Fundamentalism, Modernism, and the Dangerous Middle (part 3)

In my last two posts (read them here and here), I laid out the danger of those that seek a middle ground between biblical fidelity (biblical fundamentalism) while also chasing acceptance by the liberal/modernist/progressive church and academy. Those that have sought acceptance in this way often find that they have made a deal with the devil that brings about either a theological slide, or forces them to abandon the hope of ecumenical cooperation because the stakes are too high.

These historical examples are worthless if we don’t stop and take some time to consider what this means for the situation in the church today. Certainly some of those that tried the middle ground and failed would warn us if they were still living (You can read about some of Billy Graham’s regrets here). So, how can history help and warn us?

Considerations for Today

I wish I could teach this subject as an odd historical lesson that we have learned from we should now move one, but we have not. Today the same faulty logic is being promoted among many conservative Christians, churches, and denominations. 

Consider how many Christians today do not think that doctrine is important, but only what one feels about Christ? How many evangelicals see Roman Catholicism as basically compatible with Protestant Christianity, and say things like, “We believe the same things and worship the same God.” This same false idea is spoken of by some regarding Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Oneness Pentecostals, and other aberrations of historic Christianity. The whole Charismatic Movement is driven by emotions over doctrine.

Fearing that they would be seen as judgmental, many Christians are content to accept all that come in the name of Christianity without question. The results have been disastrous. London pastor Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones spoke in 1966 about the dangerous middle-ground that Christians in the 20th century were mired in regarding the idea that doctrine divides and we mustn’t judge people’s faith by what they believe:

I argue that people who do not believe the essentials of the faith, the things that are essential to salvation, cannot be guilty of schism. They are not in the church. If you do not believe a certain irreducible minimum, you cannot be a Christian, and you are not in the church. Have we reached a time when one must not say a thing like that? Have evangelicals so changed that we no longer make an assertion like that?[1]

–D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones

Seeing what was on the horizon of the theological compromise in America, J. Gresham Machen said in 1924:

Paganism has made many efforts to disrupt the Christian faith, but never a more insistent or insidious effort than it is making today. There are three possible attitudes which you may take in the present conflict. In the first place, you may stand for Christ. That is the best. In the second place, you may stand for anti-Christian Modernism. That is next best. In the third place, you may be neutral. That is perhaps worst of all. The worst sin today is to say that you agree with the Christian faith and believe in the Bible, but then make common cause with those who deny the basic facts of Christianity. Never was it more obviously true that he that is not with Christ is against Him.[2]

–J. Gresham Machen

I certainly agree that the Bible speaks against a brawling, pugnacious spirit (1Tim 3:3; Titus 1:7). This is good and true, but the Bible also calls us to fight for some things, including doctrine (1Tim 1:18-20; 6:12; 1Cor 10:4-6). This is the basis or our spiritual war.

Like the modernists who followed Friedrich Schleiermacher, many in conservative Christian churches affirm his idea that Christianity is less about what you believe and more about what you feel in your heart. This dangerous idea sets the stage for the outright rejection of all orthodox doctrines of our faith. We are seeing the ravages of this idea among our young people leaving the faith because they have no doctrinal anchors for their souls. They are adrift upon a sea of subjectivity and the church has aided that.

Today, the church and denominations often function like big money corporations that are very slow to change and reluctant to put at risk the surface sense of unity for fear of putting at jeopardy the large amount of financial giving that benefits it. Because of this, “statesman” leaders arise within the church and denomination that seek to walk the middle ground and keep peace among all parties. This is a long cry from Jesus words:

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet. (Matthew 5:10–13 (ESV) 

Many have lost their saltiness because they refuse to suffer hardship, persecution, and being reviled for their faith. The middle ground has proven to be not only ineffective, but deadly. May the Lord raise up more courageous Christians who are not afraid to speak up for truth, even if it may cost them friends and influence in this life.


[1] D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, “Evangelical Unity: An Appeal,” in Knowing the Times, (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth Trust, 1989), 254.

[2] Quoted in Beale, 159.

Fundamentalism, Modernism, and the Dangerous Middle (part 2)

In my last post, I laid out an abbreviated history of the fundamentalist/modernist controversy and a working definition of what I mean by fundamentalism. You can read my first part here. In part 2, I will give two historical examples of why this middle ground is a dangerous compromise for those that desire to stay true to the biblical doctrines. My final post will address some considerations for what this means in the Church today.

Seeking the Middle with New Evangelicalism

Around the time of the establishment of the World Council of Churches, the inauguration of a new movement was underway. Seeking to leave the separatistic fundamentalism that seemed to be more insulated from the world, conservative evangelical men such as Charles Fuller, Carl F. H. Henry, E.J. Carnell, Harold Lindsell, Harold J. Ockenga, and Billy Graham sought to influence the liberal denominations and scholars while still maintaining conservative evangelical doctrine through what they called “new evangelicalism.” All these men held to fundamental doctrine but felt that more needed to be done to reunite the churches, win back the denominations, and engage the liberal church.

The New Evangelical movement established (among other things) Fuller Theological Seminary (1947), the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (1950), and Christianity Today magazine (1956). Graham sought a kinder, gentler evangelicalism as evidenced in his vision for Christianity Today, a magazine begun by Graham and his father-in-law Nathan Bell. Of CT, Graham said, “It was my vision that the magazine be pro-church and pro-denomination and that it become the rallying point of evangelicalism within and without the large denominations.”[1] Over time, and under the influence of Dr. Bell, Graham had moved from separating from apostate denominations to seeking their approval and cooperation in hopes of winning them back to conservative theology.

This also proved true for Graham’s crusades as well. In 1957, the year after CT was launched, Graham held his famous New York crusade in Manhattan where he fully broke with his fundamentalist roots and connections by cooperating with “a group that was predominantly non-evangelical and even included out-and-out modernists. It also meant sending converts back to their local churches, no matter how liberal those churches might be.”[2] Iain Murray notes that newspapers at the time of the crusade reported Graham saying, “We’ll send them to their own churches—Roman Catholic, Protestant, or Jewish…The rest is up to God.”[3]

The mindset of new evangelicalism was such that if evangelical Christians could shed their embarrassing fundamentalism and its unwillingness to bend, then liberalism would be willing to let them sit at the table as equals. As someone has said this “deal with the devil” was such that if conservatives would call liberals “Christians,” then liberals would call conservatives “scholars.” 

Church historian George Marsden observes, “ Such successes in culturally influential religious circles were leading Graham toward the conviction that he could make marvelous inroads into America’s major denominations if he could jettison the disastrous fundamentalist image of separatism, anti-intellectualism, and contentiousness.”[4] That Graham was in fact moving in this direction is made abundantly clear in a letter written by Graham to Harold Lindsell, then a professor as Fuller Seminary, regarding Graham’s vision for Christianity Today, to “plant the evangelical flag in the middle of the road, taking a conservative theological position but a definite liberal approach to social problems. [Christianity Today] would combine the best in liberalism and the best in fundamentalism without compromising theologically.”[5]

Fuller Seminary, BGEA, and Christianity Today stand as the most obvious examples of this failed philosophy, and today each of them stand as a testimony to the bankruptcy of the idea that one can seek a middle ground without compromising, and the eventual theological slide is clearly seen not only upon these institutions, but upon evangelicalism today.

Seeking the Middle within Presbyterianism

This challenge to historic Christianity happened across denominational lines. Another important example of this was in the Presbyterian Church U.S. denomination (not to be confused with the later PCUSA denomination that emerged from it). The flagship school of the PCUS for many years was Princeton Seminary, and as other schools, it was deeply affected by the incursion of theological liberalism in its faculty. Among the few remaining conservative professors stood J. Gresham Machen, professor of New Testament. Seeing the influx of liberalism into Christianity as a whole, Machen wrote in his book Christianity and Liberalism (1923) that “it may appear that what the liberal theologian has retained after abandoning to the enemy one Christian doctrine after another is not Christianity at all, but a religion which is so entirely different from Christianity as to belong in a distinct category.” In other words, liberalism is not Christianity at all, but another religion altogether.

This stand for orthodox Christian doctrine at Princeton came to a head with the denomination and faculty in 1924-1925, when the Auburn Affirmation was signed by 1,274 ministers in the PCUS. The Affirmation made it clear that the fundamentals of the faith (particular the first five listed from page 1 of my notes) did not need to be affirmed by PCUS candidates for ordination. This allowed for new ministers to deny these core doctrines privately while being ordained for ministry, so long as they subscribed to the Bible and Westminster Confession of Faith.

Conservative in theology but seeking a middle road for the sake of unity, Charles R. Erdman, professor of theology at Princeton, sided with the so-called moderates in the PCUS General Assembly and created a peace commission to “study” the issue. The commission was to be made up of liberals and conservatives, but only conservatives that sought peace above all else.[6] Erdman himself was Premillennial, a Bible conference speaker, and a contributor to The Fundamentals. But all of these didn’t matter when it came to his alliances. Seeking the middle ground, Erdman held the door for liberals to walk in and overtake the denomination and seminary without question. As fundamentalist Ernest Pickering wrote, “This new evangelicalism approaches the liberal bear with a bit of honey instead of a gun.”[7]

Realizing that the PCUS was apostate and lost to modernism, Machen and the remaining conservative faculty members left and began Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, PA in 1929. In 1936 he began the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC) denomination after being suspended by the PCUS regarding his establishment of an independent mission board that only supported conservative missionaries. The establishment of a new denomination and separation from the PCUS came at great personal cost to Machen who lost many friends for his abandonment of the PCUS. Was Machen overreacting? He didn’t think so. He wrote, “It is no wonder, then, that liberalism is totally different from Christianity, for the foundation is different. Christianity is founded upon the Bible. It bases upon the Bible both its thinking and its life. Liberalism on the other hand is founded upon the shifting emotions of sinful men.”[8] Machen saw his actions as contending for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 3).


[1] Billy Graham, Just as I Am, (London: Harper Collins, 1997), 291.

[2] George Marsden, Reforming Fundamentalism: Fuller Seminary and the New Evangelicalism (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1987), 162.

[3] Murray, 29, fn. 2.

[4] Marsden, 159.

[5] Ibid., 158.

[6] David O. Beale, In Pursuit of Purity: American Fundamentalism Since 1850 (Greenville, SC: Unusual Publications, 1986), 158.

[7] Murray, 31.

[8] J. Gresham Machen, Christianity and Liberalism (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.,1923), 67.

Fundamentalism, Modernism, and the Dangerous Middle (part 1)

In the 2017 World War II movie, The Darkest Hour, Winston Churchill cries out in frustration, “You cannot reason with a tiger when your head is in its mouth!” Although these words are more than likely an artistic embellishment for cinema, they do fairly sum up Churchill’s frustration with the policies of Neville Chamberlain that sought to appease Adolph Hitler by ignoring his aggressions in Europe. Chamberlain truly believed that by signing the Munich Agreement and giving the Sudetenland to Germany along with Hitler’s promise not to continue invading other nations, that Europe would be saved. Chamberlain famously came home and declared that they he had achieved “peace for our time.” Chamberlain thought Hitler was a misunderstood man, when he was in fact the blood-thirsty tiger that would never be satisfied. Churchill understood this and knew that war was the only way to stop him.

The notion of appeasement is not only shared among politicians. Unfortunately, in a world that requires vigilance and sometimes engagement in theological battles, there are those who would seek appeasement and compromise for the sake of “peace in our time.” But as I hope to demonstrate with some examples from recent history, appeasement, and compromise in the face of theological liberalism are always the easier route, but they never achieve the promise they claim.

Setting the Stage: The Fundamentalist and Modernist Controversy

To be clear, we need to understand that prior to the mid-19th century, “evangelical” was synonymous with “fundamentalism.” All Christians who identified with the evangel, the gospel message of Christ, were “evangelicals.” Fundamentalism was a movement that derived its name from those evangelical Christians that sought unity across denominational lines but were committed to certain “fundamental” doctrines that have been accepted by historic Christianity. The number of these fundamentals varied at times, but they almost always included:

  1. The inerrancy of Scripture
  2. The virgin birth of Christ
  3. The substitutionary vicarious atonement of Christ
  4. The bodily resurrection of Christ
  5. The reality of miracles
  6. The imminent and physical return of Christ

Fundamentalists stated that a person had to minimally ascribe to these core doctrines to be within the historic Christian Church because a denial of these doctrines often leads to a wholesale denial of the faith. Modernists (theological liberals), on the other hand, wanted to focus not on the content of belief, but rather the feeling or spirit of Christianity. By denying the need to subscribe to core doctrines of the faith, they could cover the fact that they denied many or all of them, while still insisting they were a part of the Christian church and represented Christianity.

Fundamentalism rejected this minimalistic and emotion drive religion as inadequate at best, and heretical at worst. Several courageous defenders rose up in obedience to Scripture’s call to purify the church:

  • 2 John 9–11 (ESV): “Everyone who goes on ahead and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God. Whoever abides in the teaching has both the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house or give him any greeting, for whoever greets him takes part in his wicked works.”
  • Galatians 1:8–9 (ESV): “But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.”
  • 1 Timothy 6:20–21 (ESV): “O Timothy, guard the deposit entrusted to you. Avoid the irreverent babble and contradictions of what is falsely called “knowledge,” for by professing it some have swerved from the faith. Grace be with you.”

By the middle of the 19th century, theological liberalism has already entered almost all mainline denominations. This was possible because liberal theologians subscribed to the biblical creeds of their denominations and institutions while at the same time teaching non-evangelical theology. Following German liberal Friedrich Schleiermacher (1768-1834), modernists asserted that Christianity was not primarily about doctrine, but rather a “feeling, intuition and experience.”[1] As such, Schleiermacher set the stage for the setting aside of doctrine in favor of a Christianity that affirmed a faith based upon feelings and experiences.

Along with the growth of liberal Christianity came a desire to put aside doctrinal differences among different denominations to bring unity around an ecumenical spirit. This led to the establishment of the World Council of Churches in 1948, made up of “churches which accept our Lord Jesus Christ as God and Savior.”[2] That brief doctrinal statement was all that was required of those joining the WCC, and none were required to expand on what they meant by those words.

Often portrayed as ignorant, uneducated, backwards, anti-science, and anti-progressive by liberals, and “fighting fundamentalists,” uncharitable, ungracious, and divisive, by evangelicals, the fundamentalists stood their ground and called the church to put out of its churches, missions agencies, educational institutions, and para-church organizations all those that were unfaithful to Christ and His Word. But not everyone within evangelicalism agreed with them, thinking there was a better way—a middle way.

My next post will highlight two examples of this attempt to navigate a middle way.


[1] Iain H. Murray, Evangelicalism Divided: A Record of Crucial Change in the Years 1950 to 2000 (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth Trust, 2000), 5.

[2] Murray, 3

Help for New Expositors: How to Find the Main Idea for Preaching (part 3)

In my last two blogposts (which can be found here and here), I walked the reader through the process of becoming familiar with the preaching text to the point where you should have a solid grasp upon what the preaching text says, although you still might not be sure how to preach it or organize the sermon.

The next step is to form the preaching proposition, sometimes called the “big idea.” That’s easier said than done, and a lot of well-meaning teachers assume that finding the proposition comes naturally. If it doesn’t come naturally to you, then you aren’t alone and I’ll try to help you here. Now, I need to say that if you haven’t first done all of the exegesis that I mentioned in my last two posts, then you won’t be able to do this, or you may come up with a preaching proposition, but it may not be the main idea of the text or accurately reflect the author’s meaning. Be the approved workman and don’t be ashamed that you preached a sermon that doesn’t reflect the meaning of your text.

Before we go down this road, some of you might be wondering, what is a proposition? In simplest terms, a proposition is a statement or assertion. So, a preaching proposition is a statement that you are making about your text that you are going to explain or prove. Some examples might be: “Jesus Christ is the Son of God” or “We are no longer under the Mosaic Law, but under the Law of Christ.” A “plural noun” preaching proposition would include a plural noun, and is probably familiar for anyone that has heard a sermon. Some examples of these might be: “Three Reasons Why Jesus Christ is the Son of God” and “Four Proofs that We are Not Under the Mosaic Law.” As you might be able to see, these examples of plural noun propositions are different forms of the same statement made earlier, and the content of the explanation would be the same, although each sermon might be organized differently.

Forming the Preaching Proposition

I’m going to walk through several steps to reach a preaching proposition. These steps are heavily influenced by a chapter in Wayne McDill’s book 12 Essential Skills for Great Preaching. If you need more help, I’d recommend you pick up this book.

  1. Write out the main subject of the text you have studied in one word. For example, if you were preaching 1 Cor. 13, you might write down, “Love.” This I can be hard to do because it requires that you crystalize your thoughts from study down to this one idea. Don’t give yourself more words. Limit it to one word only. This will assure that you are certain about the main idea of the text.
  2. Next, find a word that clarifies and narrows your one word main idea. For our example, “love,” you need to narrow down this large subject. Does 1 Cor. 13 speak about romantic love, brotherly love, Jesus’ love, marital love? How about “Christian love?” That fits. Let’s move on.
  3. Write out a sentence that includes the two words you chose from steps one and two. We can consider this a sermon title, or maybe something you’d put on a church sign. Make this a single sentence or phrase only. How about, “What Christian love looks like?” Sounds good.
  4. In this step you will need to expand your sentence again, using the same two key words (for our example, “love” and “Christian”). This time, you will write a sentence that includes what I’ll call “Bible dress.” This refers to the human author, his audience, and the scenario that is taking place in the context. Make sure it is only one sentence again. For our example, we might write about 1 Cor. 13: “Paul is concerned that the Corinthians are failing to show Christian love to each other and so he teaches them what this looks like.” Notice how we have the writer, audience, and even a little about the context (failing to show…”). This could of course be expanded to refer to the greater argument of chapters 12-14, and we could mention the place of spiritual gifts involved. But hold back the need to include so many details because we are only trying to get a crystalized summary for now–the details will come out as we unpack our proposition in the sermon.
  5. Now we are going to do a little trimming. We need to figure out what we want to leave in the last sentence because it is universally true, and what we want to remove because it is contextually true, but doesn’t fit our context. This new sentence will be stripped of the Bible dress (context, specifics, etc.) so that it becomes a universally true statement for today. For our example, it might look something like this: “God is concerned when the Church fails to show Christian love and He shows us what it should look like.” Notice that I replaced “Paul” with “God” because God is also the Author, and I replaced “Corinthians” with “Church” because the Scriptures written to the Corinthian church were also written to be applied to the whole church. Is this new sentence universally true and unbound by time and context? I’d say, yes! Let’s move ahead.
  6. Now, we are going to change our sentence into a questions: “God is concerned when the Church fails to show Christian love and He shows us what it should look like” becomes “What happens when the Church fails to show Christian love, and what should it look like?” We turn this into a question to test our propositional statement. Can we find the answer in our text? If not, we have made a mistake somewhere and need to go back and see where we went off track. If we can find the answers to our question in our text, we got it right. Make sure you choose the right words to form the question: Who, what, where, when, why, or how?
  7. Next, we will look for those answers in the text by choosing an appropriate plural noun–if we asked “Why?” we might find “reasons” in our passage. Maybe we will find steps, examples, reasons, examples, ways, proofs, thoughts, questions, prayers, solutions, etc. For our 1 Corinthians 13 passage, we might choose “Ways:” “Ways the Church fails to show Christian love, and what it should look like.” Another possibility might be, “Ways the Church fails to show Christian love, and Ways we can love like Christ would.” When we find these “ways” in our text, this makes up our outline and gives us the number of “ways.” We might find Four ways the Church fails to show Christian love, and Five ways we can love like Christ.” Each “Way” would be a sermon point, and with each point we would prove our propositional statement and explain the text before us. At this point, we might even see that we have two sermons here and would break it into two sections to be presented at two different times.

Why are we doing all this? I want you to understand a couple of things that are important. First, take your time to craft these sentences–refining your word choices so that you have clarity and an economy of words. But it is also important to know that this is a process, and so you don’t need to worry too much about each sentence being perfect. If you need to, go back and adjust if something doesn’t quite fit. Secondly, the reason for this process is to make sure that the preaching proposition is firmly based upon the text and its meaning. We are sticking with the heart of the text (the subject and its modifier) and building upon it, instead of what many preachers do–start with a sermon idea and find a text to make it say what they want.

Although this process does take a lot of time and effort, the results are satisfying and assure you that you are basing your conclusions on the text of the Word. take your time and learn to develop the skills needed to do it right, and over time it will become easier and you will move much faster through the steps. Of course, when we have the propositional statement we aren’t done. We still need to come up with an introduction, conclusion, illustrations, applications and transitional statements. But the meat of the sermon is now outlined and we are well on our way to preaching a biblically centered expositional sermon. Congratulations!

Help for New Expositors: How to Find the Main Idea for Preaching (part 2)

enIn my last post (you can read it here:https://always-reforming.com/2021/10/25/help-for-new-expositors-how-to-find-the-main-idea-for-preaching-part-1/ ), I walked through my method for becoming more familiar with the biblical text through the process of reading, translating, and diagramming. Although at this point much progress has been made, there is still more work to do before we can confidently say we know the main idea of the text. Up to this point the study has been with the Bible alone–no commentaries should have been used thus far. This is important because we want to hear from God what His word says to us without the contamination of outside voices. Although we will need to fight against our own personal ideas and presuppositions being imposed upon the meaning of the text, this would be much more difficult if we had the input of others at this early stage. Now that we have listened to the Word with dependence upon the Holy Spirit, we are now ready to begin answering some of the observation questions we have developed in our reading and translation.

The next step we need to take is to tentatively identify the main theme of the passage. This may be changed as we continue studying, but we should have a good idea of a major theme that has risen to the top of our understanding from our studying at this point. Write this down and set it aside.

Next, choose several commentaries that will speak to the text you have chosen to study. If you need help knowing how to choose a commentary and the differences between some commentaries and others, read my post on how to select a commentary, and just as important, when to use them. You can find that post here: https://always-reforming.com/2021/02/08/how-to-use-bible-commentaries-more-effectively/ Now, take out that list of observations and questions that you gathered from reading through your Bible 25 times, and with your commentaries handy, go looking for the answers to the questions and curiosities that you found. Background commentaries will help with the cultural issues you observed, exegetical and critical commentaries will help with linguistic issues that popped up when you translated or read various translations. Try to avoid reading expositional commentaries at this point because they might tempt you to short-cut the process of self-study by giving you the answers too easily. In these types of commentaries, usually built off of sermons, you would find an outline, illustrations, and even application. Plagiarism is still a sin, and is especially grievous in a minister of the Word.

Hopefully as you read the commentaries you had several conclusions confirmed from your own study. It is a special satisfaction that comes when you read the same things you found in your study in the pages of commentaries. It helps you realize that you too can study the Scriptures for yourself! If you find that you had unique ideas or were in disagreement with all or most of the commentaries regarding the main ideas or interpretation of the text, you might want to go back and re-study the passage again. It is possible that you got it right and everyone else got it wrong–possible, but highly improbable. Commentaries act as a check on our study to make sure that we aren’t far off in our conclusions. If you are certain you got it right, make sure that you have strong reasons that are defendable by the text of the Scriptures. God has given to the church many excellent Bible teachers (Eph. 4:11), and we shouldn’t ignore the wisdom given by the Spirit without very good reasons.

After your review of commentaries, you should be ready to put together a textual or exegetical outline. What is a textual or exegetical outline? It is an outline that follows the contours, storyline, or argument of the author. Sometimes this is done through textual markers seen in the original languages or grammar. Sometimes it is suggested by the flow of a narrative and the changing of scenes. It doesn’t have to be pretty, it just needs to accurately hit the high points of the text. Don’t try to alliterate or be fancy–just get the main ideas down. This outline should reflect the totality of the text you have studied. At this point, you may begin to see how you will break up a longer passage to be preached in larger chunks as multiple sermons.

Next, looking at the main theme you wrote down earlier, and your textual outline. What would you say is the doctrinal theme? In other words, what main theological idea rises to the top of this passage? Try to be brief and accurate–“love” is too generic, but “the love of God for the Church” would be more accurate. Think of this as a label for a box that your whole sermon text will fit into. If some of the text doesn’t fit this theological theme, then you need to adjust it and make sure it covers the whole text.

When you have come to the doctrinal or theological theme, ask yourself how well you know this doctrine. Perhaps it is one that you have studied well and in depth and you know what the whole of Scripture teaches about it. Wonderful! You can move on. But if you are lacking in your understanding, it would be best to take a look at a good systematic theology (or two) and read up on the subject. It might be that the doctrine is found in a few places that you will need to review, like our above subject “the love of God for the Church.” There you should look up the “love of God” under the attributes of God, and under “the love of Christ.” You probably would also want to look up this love under the subject of “the Church.” Additionally, you might want to check and see how God’s love for the Church is different from his love for other entities like Israel, unbelievers, and “the world.” Once you have armed yourself with what the whole Bible teaches on your doctrinal subject, you can be assured that you will not say something about your passage that is untrue in another passage you might have been ignorant about. That’s always embarrassing.

Now we are ready to consider forming the preaching proposition or main idea of the sermon. That will need to wait for the next post.