How to diagnose a sermon

The excellent Issues, Etc* radio programme has this very handy diagnostic for reviewing sermons:

  1. How often is Jesus mentioned? Keep a simple running tally. It’s a problem if He is mentioned only a few times, or tucked in at the beginning or the end. If He is mentioned, even only once, go on to step 2.
  2. Is Jesus the subject of the verbs, the one doing the action? If He is, go on to step 3.
  3. What are the verbs? What is the preacher telling you what Jesus did, does, and will do for you? Is the Jesus that is presented one of pop therapeutic deism, who helps, inspires and gives examples? Or is He instead the Jesus of Scripture who lives, suffers, dies and rises again, all for you?

I find this to be a very helpful tool for evaluating the sermons that I hear week by week. Perhaps you will too.

* Disclaimer: the Issues, Etc programme has a Confessional Lutheran perspective. I am not a Confessional Lutheran and would differ from the show’s position on a number of important doctrinal points. Nevertheless, there is no doubt that the hosts properly distinguish between Law and Gospel, and faithfully proclaim the true Gospel of Christ crucified for sinners and raised from the dead. I am therefore happy to commend the programme.

3 thoughts on “How to diagnose a sermon”

  1. Hi there, interesting comments from the ‘Issues’ etc.. which you support on how to diagnose a sermon. My only concern is that the comments come across a little that you are in a sense (and i’m sure you don’t mean them to come across this way at all) casting judgment on the speaker and the sermon rather than looking for the Lord to help you pick out those things from Him which are helpful for your sanctification and growth in Grace. Again, I am sure this isn’t the case, but the title ‘How to diagnose a sermon’ leads to this conclusion. Would it be a fair thing to point out that if the core subject of one’s message is not about Christ but rather say for example on the commandment, “Thou Shalt not commit adultary”, then even though Christ can be referenced within the message, the name Jesus or Christ will not be used as often as it would be if He were to be the central theme of the sermon? In a prayer meeting at our church not long ago (which I think you attended) we heard Pastor Peter Masters speaking on various attributes /emotions of God. Did you count the times he mentioned Jesus name? Did you keep a running tally at all? If I tried such an exercise I know that I simply would lose track of what the preacher was saying in order to keep a running ‘score’ to diagnose how he’s “performing”..! I am sure you’d agree though that Dr Masters, although he did not make reference to Jesus many times this in no way detracted from the message that was laid upon his heart by God to bring to the congregation that evening? Just food for thought for you Daniel, as I wouldn’t wish for your readers of this site to get the same impression of your thoughts on how you diagnose the sermons you hear week by week. Again, I am sure you do not intend for it to come across this way, but just incase others have reached the same conclusion.

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