Preaching is Applicational

June 15th, 2012| Topic: aBeLOG, Definition | 0

Preaching is Applicational

That preaching is applicational means that preaching is not simply informational. Rather it is transformational, intended to change the lives of God’s people for the glory of God. It is not enough that people know. They must be. That is the goal of preaching. Preaching, therefore, has to be application-oriented.

All the people went away to eat, to drink, to send portions and to celebrate a great festival, because they understood the words which had been made known to them. … They found written in the law how the LORD had commanded through Moses that the sons of Israel should live in booths during the feast of the seventh month. … So the people went out and brought them and made booths for themselves ….
Nehemiah 8: 12, 14, 16

The paradigmatic notion of God’s people as “purchased and delivered” by him through Jesus Christ means that the redeemed of God of all time become citizens of God’s kingdom. And with the reading of Scripture, his people place themselves under obligation to abide by the will of their Sovereign. One way of looking at this is that the text of Scripture projects an ideal world where God’s precepts (why things happen) operate, his priorities (what things matter) are supreme, and his practices (how things run) are enacted. And in every text, God is graciously inviting his people to inhabit that world, aligning themselves with the principles, priorities, and practices of his ideal world, i.e., with his will.

The goal of regular exposition of biblical pericopes in the gathering of the church, then, is application; at each such event a particular aspect of the life of the individual and community is addressed, as the preaching text for that day dictates. As biblical pericopes are applied in the lives of readers and hearers, the covenant relationship between God and his people is renewed, week by week, pericope by pericope, sermon by sermon.

Ancient rhetoricians recognized three kinds of audience responses: cognitional, volitional, and emotional (they called these judicial, deliberative, and epideictic). Application, in parallel to this three-fold shape of rhetorical response, may also have one or more of these broad aims: change in thinking, change in acting, and change in feeling. All three operate in Nehemiah 8—understanding of the text (cognition), an emotional response to it (joyful celebration), and action (volition): they build booths.

Application is thus an indispensable component of preaching; indeed, it is its endpoint. Without application, the preaching endeavor remains fruitless, and the sermon stillborn.

In other words, there is a twofold aspect to the overall homiletical undertaking: the exposition of the theology of the unit text (the theological move: biblical pericope → pericopal theology), and the delineation of how theology may be applied in real life (the homiletical move: pericopal theology → valid application). The first move, from pericope to theology, draws meaning from the biblical text with authority, the second, from theology to application, directs meaning to the situations of listeners with relevance. In applying theology in the second move into the discrete and specific circumstances of believers, the values of the cosmos are gradually subverted and undermined, and those of God’s world are progressively established in the life of the community. This is part of what it means to acknowledge, “Thy kingdom come.”

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