What if the Big Idea isn’t the Big Idea?

For those of us who preach exegetically, who have been taught by people like John Chapman or read through Exegetical Preaching by Haddon Robinson or even been to a conference teaching us how to exegete the Bible, you would think it would be a reasonably straight forward process. Sure there might be differences in hermeneutics but the process itself should be pretty much the same.

The exegetical sermon is the sermon where the message of the sermon comes from the message of the passage (the term exegesis merely means to explain).

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The process goes like this: There is the data of the passage which can be boiled down to the Big Idea that the writer is trying to get across. From this, the sermon writer comes up with a Big Idea of the sermon and then goes through the process of homiletics or constructing the sermon.

I should point out that the concept of the Big Idea is important for what I am going to say. The Big Idea is the central idea that is being communicated in either the passage or the sermon.

So far so good, right?

But here is the where I noticed a subtle but important disagreement.

On BiblicalTraining.org Bryan Chapell was outlining his process for preaching (outstanding course by the way). He did a great job of explaining how the Big Idea of the sermon has to come from the passage. This means that there can be several Big Ideas from the same passage. This seems like a fairly commonplace suggestion. For most American exegetes this has been the practice, as far as I can deduce.

But then I was listening to Simon Manchester speak at the Moore college school of theology. He made, an almost throw away illustration about how he was taught by Dick Lucas. When Lucas would critique a sermon his response would (apparently) be “Yes, well that was good. But it wasn’t the point of the passage”. For Lucas and UK preachers trained by him, the Big Idea of the passage had to BE the big idea of the sermon.

Do you see the difference? One is saying the Big Idea had to come FROM the passage the other is saying the Big Idea had to BE the same as the passage?

Does it really matter? Isn’t this simply splitting hairs?

I am not saying it is wrong to have a Big Idea come from a passage. In fact, it might be necessary for the growth of the congregation you are preaching to. It’s not the main point of the passage, but it raises as an issue that needs to be wrestled with.  My question is, is this really exegetical preaching?  And are we misleading people by calling it that?

But exegetical preaching is about explaining the passage. Or to put it more theologically, it is about delivering God’s message. That means making the point that He is making through the Scriptures.  This means that true exegetical preaching is preaching the Big Idea that the passage is giving.

I suspect that there will be many who disagree with this dichotomy and will explain why I am wrong in the comments below…


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