Sermon Application: A Book Review

Putting the Truth to Work: The Theory and Practice of Biblical ApplicationI recently finished this book on sermon application: Putting the Truth to Work by Daniel Doriani.  In just over 300 pages, Doriani explains the theory and practice of biblical sermon application.  More specifically, the author talks about what application is, what God-centered application is, different aspects of application, and how to apply certain types of biblical texts.  While Doriani does mostly talk about application, there are also sections on exegesis and interpretation.

So what did I think of it?

First, I’m glad there’s a textbook like this on application.  Most of us have heard too much cheesy application (i.e. we have to be a “Daniel” to our culture).  On the flip side, some pastors wrongly make little or no application.  So this book is needed for pastoral ministry.

I appreciated how Doriani strongly opposed man-centered application as well as legalistic application.  I was also glad that there were some charts/diagrams scattered throughout and summary paragraphs given at the end of each chapter.  The book is very extensive and exhaustive – it isn’t quick and light reading.  Yet it certainly made me think about application in my own sermons.    Putting the Truth to Work is worth reading because it helps the pastor think more about good application. In the best sense of the term, it’s a thought-provoking book!

However, I’m not going to enthusiastically recommend it.  Why not?

First, because it is not easy to read – the writing style didn’t flow well for me.  I know it’s a bit subjective, but in many places I got bogged down and was tempted to just quit reading.  Now that I’m finished, I have a tough time even remembering the big picture since the details were far too exhausting.  The book was much too detailed and cumbersome for me to read with excitement.

Furthermore, his four aspects of application (duty, character, goals, discernment) are debatable and a bit ambiguous; I’m not convinced a preacher should stick to these four.  Since he spent much time on these four aspects, a big section of the book has a question mark by it for me.

Finally, although he was against moralism and legalism, his Christ-centered approach wasn’t as robustly gospel-centered and grace-full as I had hoped.  Don’t get me wrong, it doesn’t lack gospel, it’s just that gospel of grace didn’t permeate all the discussions of application.

Who should get this book?  I’d say pastors who want a detailed textbook of application should get this book.  Even if they don’t agree with it all, it’ll stimulate thought.  At the same time, if you’ve had several good homiletics courses in seminary, the book might be superfluous.  In summary, although I don’t think it is the best book on application, I think it is worth having.

Daniel Doriani, Putting the Truth to Work (Phillipsburg: P&R, 2001).

rev shane lems

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4 comments on “Sermon Application: A Book Review

  1. Dante says:

    In his 1970 dissertation, “Sola Scriptura” (Wipf & Stock), S Greidanus has some insights about “application” from the Dutch controversy in the 1930′s and 40′s that I think provide a biblical correction to Doriani. The fundamental problem with “application,” however, is the common but false notion of a “gap” between ourselves and the author/original recipients and Greidanus accepts this. (Vos said we live just as much in the NT as Paul – we are both within the overlap of the two ages – so there is no treacherous gap we must cross with the application “bridge.”

    One of the problems with the obsession with “application” is that most often it does not really flow from the passage. For instance, just this week I looked at Doriani on Matt 12:1-8. His “application” concerned giving money to relief organizations. Really? Is that what the Spirit breathed that passage for and wants us to hear from it? Is that really going to feed Christ’s sheep on Sunday morning? He did have a paragraph after that about Christ which was much more on target, but it was diminished by the preceding remarks about supporting humanitarian efforts.

    Doug Clawson (OPC) has an excellent lecture on the pastoral use of Scripture in preaching here: http://two-age.biblicaltheology.org/online_sermons.htm

    • Good notes, Dante. I’ve noticed that with Greidanus – he’s helpful, but not my favorite when it comes to this topic. And I agree with you on the Matthew 12 example. The book I reviewed had application like that which left me in disagreement (like you said well).

      Thanks!
      shane

  2. glane8029 says:

    I like your honest appraisal of the book

  3. Dante says:

    I was not raised in the church and there were a number of terms or phrases that I didn’t embraced when I came into the church – quiet time, having my “devotion”, personal Savior, personal relationship with Jesus… One of the words I didn’t like was “application.” In a 1981 issue of Banner of Truth, John deWitt, translator no-less of Ridderbos’ magnum opus on Paul, complained of the need of preachers to learn how to properly apply Scripture in preaching. I’m not opposed to ethics or imperatives – growth in the grace and knowledge of Christ which issues in faith and love is the aim of preaching – but the exhortations must be exegetically-oriented and shaped by an apostolic approach (biblical-theological) to the word. John Carrick doesn’t achieve this in his argument against RH preaching.

    A few weeks ago I read Greidanus’ treatment of a passage in Eccl. He did an excellent job sorting out and summarizing the passage but you know what? He wasn’t “preaching Christ.” Isn’t that the subtitle of the book? Highlighting some teachings of Jesus in the Gospels is not preaching Christ (legitimate though those cross references may be.)

    If were going to “apply” rightly – I prefer the term “use” – if Scripture is to be used properly for the edification of the church, we must learn to handle and think through Scripture as the apostles did (who learned their method from Christ their Lord). A man of God needs an exegetical, biblical-theological passion if he is to reveal the mind of God in the word.

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