I tend to use a fair amount of extra-biblical quotations in my preaching. I don’t know if I use too many or too little, but here are four reasons I find quotations in sermons to be helpful.
First, there are times when I cannot state a truth any better than someone else has stated it. My goal as a preacher is to uncover the meaning of a text, present that meaning to my audience and then help that audience understand the value and application of that text. A quotation from an extra-biblical resource (e.g., commentary, non-fiction book, blog, etc.) may better state or explain something than I am capable of. A memorable quote can stay with someone for a long time. For example, “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us” (a quote from A.W. Tozer in Knowledge of the Holy) has helped me more than any other statement outside of Scripture. The phrase “most important thing about us” is what singed this statement into my conscience. Because of this statement, I have come to realize that your view of God informs everything about your life.
Second, I value the opportunity to introduce my audience to good resources for spiritual growth. Yes, the Bible is the primary and authoritative source for biblical truth, but if someone has the time to read outside of the Bible, I want them to have a “go to” section in their minds of books on certain topics. If I can reference those books or authors often in my preaching, they will quickly be able to go to trustworthy sources for edification and instruction. For example, when someone wants to be more proactive in their pursuit of holiness, I want them to consider J.C. Ryle’s book entitled Holiness; thus, I reference that book as I am able in my preaching. When someone wants to grow in their understanding of the sovereignty of God, I want them to consider Jerry Bridges’ book Trusting God; thus, I reference that book as I am able in my preaching.
Third, it is helpful to know that when you preach truth you are not alone. Using an extra-biblical quotation adds authority to your preaching. If you stand in a long line of men and women before you who have preached the same truths, then your audience will feel more confident in the orthodoxy of what you are teaching them. If you share the exact words of St. Augustine or Charles Spurgeon or Martin Luther, then your preaching becomes that more vital to hear, because you are preaching the same message they preached, and that adds authority to your preaching.
Finally, I read a lot; so, I feel an obligation to share a lot of what I read. Being a good steward of what you read not only means you use the truth in your own life, but you find ways to provoke and stir up others to love and good works with the truths you have recently read. Right now, I am reading a short book by R.C. Sproul entitled Does Prayer Change Things? While I have not “learned” anything new about the effect of prayer, I am already beginning to think of others I know who struggle with prayer and don’t see it’s purpose considering the sovereignty of God. I am eager to share statements by Sproul with them and later in my preaching in the Sermon on the Mount (e.g., the passage I begin teaching in 2017) to help the prayerless Christian feel more confident in their prayer life.
Since I have been preaching on a regular basis (a minimum of 1 sermon per week) for roughly 15 years, I have evolved from paying attention to a partocular structure of “how to build a sermon” to what happens today. My sermon prep now, like many preachers, is such a natural process that I rarely think about going from one step to the other. It just happens.
However, I have done my best to explain what I “think” happens or should happen on a regular basis for me to get from text selection to delivering the sermon.
- Select the text to be preached. Since I am committed to expository preaching, all I usually do is decide how many verses I believe I can cover. And even then, I may not know that until I craft my sermon later.
- Look at and translate the text from the original language (Greek for N.T. and Hebrew for O.T.). I am not as skilled as I should be in this exercise. Thus, I lean heavily on other resources.
- Compare my translation with my preaching text (ESV) and other modern translations. If I have poorly translated it, I will make sure to address it then if I am able or look at a commentary for help later.
- Look at each word or phrase in the passage and decipher it’s syntax and vocabulary meanings.
- Begin answering questions like the following: What does the text say? (looking at every word by itself, then looking at every phrase by itself, then looking at every sentence by itself, then looking at the whole passage). What does the text not say? What are the interpretive issues in the next that need to be solved that drive the flow of the passage? What are the interpretive issues that the audience will be overly curious about and I cannot afford to avoid?
- Summarize the passage into 1-3 sentences as and being working on a main point or propositional statement for the message.
- Consult commentaries (about 5-10) and any other resources and take notes so I might be able to come to a better understanding of the passage.
- Transcript the sermon in the following order: main body, outline, conclusion, introduction, all transitions, and needed illustrations.
- Review sermon transcript as much as I can before preaching.
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Tomorrow, I will be answering the question, “How does Charles Heck prepare a sermon?” On the Q/A Friday theme, a few weeks ago, I was emailed that question to answer.
In no particular order or preference, here are a select few leaders (John Piper, Billy Graham, and Alistair Begg) of evangelicalism talking about how they prepare a sermon.