Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Excursus: Outlining Principles

I have begun a series of posts concerning the sermon preparation. In the previous posts, I gave an example of diagramming the text. I moved forward with the 1 Timothy 1:3-11 text and I am in the process of working with the diagram to develop a working outline.

But how do you outline? Here are some outlining principles:

1). The passage you are outlining should have one main thought which is conveyed through the text. Some call this "the big idea," some call it "the thesis," but it is one idea that is something of an umbrella statement which everything that is said in the passage is related to it or goes to prove the point.

2). As stated earlier, if one is outlining, that outline should be drawn from the text and not imposed on the text. This is why it is important to spend time on diagramming the passage. The diagram will show the exegete the flow of thought of the passage. Again, didactic passages tend to be a little easier to outline than say a narrative passage or a poetic passage. However, every text does have a flow of thought that can be identified and then conveyed.

3). If you have one main point, you should have at least another main point. Same with sub-points, and sub-sub-points. Or, in other words, if you have a main point I. you should at least have a main point II. If you have a sub-point A. you should at least have a sub-point B. AND, if you have a sub-sub-point 1. you should at least have a sub-sub-point 2.

Here is why: In my 1 Timothy 1:3-11 example, you will see I have a section that looks like this:

C. Goal of our instruction
       1. Love
              a. From a pure heart
              b. From a good conscience
              c. From a sincere faith

It is unnecessary to point out we have a goal to our instruction. Then move from that thought to discuss that this goal is love. Then move to where this love comes from. Instead, it should look like this:
C. Our goal is love
       1. From a pure heart
       2. From a good conscience
       3. From a sincere faith

This will provide the same information and can be delivered quicker in a sermon.

4). The main points should be a summary of all that is "under" it, the sub-point should summarize all that is "under" it, and so on. Again, using the 1 Timothy 1:3-11 example and using the information above, we can see this. Here is what a section from the working outline looks like:
I. Proper Teaching (3-5)
      A. Against strange doctrine
      B. Not to pay attention to...
           1. Myths
           2. Endless genealogies
                a. they give rise to mere speculation
                b. Instead of furthering our responsibility
      C. Our goal is love
           1. From a pure heart
           2. From a good conscience
           3. From a sincere faith

Note that "Proper Teaching" sums up "Against strange doctrine, not paying attention, and, goal of love." Each of these points can be massaged to better phrases and clearer teaching points, but that comes later in the process. However, if something comes to mind now, you can incorporate it. "Not paying attention to..." is something of a summary of "myths and geneaologies". Again, this probably needs work to something more like "Things that waste time" or something like that. Also, the sub-sub-points under "geneologies" is really a summary of the whole point and thus maybe need to be worked into B. This would perhaps look like:
I. A godly minister faithfully teaches biblically sound teaching (3-5)
      A. Preaches against strange doctrines
      B. Not swayed from God's task by...
          1. Myths
          2. Geneaologies
      C. Goal is love
          1. From a pure heart
          2. From a good conscience
          3. From a sincere faith

This includes both some massaging of the points to teachable principles and rephrasing to capture the "summarizing" principle. Of MOST IMPORTANT NOTE is that we have not changed the original meaning from Scripture. The author's intent is kept and we are stepping closer to moving the teaching material into the 21st century. There is still some work to be done (I don't like the repeat of "teaching" in the main point) but we are making some good progress.

5). It is at this point that some work can be done to make the outline a little more memorable. Some alliterate everything (problems, people, patience). Some rhyme everything (declaration, recreation, obliteration). Some use acronyms (FIST = powerful, Faithful, Increasing, Strengthened, Thankful - mine from a sermon on Col. 1:10-14). Some use repetition (We must love God, we must love the lost, we must love believers). Some use a mix of all of these. None of these are needed but they can help your sermon stick in the mind of your listeners. For example, when the listeners look at their fist, they can be reminded of what "a walk worthy of the Lord" is like: Fruitful, Increasing (spiritually), Strengthening, and Thankful. It also helps the speaker remember their outline a little easier.

There are some who take this step to the extreme (for example, John Philips Exploring series of commentaries - however, his outlines can provide great sermon seed material). Nevertheless, these things can be a mnemonic device for both audience and speaker.

This is by no means an exhaustive study on outlining. There have been books written about the subject. However, it may help you get started. Remember, the more you do it, the better you will get at it. We are all still learning and all still trying to get better at sharing God's word faithfully, coherently, and transformationally.

Diagram -> Outlining -> Excursus -> Word Studies -> Commentaries -> Excursus -> Refining -> Illustrations -> Practice -> Preaching