Powerful, Christ-centered, expository preaching is indispensable to Seventh-day Adventism; the Adventist movement cannot survive or thrive without it. The task of preaching the “everlasting gospel” (Rev. 14:6), therefore, deserves our most concentrated thought and energetic effort. This article will propose and unpack a working definition of Seventh-day Adventist preaching that I have used in my homiletics classes over the last decade. My desire is to stimulate thought on what Seventh-day Adventist preaching is and should be and to influence its practice.
Seventh-day Adventist preaching, then, is the “spirit-empowered proclamation of a single idea from God’s Word, based on grammatical-theological exegesis and homiletical synthesis, framed in the eschatological setting of the three angels’ messages of Revelation 14:6-12, resulting in cognitive, affective, and behavioral changes, first in the preacher, then in the listeners.”1
Admittedly, this is a mouthful, and because of its theoretical foundation, it has an academic flavor. But I believe that when put into practice, its impact will be life-changing for both the audience and the preacher. Let us consider the various components in this definition.
Ellen White has much to say on the subject of Spirit-empowered preaching. Writing to Seventh-day Adventist ministers, she stressed the absolute necessity of the Holy Spirit’s presence during the preaching event: “The preaching of the word is of no avail without the presence and aid of the Holy Spirit, for this Spirit is the only effectual teacher of divine truth. Only when the truth is accompanied to the heart by the Spirit, will it quicken the conscience or transform the life.”2 Preachers have described this experience as the “sacred anointing,” “divine unction,” and “the smile of God.”3
In using the term “proclamation,” I include explanation of the text, but much more. Homiletician Jay Adams distinguishes between the “lecture stance” and “preaching stance.”4 The lecture stance is a dry, formal, third-person (he, they) delivery with information but no relevance or application. A preaching stance, however, involves an energetic, vibrant, alive, secondperson (you) delivery that resonates with the listeners. Proclamation, therefore, is this “preaching stance”—a sermon with energy and passion, confidence and humility, conviction and clarity. This is what our people long for in the pulpit—a preacher excited about proclaiming the Gospel who does it in the power of the Spirit!
A SINGLE IDEA FROM GOD’S WORD
When an audience hears a sermon that feels like a herd of cats running in every direction, they will tune out and take a mental vacation. Put another way, a sermon with too many unrelated points is like having no point at all; it’s not worth the listener’s time. The principle of centering the sermon on a single dominant idea, therefore, is indispensable to good pulpit preaching.
So important is this principle that homiletition Haddon Robinson argued that if preachers “will not—or cannot” think clearly enough to say what they mean, they “have no business in the pulpit.”5 I completely agree with this principle, which any student who sits in my homiletics classes knows quite well. The technical term for this kind of preaching is “ideational” (idea-centered). Robinson thus argues for a “single idea” in every sermon: “A sermon should be a bullet and not buckshot. Ideally each sermon is the explanation, interpretation, or application of a single dominant idea supported by other ideas, all drawn from one passage or several passages of Scripture.”6
It is important to note that this single idea comes from God’s Word, the Holy Bible, which Seventh-day Adventists believe to be the authoritative and inspired Word of God. Expository preaching expounds this Word in its literary and historical context. It is my conviction that if a sermon is not biblical or expository in its origin, production, and delivery, it should be classified as a religious speech rather than as a Christian sermon. Only sermon ideas derived from God’s ideas in God’s Word change lives!
BASED ON GRAMMATICAL-THEOLOGICAL EXEGESIS AND HOMILETICAL SYNTHESIS
Seventh-day Adventist preaching should be based, first of all, on exegesis of the text. Here, grammatical-theological exegesis means the grammatical-historical-theological method of interpreting the Scriptures, which takes seriously the divinehuman nature of the Bible, honors the principle that the Bible is its own interpreter, and finds expression in detailed analysis of the historical and literary contexts of the preaching passage.
Homiletical synthesis translates exegetical analysis into the popular, contemporary street language of the listeners. Thus, it transports the preacher to the creative side of sermon preparation. Whereas exegetical analysis is more analytical, homiletical synthesis is more creative; exegetical analysis is more pieceoriented while homiletical synthesis is more holistic. As such, homiletical synthesis transforms raw, exegetical data into an organized pattern with unity and focus, rhythm and symmetry, movement and climax. Just as the Spirit of God brooded over the earth at creation (Gen. 1:2), so the expositor allows the same Spirit to brood over the exegetical notes during the creative process of homiletical synthesis (John 14:26).7
FRAMED IN THE ESCHATOLOGICAL SETTING OF THE THREE ANGELS’ MESSAGES OF REVELATION 14:6-12
Up to this point in our discussion, nothing has been unique to Seventh-day Adventism. The homiletical, theological, and hermeneutical theory addressed so far, while representing my own understanding and synthesis, is essentially espoused and practiced in various forms by many preachers and homileticians in other denominations. Revelation 14:6-12, however, provides a unique Christian worldview that, I believe, sets Seventh-day Adventist preaching apart. This unique eschatological setting should provide a frame for every sermon delivered on a given Sabbath day.
Charles E. Bradford stressed this point in his Adventist preaching classic, Preaching to the Times: “All true Seventhday Adventist preaching has Revelation 14:6-12 as its frame of reference” and should “wind up somewhere in the neighborhood of this threefold message.”8 More recently, William Johnsson discussed the implications of the three angels’ messages for proclamation in the Adventist pulpit.9 He is careful to assert (and rightly so) that Revelation 14 should not “form the basis for every, or most, sermons, for the chapter itself presupposes the body of Christian beliefs, something that preachers dare not take for granted in their audiences.” Thus, apart “from the content of the passage itself—something not to be overlooked—we must,” he declares, “catch the dynamic of the proclamation.”
This dynamic manifests itself in several characteristics. First is the “note of certainty that characterizes the passage.” Johnsson explains: “Certainty that we live in the days just prior to the Second Coming. Certainty that God is calling out a people loyal to Him from every nation and tribe. Certainty that true worship is not to be compromised. Certainty that the Ten Commandments, and the Sabbath in particular, show our loyalty to God.”
Next is the “note of authority that marks the passage.” Again, Johnsson strikes at the heart of the matter for preachers: “The Adventist preacher, standing in the pulpit, is fulfilling the prediction of Revelation 14. It is a staggering claim. That claim can lead to pride, presumption, high-handedness, and lovelessness. We need a special measure of humility and grace to live with it. But live with it we must. Our preaching cannot be of smooth things. It must come with the conviction and winsome appeal of the angel messengers of Revelation 14.”
The “timeliness of the message” is another characteristic of Revelation 14. “The passage speaks directly to our day, alerting us to the significance of our times in God’s eternal plan.” As such, it “calls us to wake up, to open our eyes, and to see ourselves in light of eternity, to be ready to meet our returning Lord.”
The final characteristic is the “solemn warning in which the messages of Revelation 14 are couched.” The “three angels are urgent in their summons, for time is short and the fate of the beast-worshipers is too horrible to contemplate.” Adventist preachers are “watchmen on the walls of Zion, and we dare not be delinquent in our responsibilities.” Therefore, we should sound this note of warning, but always, Johnsson adds with emphasis, “in the context of the ‘everlasting gospel.’”
The foundational “everlasting gospel,” which is the same unaltered apostolic gospel centered in the good news of Jesus Christ—His life, atoning death, resurrection, enthronement in heaven, heavenly priesthood, and second coming—should be embedded in the heart of every Seventh-day Adventist sermon. Johnsson says it well: “Jesus, the Man of matchless charms, is to be the center of every sermon. He is the Lamb, and His cross must ever be uplifted before the people. No sermon, no matter what the audience or the occasion, should fail to point the way to hope and healing in Him.”
He concludes on the significance of Revelation 14 for Seventh-day Adventist preachers: “Certainty, authority, warning—these characteristics will link our proclamation with that of the pioneers. Like them, we must be grounded in the Scriptures, daily nurtured by the living Word. That Word will enable us to preach with power so that the three angels will speak mighty voices to the whole world.”10 It is in this eschatological frame, then, that Seventh-day Adventist preachers must preach across the broad canvas of Scripture, expounding their way through books and sections of the Bible.
This brief discussion provides only the seeds for what I hope will eventually become a full-grown theology of Seventh-day Adventist preaching. The rich theological tapestry of Revelation 14:6-12 deserves our most serious thought and earnest application in relation to preaching. This eschatological worldview should inspire some of the most dynamic, Christ-centered, expository preaching the world has ever known!
COGNITIVE, AFFECTIVE, AND BEHAVIORAL CHANGES, FIRST IN THE PREACHER, THEN IN THE LISTENERS
Preached with certainty and urgency, a spirit-empowered, Christ-centered expository sermon should result in the transformation of human beings. This can only happen with specific changes in the three human domains: cognitive (intellect), affective (emotions), and behavioral (actions). Each of these domains describes a type of learning that human beings can achieve. All three domains should be targeted in such a way that results in transformed lives. Generally, one domain, usually the behavioral one, is dominant. But calling for behavioral changes in listeners without laying a foundation in their thinking and feeling can lead to legalism. All three domains should receive attention in every sermon, even though one is dominant.
Before preachers can do any of the above, however, they must experience the power of the biblical text impacting their own thoughts, feelings, and behavior. They must allow the Word to transform their lives first; then—and only then—can they be used by the Holy Spirit as effective agents for change. So, preacher, apply the Word first to your own life and then to the lives of your listeners.
It is my conviction that this definition expresses what Seventh-day Adventist preaching is in theory and should be in practice.11 May we all heed Paul’s imperative, which powerfully captures the eschatological setting of preaching for our day: “In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke, and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction” (1 Tim. 4:1-2; NIV).
1 For a more detailed explanation of this definition with extensive references, see my “Preaching the Word of God for the People of God: A Proposed Definition of Seventh-day Adventist Preaching,” in The Word of God for the People of God: A Tribute to the Ministry of Jack J. Blanco, Ron Du Preez, Philip G. Samaan, and Ron E.M. Couzet, eds. (Collegedale, Tenn.: School of Religion, Southern Adventist University, 2004), 467-494.
2 Ellen White, Gospel Workers (Washington, D.C.: Review & Herald Publishing Assn.), 284.
3 For a full discussion on this “divine unction” and how to obtain it, see my article, “The Seven Habits of Spirit Empowered Preaching,” https://www. ministrymagazine.org/archive/2005/10/seven-habits-of-spirit-empoweredpreaching.html
4 Jay E. Adams, Preaching with Purpose: The Urgent Task of Homiletics (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1982), 42-46.
5 Haddon Robinson, Biblical Preaching: The Development and Delivery of Expository Messages (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2001), 41.
6 Ibid., 35.
7 For a step-by- step procedure that applies exegetical analysis and homiletical synthesis in sermon preparation, see my article, “Expository Sermon Preparation” at: https://adventistbiblicalresearch.org/materials/bi... expository-sermon-preparation .
8 Charles E. Bradford, Preaching to the Times (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1975), 20.
9 William G. Johnsson, “The Saints’ End-Time Victory Over the Forces of Evil,” in Symposium on Revelation, book 2, vol. 7, Daniel and Revelation Committee Series, Frank B. Holbrook, ed. (Silver Spring, MD: Biblical Research Institute, General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, 1992), 3-40.
10 All citations from Johnsson are from ibid., 39, 40.
11 Ellen White’s counsel on preaching was moving in this direction; see Jud Lake, “Preaching,” in The Ellen G. White Encyclopedia, Denis Fortin and Jerry Moon, eds. (Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald, 2014), 1048-1049.
This article was first published in Best Practice, June, 2014. It has been lightly edited for Elder’s Digest.
Jud Lake is professor of preaching and Adventist studies at the School of Religion at Southern Adventist University in Collegedale, Tennessee, USA.