Impact Preaching: A Case for the One-Point Expository SermonBy Jim L. Wilson, R. Gregg Watson, Michael Kuykendall, and David Johnson (Lexham, 2018).

The authors of this work teach at Gateway Seminary (formerly Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary). Wilson is involved in all its chapters; in some, he is aided by one of the others. For a collaborative work, it reads quite smoothly.

The subtitle indicates that these writers recommend a “one-point” sermon; they also assert that “the biblical author … makes a single point” (29). It is only in chapter 2 that we find that “the point(s) is (are) the theological truth preachers want the listeners to understand and put into practice” (34). Later, they define preaching as “teaching people the Bible so they can encounter God and live transformed lives. … This requires preachers to identify the transformative truth in the text and develop a transformative point based upon that truth” (52, 56; italics removed). All this leads me to conclude that our authors’ “point” is nothing but the propositional Big Idea: their “transformative truth” is the exegetical Big Idea, and their “transformative point” is the homiletical Big Idea (aka, application). Wilson et al. want that “transformative point” to be the sole driving force of the sermon, without it being divided into subsidiary (traditional) “points” that make up individual moves of a multipoint sermon. After scratching my head quite a bit (I might need to see a dermatologist!), I assume that what these writers are calling for is a sermon that subserves a single “point” (Big Idea), whether exegetical or homiletical. I’m not certain this is anything novel.

Signs of Big Idea thinking abound in Impact Preaching. Take, for instance, an example sermon on Jonah (45–48). Of the total 125 lines this sermon takes in the book, 102 lines simply retell the story. I didn’t quite see the sermon’s “point” but the subsequent commentary on the sermon helpfully informs us that “we learn that God’s grace flows in the direction of his choosing. … We must be open to be conduits of grace to those who speak different languages, live in different cultures, and are of different generation. We must not run from God’s redemptive purposes; we must cooperate with him even if it means sacrificing our preferences” (49). That’s quite a wordy single “point,” if that is what it is. And all the retelling merely regurgitates authorial saying, paying no attention to authorial doing, without which the thrust of the text, the pericopal theology, can never be grasped, and valid application never be derived. None of the intricacies of the text—how the author is writing the text, i.e., the textual clues to what the author is doing with what he is saying—is exposited. For instance, the commission of Jonah (“arise,” “go,” and “cry,” in 1:2 and 3:2) is distorted in the prophet’s execution of that commission: he only “arises,” and “goes” (3:3), as he delivers a five-word (in Hebrew) oracle that, quite unusually for such declamations, has no reason given, no repentance recommended, no hope offered, and no remnant promised. In fact, God’s subsequent grace is labeled by the prophet as “evil, great evil” (4:1). Moreover, Jonah’s prayer in the fish reveals his hypocrisy: the prophet ends his “psalm” claiming a superior ground, promising to sacrifice to God and fulfil his vows (2:9). Remarkably, those sailors who, earlier, had to throw the prophet overboard at his request, the very sailors whom he had seemingly disparaged in his prayer as “those who regard vain idols forsake their faithfulness” (2:8), had already done both—sacrificing and fulfilling vows (1:16). Jonah, for his part, would do neither in this book. And on and on. My point is that unless such close attention is paid to the passage and how it is written (a “thick” reading, a privileging of the text), the interpreter will not be able to figure out what the author is doing in and with the text; as a result, valid application will be stymied. (This despite a subtitle in one of their chapters: “What does it [the text] say and how does it say it?” [67, italics mine].)

The creative retelling of textual stories in sermons is a widely prevalent sermonic oddity, engaged in by our authors, as well. Retelling assumes that the actual text of Scripture and how it is written is secondary. If a creative retelling (or enactment or even a comic-book style pictorial narration) is sufficient for listeners to catch the Big Idea, this gives lie to plenary, verbal inspiration. Though Big Idea devotees would never say that, of course, it is a natural conclusion from what they do.

The rest of the book goes through, in similar fashion, different genres of Scripture, not yielding anything particularly new for readers of this Journal. And, in my opinion, their succumbing to Big Idea-ism only leaves them, their sermon, and their listeners untouched by the power of the doings of Scripture and its A/author.

Journal of the Evangelical Homiletics Society 19.2 (2019): 98–100

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