Evangelistic Preaching (05)

22 03 2009

pharisee-and-tax-collectorjpg5. Exegeting the text.

It may sound obvious, I know, but it’s worth saying. If you’ve worked out what text you want to use, it really pays to do the proper work on the text (d’uh!). Why bother saying something that is second nature to most preachers? Because I suspect that when it comes to evangelistic talks, some preachers will approach the task something like this: ‘I don’t need to do much exegesis of the text, because I already know what it’s about, and besides, I don’t need all the details of text, since it’s an evangelistic talk anyway.’ Right from the start, then, what the text may really be saying doesn’t get a look-in. If you ask me, that’s one the reasons that many evangelistic talks end up sounding same-ish, and why some talks really lack depth of insight.

We need to go to work on the text. Here’s an example. Take the parable of the tax collector and the Pharisee (Luke 18.9–14). It’s obviously a great text for preaching about the sheer mercy of God, and how the repentant sinner is right in God’s sight, whereas the self-righteous religious person is not. OK so far.

But here are some points about the passage that I have rarely heard preachers acknowledging (i.e. I suspect they don’t know these things about the text):

1. The setting is likely one of the two daily atonement services at the temple.

2. The Pharisee does not ask God for anything, but his prayer is really a declaration.

3. Because the setting is likely an atonement service, there are other people present, which means that the Pharisee’s prayer publicly denounces the tax collector (v.11).

4. Because the setting is public, the tax collector’s standing far off emphasizes his shame (v.13).

5. It was extremely rare for men to beat their chest in public, and they would only do so in an instance of overwhelming grief (v.13).

6. The tax collector asks God TO BE PROPITIOUS toward him (λάσθητί μοι, v.13).

7. And thus, the tax collector is justified in direct connection to propitiation at an atonement service (v.14).

I think that those things—which can only be understood through really working on the text in its historical and literary context—bring the passage to bear in a way that few evangelistic preachers would allow.

Posted by Con Campbell



2 responses

24 03 2009
Bruce Lowe

I’m going to use this entry in one of my classes (Preaching Lab II). I think you make a great point. Easy to come at a text lighter if it is only for evangelism. Thanks for this.

24 03 2009
Con Campbell

Thanks Bruce!

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