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The perilous danger of sermon introductions

Rediscovered this old quote from Barth's Homiletics:

"The theological damage of sermon introductions is in any event incredibly extensive... For what do they really involve at root?  Nothing other than the search for a point of contact, for an analogue in us which can be a point of entry for the Word of God.  It is believed that this little door to the inner self must first be found and opened before it is worthwhile to bring the message.  No! This is plain heresy.... We have simply to approach people knowing that there is nothing in them that we can address, no humanum, no analogia entis of any kind that we can put in touch with the divinum, but only the one great possibility which has no need of our skills, which alone is efficacious, and which does not need us as advocates... We have simply to assume the attitude of a messenger who has something to say.  We have no need to build a slowly ascending ramp, for there is no height that we have to reach.  No!  Something has to come down from above.  And this can happen only when the Bible speaks from the very outset." (Homiletics, p124-125)


You've been told!


5 thoughts on “The perilous danger of sermon introductions

  1. timothycairns

    I was at a conference two weeks back - Haddon Robinson was the speaker - the first session was the importance of the sermon introduction: how to create a need!

    I don't think he would disagree with the above but the thrust of his lecture was - so what? in the first 5 minutes you need to answer that question - so what? so why should I care about what you say. To do this you need to make the one big point you are going to say (well it is Haddon Robinson) meaningful to them in their life. Move from their world to the text was the crux of what he said. It was interesting stuff and the 3 sermons he preached during the day were quite amazing!

  2. glenscriv

    Never heard Haddon Robinson, I'll try and find some of his stuff on the web. Any recommendations?

    Afraid to say, from what you've outline, I think Barth would be in strong disagreement with him.

    If revelation is grace (perhaps one of Barth's most fundamental axioms) then the direction is precisely the opposite of moving "from their world to the text." We must come from above.

    As he says earlier in 'Homiletics':

    “The real need is not so much to get to the people as to come from Christ. Then one automatically gets to the people.”

    Barth has an insanely conservative homiletics but it's good at least to be challenged by such stark commitments.

  3. timothycairns

    I am surprised you havent come across him - He wrote Biblical Preaching which is the text book for expository preaching on this side of the atlantic. His big thing is that a text has only one idea. You need to find the one idea and move from the world of the hearer to the text and back again - never moving from the one idea - thats a poor enough explaination! he is a huge name over here - he lectures at Gordon Conwell in Boston.

    I recommend you read his book biblical preaching and move from there - he is fairly old now but wow is he a great preacher! not sure whats available on the net but I'd recommend you listen!

    I just didnt want to say Haddon Robinson would disagree with Barth as I have no idea if he would or not - I am always reluctant to put words in people's mouths!

  4. Bobby Grow


    I like this quote, and couldn't agree more!

    I think, often times, sermons are too hung up on Hook, Book, Look, Took . . . "The Hook" being what Barth is railing against.

    I really see this as a function, at least in the US, as a consequence of "Fundamentalism," not to be to reductionistic. What I mean is that there is an a priori defensive posture to "American Evangelical" preaching, in general, so that the driving assumption is that unless the case is first made that somehow this or that passage has "relevance" for me today (i.e. rationalism, I decide if it does or doesn't); the congregant may not actually listen (boy that was quite the sentence, teetering on a run-on ;-). Anyway those are my two cents, and if this is the case, then it would make sense that Barth would be incongruent with such an approach.

  5. glenscriv

    Tim, I'm never reluctant to put words into people's mouths and I don't think the Apostle Paul would be either... see what I did there?

    Barth pretty much hated the idea of 'points' to a sermon or distilling a passage down to some one theme. He even mistrusted sermon titles, thinking they would provide a contrived and man-made unity to the Scriptures when only the Spirit should be allowed to do that. Again, you might think that's a bit extreme (!) but when you hear him out he does challenge you to get out of the way of the Word's own living-and-active-ness and let it have its way with the congregation.

    Bobby, haven't heard 'Hook, Book, Look and Took' but I certainly recognise it in the sermons I've heard. I think Barth would be against Hook *and* against Took (if I've understood it). The take-away application for Barth was simply Christ (and not three points of specific moral exhortation). He'd probably say that the Book *is* simply an extended call to Look too - Behold the Lamb!

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