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help! I have to preach an entire book of the bible . . . in one sermon! – miriam bier

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In a recent post, Robyn Mellar-Smith wrote about preaching through a whole book of the Bible over a number of weeks (http://kiwimadepreaching.com/2013/10/when-its-never-enough-robyn-mellar-smith/). But what about preaching a whole book in one sermon?

This is the challenge taken up by one of my local congregations. Over the coming weeks and months, they’re going to be preaching through the entire Bible, one book-per-sermon at a time. When they get to the book of Lamentations, it will be my task to take and teach and preach the book. The entire book. In one sermon (I must say I’m glad I didn’t get given, say, the book of Jeremiah!)

The idea comes from Evangelical Alliance speaker, Krish Kandiah, who makes a case for preaching whole books of the Bible and provides some guidance for doing so here: http://www.krishk.com/2012/04/preaching-bible-book-sermon/

And he makes some good points. People don’t know the whole sweep of Scripture, and there are books of the Bible many preachers barely even mention, let alone preach. Small, atomised chunks of Scripture can be much more easily manipulated and attached to a message you want to preach if you don’t step back to take in the whole picture and read in context. From my experience of teaching first year theological college students, even long time church goers can be missing some of the pieces: where, for example, the book of Judges or Chronicles or yes, Lamentations, fits into the grand narrative of creation and redemption.

So help me out: how do you take a book of the Bible and preach it, start to finish, in twenty-odd minutes?

Do I try and distil the essence of the book into one overall message? Pick out one or two salient points I think might meet the congregation’s need? Provide a simple synopsis or summarise, one chapter at a time? None of these options strikes me as entirely satisfactory. Forcing a book to say just one thing seems too simplistic, failing to take into account the inherent multivalence of the biblical text. But only focusing on one or two salient points may not allow for the big picture to be taken sufficiently into account. And chapter-wise summarising runs the risk of turning the sermon space into, as Kandiah puts it, a “regurgitated commentary.”

I have a little time before the congregation gets to Lamentations, and I suspect that when it comes to preparing in earnest my approach to the whole-book problem will probably be a combination or adaptation of the above options. But if you have any bright ideas I’d be happy to hear them. What do you think?

5 Comments

  1. Roger Driver-Burgess says:

    Hey, Miriam. One step I’d consider is genre; how do I stay true to the book’s genre? Maybe you’re not going to be preaching a traditional sermon, here, but inviting a congregation to step into a space of worshipful mourning to discover the hope at it’s heart?

  2. Geoff New says:

    An excellent example of how to preach through a book in one sermon can be found in NT Wright’s book: Following Jesus – Biblical reflections on discipleship (http://www.bookdepository.co.uk/Following-Jesus-NT-Wright/9780802841322)
    The first 6 chapters are sermons he preached – covering one book in a sermon. Amazing!

  3. Jody says:

    To answer your questions Miriam: as a listener I wouldn’t care which approach you took – I would be caught up in the experience that is Miriam meeting Lamentations…

  4. AndyM says:

    I’d be keen to hear an overview of the book, the key highlights, and how it fitted into the overarching story of salvation. This would probably be harder with the densely packed epistles.

  5. Jonathan says:

    As Alistair Begg regularly points out, the whole bible is a library about Jesus Christ. One way to approach the assignment is to see where the book points to Jesus and what it has to say about our relationship to Him. Using a key section as the “base of operations” may give you the ability to distill the book to the essentials, while referencing other sections to fill in the big picture.

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