpful section that compares other Christ-centered styles of preaching. Bryan Chapell's style tends to be more "grace-centered" instead of Keller's "Christ-centered." It is centered relatively more on what Christ had done rather than Christ. He critiques Sidney Greidanus's model, who advocates seven ways to preach the Person of Christ from the Old Testament. The weakness in Greidanus lies in discarding the details surrounding the specific event as one jumps from the Old Testament to Christ. Pelton gives four examples on how he would build a bridge from Old Testament to Christ. The four passages are Genesis 11:1-9; 2 Samuel 11;  Psalms 3; and Matthew 17:24-27. Preachers are urged to emphasize Christ in the salvation, the redemption, the practice, and the extend of God's grace.

This is a welcome addition to the already huge library of preaching resources now available in the Christian homiletics and hermeneutics world. In coming out with his accurate preaching methodology, Pelton brilliantly combines Robinson's Big Idea Preaching with Keller's Christ-focused preaching to come up with a texbi-con-bi-canbi concentric circles of preaching. It is a powerful reminder for preachers not to under-interpret any Scripture, to pay special care and attention to cutting the text appropriately without forgetting the contexts, and to home in to Christ without forgetting the original contexts of each passage. In preaching, there is no substitute for hard work and accurate exegesis. That is why it is important to expand or contract the passages concerned as one studies and waits upon the Spirit for guidance and confirmation.

I am sure some readers will take issue with Pelton's critique of Bryan Chapell and Sidney Greidanus. It could be a perception skewed by certain parts of Chapell's and Greidanus's books. That will merit a separate discussion altogether. What might also be confusing is the way Pelton has reversed the concentric circles. On the location of the 'texbi,' 'conbi,' and 'canbi,' one might question whether the 'texbi' should be on the outer concentric circle (page 35) or on the inner circle (page 112). This confusion can even throw off readers to discard the whole theory altogether on the basis of confusion. Nevertheless, there are some pretty good ideas advocated here. Most importantly, it has strengthened my awareness of the need to understand the passages in terms of textual, contextual, and canonical levels. A valuable resource indeed.

Rating: 4.75 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me courtesy of Kregel Publications in exchange for an honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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