Sermon Subtexts

Reformed Theological Seminary on iTunes has posted a lecture series called “Preaching Christ in a Postmodern World” featuring Edmund Clowney and Tim Keller that is worth a listen: CLICK (itunes required)

In one of the lectures titled “Adoring Christ: Spiritual Reality” Keller talks about the for subtexts of sermons. He says the subtext is what the sermon really communicates apart from the words that are said. The subtext is the real purpose of the sermon under what is said on the top.

Here’s a brief breakdown of the four subtexts. These will really make you think, especially #2. Keller himself said of #2 that he feels its very difficult to avoid this one right out of seminary but that recognizing the demon is half the battle.

1. Reinforcement – “aren’t we great” subtext, a ritual or stylized communication which is used to reinforce boundaries and contribute to a sense of security and belongingness…many churches are committed to a reinforcement subtext I’ll call ‘gatekeeping.’ These churches do not want to be challenged, stretched, convicted. What they want in a sermon is for you to say the things that we say because we are this kind of people who believe these kind of things. The stated purpose of the sermon is: “I want to teach you this.” But the real purpose is: We’re here to remind ourselves that we a neat people and we’re the kind of people who say these things and believe these things and we’re not like the people who don’t…The motive is to strengthen the ghetto.

2. Performance – “Am I ok? Don’t you think I’m good?” The purpose of this sermon is a performance goal. The speaker is seeking to exhibit his goals and promote the products of the church. The subtext of the sermon is: “Don’t you think I’m good? Isn’t this a great church? Don’t you want to come back? Don’t you think you should bring your friends?” At some level the audience will realize that the speaker is actually not concerned about them. The reason for this is mainly to win people over. This is a selling subtext.

3. Training – “Isn’t this a great truth?” – the purpose of my sermon is to train, to teach people what they don’t know. The average mature preacher in America is probably here.

4. Worship – “Isn’t Christ great?” The sermon subtext is: “Don’t you see how much greater Christ is than you thought? Don’t you see how all your problems stem from the fact that you didn’t see that?” The motive is to get people to worship.

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