Not Masses of Help?

Paul Levy over at Ref21 has written (quoting Ray Galea) that sermons that become chapters in a book lose their life. He says: “He’s right isn’t he? We’re probably a bit afraid to admit it but those vast volumes of commentaries which are just transcribed sermons are often hard work and not masses of help in preparation apart from when hunting for illustrations or we’re very short of time.” I would certainly waive the point when it comes to plagiarism. Pastors MUST preach their own sermons to their congregations for the very simple reason that no one else knows their congregations like they do. Only the local pastor can bring home the text to THAT congregation.

However, I wish to address a different point here. He says, basically, that commentaries made up of sermons are not masses of help in sermon preparation. I cannot say that I agree with this statement. For one thing, there are very few commentaries period which could be said to be “masses of help.” The question is this: what are one’s expectations on using a commentary? I find a commentary to be somewhat helpful if I underline anything in two or three pages. If I underline one thing per page, it is a very helpful commentary. If I underline 3-4 things per page, then it is a massively helpful commentary. How many massively helpful commentaries do I own? Not many, and I own many commentaries. My point is that reading commentaries is not like hitting up Fort Knox for gold. It’s like looking for needles in haystacks (this can certainly be said for the entire scholarly enterprise). I have not found sermonic commentaries to be less helpful than the other types of commentaries. In preaching on Romans, for instance, I have found Boice and Lloyd-Jones to be very helpful, even though I don’t underline on every page. Anything Iain Duguid writes on the OT is massively helpful, and they pretty much ALL originated as sermons. I would not like to see pastors reading fewer commentaries as a result of Paul’s statement, however much he might have been addressing a different point.



  1. Phil Derksen said,

    November 5, 2010 at 8:36 pm

    Just a technical correction: Levy appears to be quoting Tony Payne.

  2. Jeff Cagle said,

    November 5, 2010 at 9:10 pm

    Why are we hunting for illustrations?

  3. Cris D. said,

    November 6, 2010 at 8:49 am

    When I was in college, and aspiring to the ministry, I was simultaneously encouraged and frustrated by the Lloyd-Jones volumes on Romans. They were too full of content to help in prep for Bible Study, because I was not leading a verse a week study; and I did not have unlimited prep-time. At the time I was surrounded by good living models to emulate for preaching, otherwise I would have been daunted to think of Lloyd-Jones as a model for preaching. Leaving off lots of nuances there. Just focusing on the idea of covering only a verse or two per message. Most new preachers should not be trying to emulate that aspect of Lloyd-Jones or others. So they need to approach those kinds of books with awareness of how to benefit from them because they are not the same as exegetical commentaries.

    Jeff: some folks have to “hunt” for illustrations because they can’t draw one from the Lord of The Rings or Narnia, or they are not familiar enough with the lyrics of Bob Dylan songs.


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