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Apr 25, 2014 David Lang

Alliterating Points Acceptable Practice? Alternate Perspectives

The other day on our social media channels, we posted the following question:

Alliteration

Alliteration is, of course, a time-tested rhetorical device which can help listeners remember what was said. Take, for example, Martin Luther King Jr.'s "dream" that his children would one day be judged "not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character." The use of alliteration here (and consonance with the "k" in skin) helps to draw our attention to the contrast.

Many notable preachers have used alliteration to draw attention to the main points of their sermons, and in some circles, it has become so common as to be seen by preachers and congregants alike as the prescribed method for constructing a sermon. Of course, like any method, the use of alliteration in preaching can sometimes become stale, artificial, or stilted. One reason we asked whether alliteration is helpful or passé was to gauge whether there is any kind of negative backlash to this time-tested, but sometimes overused, method.

Another reason we asked the question is to gauge how much changing times are affecting preaching methods like this one. As visual forms of communication become ever more prevalent, are techniques like alliteration, which are designed to help people retain what they hear, becoming less effective?

We received a number of interesting responses on Facebook and Twitter, and I'd encourage you to check out those discussions. Most recognized that alliteration can be misused, and some encouraged abandoning the practice altogether. Others still see it as helpful, even fun, and worth the effort to do right. If you'd like to chime in, feel free to join those social media discussions or leave a comment on this post. We'd love to hear what you think.


 

Mar 27, 2012 David Lang

A Commentary To Help You Craft Better Sermons

Phillips-set-sm If you're a preacher or teacher, your work is only half done when you've finished exegeting a passage. Next you face the daunting task of organizing what you've discovered into a meaningful sermon or lesson. Unfortunately, most commentaries focus on helping with the task of exegesis, but do little to help with the challenge of communication. The Exploring Commentary Series by John Phillips is different: it focuses on presenting the books it covers in a way that can be easily communicated with others.

First, Phillips organizes his commentaries around extensive alliterative outlines of each book. If your congregation expects you to alliterate every point and subpoint of your sermon, Phillips' outlines alone will be an enormous help. Here's an example of how Phillips outlines the book of Mark:

 

PhillipsOutline

 

Even if you're not a big fan of such extensive use of alliteration, you'll likely find that Phillips' outlines help you divide a passage up into individual sermons or lessons, present the passage in a way your listeners can understand, and avoid getting side-tracked by minor points and rabbit trails.

In addition to his gift for outlining the books he covers, Phillips also has an engaging narrative style. He weaves helpful background information together with interesting stories and illustrations in a way that draws the reader into the text rather than taking the reader's focus off of the text.

For example, when commenting on Romans 1:20, Phillips quotes Longfellow to illustrate the power of nature to reveal God. He then follows it up with a quote by F. W. Boreham discussing the self-deception of the man who claims that "he does not need a church in order to worship. He finds God in nature." Boreham's point is that such a man finds God only in nature's beauty and must conveniently ignore its cruelty—a point which Phillips then goes on to illustrate with a poem by Robert Louis Stephenson. Phillips finally draws this discussion to a close in a way that clearly reinforces the message of Romans 1:20.

Phillips' commentaries read like the kinds of sermons and Bible lessons we would all like to hear. Preachers and teachers would do well to soak in the richness of Phillips' narrative style.

Phillips' Commentary consists of twenty-seven volumes covering Genesis, Psalms, Proverbs, Song of Solomon, Daniel, the Minor Prophets, and every book of the New Testament except Jude. It lists for $650.00, but you can pick it up for just $169.99 from now through April 3.

If you're looking for a commentary that can help you organize your material, craft better sermons and lessons, and illustrate them with engaging stories, you'll find Phillips Commentary to be an indispensable resource.


 

Dec 21, 2011 David Lang

What is the Glory of Preaching?

gloryofpreaching-sm Last year, I began reading a print copy of Darrell Johnson's The Glory of Preaching for my own edification. After I had finished the first chapter, I e-mailed our VP of Licensing and asked him to license the book for Accordance. It's that good, and I'm pleased to announce that an Accordance edition is now available.

What makes The Glory of Preaching so good? Well, it covers much of the ground you would expect in a book about preaching, discussing the process of moving from studying a passage to developing a sermon, various ways to structure a sermon, how to deliver the sermon, etc. But that's not what convinced me we needed it in Accordance. Remember, I had only read the first chapter at that point. The things that immediately struck me about this book were its inspirational tone and its refreshing depth. It just didn't read like the typical manual of preaching techniques. It reads more like a series of encouraging conversations with a seasoned preacher—one who is well aware of the challenges preachers face, but who somehow never lost his passion for preaching.

Johnson's central thesis is that "something always happens":

Whenever a human being, Bible in hand, stands up before a group of other human beings, invites the gathered assembly into a particular text of the Bible and as faithfully as possible tries to say again what the living God is saying in the text, something always happens. Something transformative, empowering, life-giving happens.

This understanding of preaching as "participating in God's transformation of the world" is what Johnson asserts is the "glory" of preaching. From this opening claim that "something always happens," he goes on to cast a vision of preaching which is hopeful, inspiring, and encouraging.

In Part One of the book, Johnson lays what he calls the "theoretical foundations for participating." In other words, he begins by developing a theology of preaching: answering the questions, "Why does it happen?", "Does it really always happen?", "Where does it happen?", and "How does it happen?" Along the way, he offers his own perspectives and advice, addressing the practical issues Christian preachers face all the time.

It is only after he has laid these "theoretical foundations" that Johnson begins discussing the "mechanics" of preaching. And just as Johnson's inspirational tone makes the "theoretical" discussion seem anything but "theoretical," so it makes this section on "mechanics" seem anything but "mechanical." Again, reading this section is like sitting at the feet of an experienced preacher and getting practical help without the imposition of a rigid process.

In short, if you're looking for a little inspiration, some encouragement, and much valuable instruction on how to "participate in God's transformation of the world" more effectively, you're sure to find it in The Glory of Preaching. Be sure to take advantage of our introductory price of just $12.99 before December 31.


 

Feb 1, 2011 David Lang

Deriving Your Sermon Outline from Scripture

Last night I demonstrated Accordance to a bunch of pastors at the Desiring God Pastor's Conference. Since I don't get too many opportunities to preach to pastors about sound exegetical method, I decided not to give a drink-from-the-firehouse-here's-everything-Accordance-can-do demonstration. Instead, I showed how you can use the tools in Accordance to exegete a particular passage. After a brief overview of the interface, I opened 2 Samuel 11—the story of David and Bathsheba—and began unpacking the text using a variety of Accordance tools.

I won't go into everything I did in that session, but my favorite part was showing how you can use Accordance's analysis and highlighting tools to identify repeated words and key themes in a passage. This was my favorite part because there are so many interesting motifs to explore in 2 Samuel 11, and each of those motifs can form the backbone of an expositional sermon.

For example, I began by highlighting all the words in 2 Samuel 11 related to washing. Obviously, David sees Bathsheba "bathing," and the text mentions that she was "purifying" herself from the ceremonial uncleanness resulting from her menstruation. Later in the passage, David tries to cover Bathsheba's pregnancy by enticing her husband to return home and "wash his feet"—that is, enjoy all the comforts of home, including his wife's companionship. Uriah, of course, refuses to return home. This motif of washing introduces a number of ironies. First, Bathsheba's "purification" becomes the stimulus for a far more significant loss of purity. Second, the one person in this story who doesn't "wash"—Uriah—is the only one who remains clean. As we say in the South, "That'll preach!" A good expositional sermon, therefore, could work through the implications of this washing motif in 2 Samuel 11, communicating both the author's literary artistry as well as a whole host of practical applications.

That, of course, is not the only literary motif in 2 Samuel 11. I went on to show how you could search for every word in 2 Samuel 11 (use the asterisk in word mode and define a range for 2 Samuel 11), then choose Analysis from the Details pop-up to get a list of all the words in the passage and the number of times they appear. Change the sort of the Analysis window from Alphabetical to Count Down and you'll see immediately which words are used most often in that passage.

A search for all words in a passage enables you to get a list of words ordered by frequency

Doing this reveals a number of interesting things:

First, David and Uriah are the two people mentioned most often, while Bathsheba is mentioned only once. Clearly, the author is more interested in contrasting these two men than in focusing on the woman with whom David committed adultery.

Second, the word "house" is repeated ten times in this single chapter. Do a search for "house" in 2 Samuel 11 and you see the contrast between David, who expanded his own house by pillaging Uriah's house, and Uriah, who remained faithful to build up the house of the king who had already betrayed him.

Finally, the word "sent" is also repeated numerous times in this passage. Examine that word, and you find that David, who is a man of action in almost every other passage, is constantly sending people to do his dirty work in 2 Samuel 11. The picture you get is of a man who is repeatedly manipulating things for his own benefit, rather than acting in service to the Lord or for the benefit of his people.

It should be easy to see how each of these motifs could form the outline of a good expositional sermon. For example, one could use the "house" motif in conjunction with Solomon's statement in Psalm 127:1 that "Unless the LORD builds the house, those who build it labor in vain." David resorts to ungodly means to build his own house, and it results in the judgment that "the sword shall never depart" from his house (2 Samuel 12:10). One could also point out that it was David's second son with Bathsheba who makes the observation about the LORD building a house, so that you could end your sermon on a redemptive note.

If an expositional sermon derives its central message and structure from the text itself, exploring the text's literary motifs and central themes provides a solid foundation upon which to build your sermon outline.