I 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.
rev shane lems