Preaching with Accuracy: Finding Christ-Centered Big Ideas for Biblical Preaching by Randal E. Pelton. Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 2014.
Summary: This book contends that to preach with accuracy, one needs to find the big idea in the text, but not only that, to understand that idea in the context of the book, and ultimately all of scripture, which means connecting it to the person and work of Christ.
Randal Pelton thinks that much of “biblical preaching” isn’t biblical enough because preachers have failed to find the big idea in their chosen text. Often, they are preaching something tangential to the big idea. Furthermore, truly biblical preaching sets the textual big idea (texbi is Pelton’s term) within the contextual big idea (conbi) and ultimately within the canonical big idea (canbi) which will center on the person and work of Christ. Hence, Pelton is contending that it is not enough to turn one’s exegesis of a passage into a sermon. Rather one must place the text in its theological context in God’s redemptive story (Pelton assumes the unity of the canon, while recognizing the diverse literature and settings in which the books of scripture were written).
The book begins with an argument for exposition today from 1 Corinthians 14:24-25, arguing that it is the word of God explained plainly that God uses in the hearts not only of his people but even the outsider. He then contends that many preachers fail to preach accurately because they are preaching small ideas in the text rather than its main or big idea. After showing how to appropriately “cut” the text, that is, choose the textual portion on which to preach so that one isn’t only preaching part of the development of an idea, he provides specific help with “do it yourself” examples for identifying the textual idea in various genres. He then gives similar instruction in finding the contextual big idea, noting things like God or Christ as the key actor in narrative, that epistles are arguments and one must identify the thread of argument, and situate the text within this, and so forth.
Finally, he addresses how to find the canonical big idea. This seemed to me to be the vaguest part of the book. Pelton quotes Sinclair Ferguson, who said that there is no “simple formula, an elixir to be sprinkled on our sermons to transform them into the preaching of Christ” (quoted on p. 138 of Pelton). Ultimately, he would argue that Old Testament texts, indeed all texts, should be read in light of the gospel. He contrasts his approach to that of Sidney Greidanus, but I found Greidanus far more specific in how to go about this (in a much longer text) that Pelton. But both ultimately advocate forms of Christ-centered preaching of all biblical texts. This is an alternative to the “book of stories and rules” or “God’s handbook” approach, or approaches that moralize narratives (this is what Nehemiah did and we should too). In his concluding chapter, he describes how one moves from this textual work to the sermon with the encouragement that the work he describes in the book should come early in the week so that it can be fleshed out in a message.
This strikes me as a very helpful book for someone in the early years of preaching, or someone who preaches who has not yet had the benefit of seminary, who is committed to expository preaching. It helps transform sermons from either running commentaries on the Bible, or when one is preaching through a book, preaching disconnected messages that fail to show how the book coheres. More vitally, it shows the pastor how to provide a theological framework in his messages to hang the big ideas of a text onto the framework of the biggest ideas in the Bible of God’s redemptive story that culminates in Christ. And it has the virtue of being concise and practical while pointing those interested to further resources.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”