Preaching the Farewell DiscourseBy L. Scott Kellum (Broadman & Holman, 2014).

Kellum is associate professor of New Testament at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. This book appears to be a reworking of his dissertation published by T. & T. Clark (2004).

What caught my attention was the title: Here at last was a book claiming to help preachers go from text to sermon from a specific biblical passage. Not having come across one of this ilk, and knowing the old adage—“Don’t judge a book …!—I was concerned: Would Kellum deliver on his promise? For preachers’ sakes, I hoped he would.

The first 66 pages address Kellum’s exegetical method: “An Expository Theory”—that attempts to bridge the “unmistakable and disturbing gap between our hermeneutics and our preaching” (5). He seeks to give us “a list of basic tasks to complete” to traverse this bridge: “Examine Literary Context, Identify Historical Context, Identify Canonical Context, and Proclamation” (15). Most of this is fairly familiar to readers of this Journal, but a few comments are in order.

Eleven-plus pages describe in some painful detail “SSA”—“semantic and structural analysis,” the linchpin of Kellum’s determination of the meaning of the text (55–66). Derived from work done by the Summer Institute for Linguistics, this is a somewhat mechanical approach to interpretation that relies on linguistic structure. While there is some benefit to using this tool, it is immediately apparent that there is more to what authors do than that is apparent in structure. Besides, the methodology and labels end up being quite complex. Even Kellum’s “simplified” version of SSA (65) was dauntingly complicated, and the results less than convincing. There did not seem to be anything that SSA accomplished, at least in the examples we are given, that could not be otherwise arrived at. Kellum admits that “[r]egarding other genres [other than didactic, that is], I find that a semantic and structural analysis [SSA] is not as particularly helpful although a close inspection of the text is always valuable” (225). Thankfully, Kellum confesses that “the method I have proposed is a way, not the way” (227).

On “proclamation,” here’s how Kellum sees it: One must identify the “main idea of the text (MIT) and the purpose of the passage, and “convert the MIT into the main idea of the message (MIM) [I’d have preferred “main idea of the sermon (MIS)”; that would give us “MIT” and “MIS”!]; then each movement of the sermon is developed by “explicating, illustrating, and applying the text”; finally, the conclusion and introduction are composed (29). In fleshing out the outline of the sermon, Kellum encourages us to constantly move from “Text” to “Today” (33). I’d agree: the frequent passage from revelation to relevance is what makes a sermon a sermon.

The remaining 300-odd pages of the book dealt with the analysis of John 13–17. What would a commentary on the entire Gospel look like—a 1,000 pages?

John 13–17 is broken up into an uneven 14 pericopes for preaching—uneven because it ranges in size from one verse (John 16:33) to 33 verses (John 17, the entire chapter). In general, Kellum’s analyses of the passages appear sound. But there seems to be a repetition of MIMs when texts are sliced too narrowly. Here for example are the MIMs for John 14:1–4; 14:5–7; and 14:8–14:

John 14:1–4: “To have untroubled hearts, people today should trust Christ because his word is true” (96).
John 14:5–7: “You ought to believe on Christ because he is the only way to the Father” (103).
John 14:8–14: “Today we should believe in Jesus because of his unique relationship to the Father” (112).

It appears to me that all three of these sermons are exhorting listeners to believe (the imperatives in each are similar), giving them three reasons to do so (and the last two reasons are virtually identical).

Two appendices close out the book. The first discusses tools for sermon prep, such as atlases, introductions, charts, commentaries, theologies, lexicons, electronic resources, etc. In the second, he addresses the same pericopes in John 13–17, this time seeking to “fill in more application and illustration and weave it into a coherent series.” Some of the illustrations are useful. Application, again, ends up in the conclusion. Indeed, much of this appendix could have been fruitfully omitted and parts of it incorporated into the main body of the book.

All in all, Preaching the Farewell Discourse is a valiant attempt to produce what all preachers would love to see more of. I am not entirely certain, however, that that attempt has been successful. Nevertheless, it is worth a look, if you are preaching through the Fourth Gospel.

Journal of the Evangelical Homiletics Society 16.1 (2016): 85–86

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