Skip to main content

Applied Preaching!

Application ought to be the pointed driving home of the gospel. It is the lively and repeated application of the Word to the heart of the congregation to the end that it might be believed. It is not the derivation of principles which can then be turned into moral instruction. Application is the Spirit’s work of awakening faith in the Christ who we proclaim.

Applied Preaching from Glen Scrivener

Having studied a particularly non-three point chunk of exciting engaging narrative from Esther 4-7 today with one of my Staff that's a helpful thought.


  1. 'Application to what?' seems like an important question to ask too

  2. Agreed... Expand on what you mean?

  3. Application has to have an ear on the situation that it addresses itself into. It is entirely fitting, and helpful sometimes for application to take the form of a memorable and easy to apply principle.

    I'll give you an example. 'Keeping the main thing the main thing.'

    That is a principle, for application.


  4. Hi guys,
    think I was trying to highlight that application is first application *to* the hearer. Not an application *for* particular action that the hearer needs to take upon themselves. Application is pointed address - placarding Christ such that the congregation see, receive, believe (we tend to think of it as trying to inspire a 'go, do, act' mentality).

    Thus 'keeping the main thing the main thing' ought to be *applied* by preaching with passion about what that main thing is. Application will have 'worked' when the congregation are truly convinced that it is the main thing. It's magnitude should be impressed on the hearer such that they see it, hear it smell it! That's application. An *outcome* of this is hopefully that they prioritize it. See what I mean?

  5. by the way, Dave. Been enjoying the blog for a while now. Meant to say earlier.

  6. Glen,

    Excellent. The author! And may I say that you seem to have even more principles yourself!

    I like your 'pointed address' description of application. I think it is a biblically affirmed quality of application. It's a very helpful systematisation of scripure (principle derived?).

    I want to ask:
    Isn't your approach really both (pointed address) vs. ('turning each point into a law to be enjoined [I can't help feeling that this is an untrue characterisation] on the congregation. Thus: point one - Jesus is faithful. Application - how will you be faithful this week? For the preacher who is very keen on ‘application’ they will offer all manner of suggestions as to how the congregation can be faithful in the minutiae of their lives.'?

    Why are you hardline about this? Is there a debate in expository preaching that I'm missing here? What is at stake? Why not have both appropriate encouraging and edifying principle shaped instructions alongside pointed address?

    Do you really see application as only pointed address to the other? Can you justify that from scripture, as a definition of application? It's seems like a wider conceptual catergory in Paul's letters, a mixture of pointed address, as well as other things.

    Don't you think that part of application should involve a pointed address to yourself, and the exhortive encouragement to walk in the strength of God's promises and the gospel?

    Forgive me if I am jumping at you a little bit too fast. I went to a church a couple of weeks ago and all they did was negative pointed address. How we had failed etc. It was quite uninspiring. Other times I have heard sermons that don't have any pointed address. They lack bite. I want both. Your model seems to argue for the former and against the latter. Have I misunderstood you?

  7. Hi Tom,

    If there isn't a debate on 'what is application?' in expository preaching circles there ought to be. It goes to the heart of 'what is preaching for?' 'what am I aiming at as I climb up into the pulpit?'

    I'm not sure where you're coming from Tom but I grew up in a Sydney Anglican atmosphere, went to Oak Hill college, working for a Proc Trust-y kinda church. But I would say that the predominant view of the Bible that gets expressed in such circles (implicitly if not sometimes explicitly) is that the Bible is God's instruction manual for life. If there really is a conviction that the Scriptures are the Spirit's testimony to the Son then I have to say that it often gets lost in communication. And you know where it's most commonly lost?? In the bit of the sermon labelled 'application'!

    Now I don't have any proof-texts that say "Application means placarding Christ to the end that He is trusted" but then no-one has any proof-texts that say "Every sermon should have a rubber-hits-the-road moral exhortation directed to practical deeds the congregation can undertake this week." Read through Acts - find me an 'application' in the popular sense. Yet listen to much expository preaching on Acts - how many practical exhortations will be given. 3 points per sermon? 28 sermons? That's 84 moral injunctions where Scripture gives none!

    Or think of Ephesians. The first half of the letter - three whole chapters - gives you nothing whatsoever to do. Find me an expository programme of sermons on Ephesians that refrains from smuggling in a "read your bible, pray and evangelise" plug. It's all too easy in the name of application to turn gospel into law. That, really, is my concern.

    What is revelation for? Isn't it to make us SEE the glory of God in the face of Christ? Then what is my sermon for? Moral instruction? NO! To point along with the Spirit-inspired Scriptures to Christ and Him crucified.

    Now if your passage is "consider how to stir one another up to love and good deeds" then leave plenty of space in your sermon for people to do that work of considering. (But be careful not to do all the considering for them or else you'll work against the passage!!). If your passage is "Love the brotherhood, fear God, honour the king" then preach it! (But remember 'fear' can never be a self-willed action - so you're going to have to lift up the Fearful God aren't you?) If it says "show hospitality" then exhort your congregation to "show hospitality." But never divorce these from the gospel indicatives. Scripture never does.

    In all this I'm saying

    * The one thing you're meant to do with the Gospel is *believe* it. Let's preach that way.

    * Christians (let alone non-Christians) don't believe the Gospel the way they ought.

    * You cannot exhort a person to belief - faith is not a work of self upon self. Instead all the preacher can do is placard Christ and say LOOK!

    * Preachers must do this every week (the Christ bit can never be assumed or passed over)

    * A sermon that says 'Look at Christ isn't He beautiful' and *nothing* else is a GREAT sermon.

    * A sermon that says "Look at Christ and see your life hid with Him in God. Now look at some content that this verse gives concerning what this gift of new life looks like" is a GREAT sermon.

    * A sermon that says "Right, now we all know we're saved, but are you really living it. Look at yourself and try harder." is a TERRIBLE sermon.

    I like your phrase "the exhortive encouragement to walk in the strength of God's promises and the gospel." What I'm arguing is that that encouragement comes as you lift Christ up. That is what pointed address aims at. If I aim my guns at the wills of my hearers I cannot ever generate gospel faith but only moralistic resolve. Faith is not an act that *I* can generate! It's not a work of self upon self. Faith is SEEING. So my applicatory guns are trained on helping the congregation to see HIM.

    Steve Homes has a great little post about this very thing:

    I've written a (very) long paper on some of these issues here:

    God bless,

  8. Glen,

    It's hard to answer such a big response that makes so many points!

    I'm not against holding Christ up, actually, like you (I think! Sorry if not!), I think that it would be arrogant and humanistic not to do so.

    However, I'm interested in what you mean by 'holding up'. You've gone to town, on what you don't want. And you've said conceptually what you would like. But tell me, practically, what you would say, by way of application, in this 'holding Christ up' buisness? Are you a pastor? Do you do this week in week out?

    I've spent time in a a few different denominational contexts where the view of transformation that was communicated was essentially, transformation by doctrinal instruction. And it sounds to me that you are offering a nicely Christocentric version of the same thing. Sorry if I have misunderstood you.

    It actually was destructive and unhelpful for a number of people to exist under that model of teaching. A lot of people are starting to be more honest about not experiencing the transformation that they had expected, or that everyone else was expecting. A lot of people feel really let down by this 'transformation by doctrinal instruction' approach. I think that this could well be the number 1 reason for the growth of the emergent church. (Please don't read my own support of all things emergent into this).

    Willard puts the situation like this:
    "The sole means of spiritual growth was being taught and "preached at"--that we're saved and transformed by hearing the truths of the scriptures; we're redeemed by the truths which the conservative and evangelical segments of the church rightly stood for. We're saved by believing them, we're sanctified by believing them, and all issues of spiritual growth are dealt with simply by taking the word in through reading it, through hearing it, through exhortation and ministry from the scriptures. Or so we thought. But I think that what we found, beginning some years ago, was that this "method" really does not do everything that is needed or that we thought it would do."

    So, two nice neat questions for you.

    1. Give me some practical examples of your kind of application. I'm not trying to trick you, I sincerely think I need to learn more about this.
    2. Do you see where I am coming from, in my criticism of the 'transformation by doctrinal instruction' model? Do you think it works? Is this essentially what you are advocating? Do you reject it? Is your view of a human being more sophisticated?

  9. Hi Tom,

    I think we may be talking past each other. In which case sorry for some long comments that may well be tangential to what you're asking.

    What I am opposing is the thought that 'application' means giving people rules to live by rather than giving them (in as urgent, devotional, exalted, passionate and, yes- Scriptural, way as possible) Christ. I think what you're hearing me say is "Give people 'doctrine' rather than 'direction'" Now that's *not* the spectrum I'm talking about. It's not an opposition of dogmatics to pragmatics. *Both* are dry, dead and dangerous when divorced from the living Person of Christ. *He* and not doctrine, *He* and not ethics, is the One on Whom we are to nourish ourselves as the Bread of life. Preaching is about making Him look tasty (good thing He already is - which is why our job is a job of pointing to what's already there).

    'Preaching at' the congregation in Willard's phrase couldn't be further from my aim. Indoctrinating is not the goal, nor, stirctly speaking, instructing, nor is the aim to exhort them to a moral life or to certain spiritual practices. Life is not found in these. Nor even is it found in the Bible per se. John 5:39 - the Scriptures testify to Christ. The preacher stands up with a Bible in one hand and a finger pointed at Christ with the other and makes much of *Him*. I don't see Willard's criticisms touching any of this.

    So if I could answer your second question first: I would never dream of advocating 'transformation by doctrinal instruction'. We are justified and sanctified by faith. And faith comes by hearing. And hearing by the Word of Christ. I'm seeking to preserve these links. A person is saved and a person grows by being fed the Word - not the Word of dogmatic instruction, nor the Word of ethical exhortation - but the Word of *Christ*. For *this* reason applying the Word means pointedly driving home the wonderful Person of Jesus (and not going off on unwarranted tangents discussing *our* morality/spirituality/faithfulness).

    2) I'm an ordained ministed in the Church of England. You can find some of my sermons at my website:

    I also have links there to other preachers I like, including the excellent Mike Reeves - a favourite of this particular blog. Check him out to see what I mean with flesh and bones on. Or how about Spurgeon? He was a one! We all need to be more Spurgeonic if you ask me!

    Thanks for the interactions.

  10. Glen,

    Enjoying the interacting too - here. I still have some Christmas shopping but this is way more interesting :)

    I'm a bit confused by something you wrote in your last post.

    "A person is saved and a person grows by being fed the Word - not the Word of dogmatic instruction, nor the Word of ethical exhortation - but the Word of *Christ*."

    Could you explain what you mean by 'the Word of Christ' please? What does that look like? What is that? I'm just not familar with what that is. I might understand it by another name or concept.

    On application: I've had a read through your sermons, and it seemed to me that you have an application stage in most of them towards the end. You don't seem to have as clear a distinction as some do, between understanding Scripture and then applying it, but you definately have an application stage. You don't have three principles, but you are a hairs width away from it. I think if you used powerpoint to present some of your talks you would find that the systematisation process would give you the structure and principles that you see to be writing so strongly against. For example, 'Cheer up' and 'Grow up' in

    Although you have said that it isn't the form 'application' that you want to reject, but rather the discussions of *our* morality/spirituality/faithfulness You are clearly discussing these themes in many of your talks though. For example, in a talk on Genesis 15 you say, "And what are we asked to do? Don’t get up and try to offer Him anything. Sit down. Take. Eat. Take. Drink. You have nothing to offer, all you’ve contributed are the sins for which Christ dies. Just be swept off your feet this evening" which is clearly a discussion of motivation and intentions.

    Or, in your talk on the Trinity, your 'application stage'(starting with ... 'I started with a mental test, let me give you one more.') is essentially a discussion of spirituality, prayer, the identity of the Christian, and a challenge to enter into that. There is clearly some dicussion of 'morality/spirituality/faithfulness' happening in there, and in these talks. You just don't call it that. Is that fair?

    So I'm tempted to think that you're making a cultural objection in theological categories.

    For example, in this sermon:

    You turn in your second to last parargraph to a more personal and direct mode of address when you say, "So where are our hearts? What do our words reveal about our heart for Christ?", then you contiue on, in the same personal mode of address, essentially pressing in the truths that the exegesis of Scripture has uncovered, into a Christocentric, 'Let's think about what Jesus would do in this situation?' questions etc. It just seems to me that you are doing application in a Christocentric way. (Which I like a great deal) But I really can't see a massive difference.

    You also say, in the same talk, that..."But if we come to Him, Jesus can and will heal our hearts and make us new again...What we really need is hearts more in love with Jesus."

    I don't disagree with this, but it could sound a bit gnostic or mystical for me as an understanding of discipleship and sanctification - that's why I'd like you to explain what you mean by 'Word of Christ'.

    Isn't the whole of life, the whole of the human being, the body, the mind, the feelings, the social context, the soul and the heart, in need of radical reorientation around Christ? I'm not sure that it's just about falling more in love with Jesus as if he is some kind of romantic experience, and through that experience, somehow we are mysteriously and mystically transformed into more and more sanctified disciples.

    Sorry, if I have misunderstood your posts Glen. Please help me to understand more clearly where you are coming from.

    Merry Christmas


  11. Hi Tom,

    Happy New Year.

    Let me just clarify a couple of things.

    1) 'The word of Christ' I simply nicked from Romans 10 to continue the point about faith coming by hearing. I'm simply saying that the sermon should concern Christ - He is the focus, not morality or spirituality etc

    2) I'm not categorically 'against' points. I think it would be a problem to be 'against' points just as it would be a problem to be 'for' them. My concern is not so much whether preachers have them but why. I take great issue with forcing each passage into three points yes. But if in my preparation for preaching (and hopefully this mirrors the flow of the passage) the sermon seems to resolve into three movements then I have no problem with flagging that up. I have every problem with approaching the passage for this week with the mentality "Right, what will my three points be this week." Talk about strait-jacketing the Word!

    3) I have never been against application - the point of my post was to question what application is for. I'm arguing that application should be the driving home of the Scriptures to the heart - that it finds its goal in faith. This is in distinction to 'deriving moral principles to be obeyed.' (i.e. works)

    I was a little nervous when you said you'd read my sermons thinking that I have probably been inconsistent in all kinds of ways. And I'm sure I have been. But the examples you've raised don't actually contradict my point at all:

    Telling the congregation to sit there and receive Christ in the bread and wine is about as passive as you can get. I made it abundantly clear there was nothing they could contribute.

    The conclusion to my Trinity sermon was to get the congregation to see that their prayer life was already unimprovable because already wrapped up in Christ.

    You might take objection to the Matthew 12 conclusion that our hearts should be more in love with Jesus but notice that my application was *not* for people to go and clean up their language but rather to deal with the heart issue. In doing so I made it abundantly clear that the heart issue is something that we cannot solve ourselves (a bad tree can't produce good fruit) but that we have to go to Christ to heal our hearts.

    I'm not sure we're understanding each other if those are the examples you're using to contradict my point. I'm sorry I haven't been clearer - but this is as plain as I can get: the application of the sermon ought to be application that finds its goal in the hearer's *faith*. I think the examples you've quoted are flawed but consistent examples of exactly this.

    If you're ever in Eastbourne we should catch up and chat. I'm sure we'd understand each other better face to face.

    In Jesus,


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

"Big eyes full of wonder"

Books. Fiction. Libraries. Second only to churches as are the best gateways in your community to ultimate reality and new possibilities.

Our local library has just re-opened after refurbishment, and I love that our boys have spent several mornings there during the summer holidays, discovering some wonderful new stories.

I realised a few months back that I wasn't reading enough fiction. My work necessitates reading a lot of non-fiction, a mix of historical and contemporary thinking, biblical studies and theology. But fiction is the cinderella. Easily overlooked, and yet able to awaken my imagination and show me the way things are meant to be.

So I've picked up a few more lately - bought and borrowed. Not every book attempted flies, and that's ok. These have been winners though.

Ink. This is Alice Broadway's debut novel. It's young adult fiction and tells the story of Leora who lives in a world where the events of your life are tattooed on your skin. Nothing gets hid…

Uniquely Matthew

Reading gospel accounts in parallel is sometimes used to blur the differences in perspective between the evangelists, seeking to harmonise the texts and find a definitive historical account of what happened. No such thing exists because every account is biased and limited. You simply can't record everything. You have to hold a vantage point. And that's not a problem.

Matthew, Mark and Luke take a very different vantage point to John who was of course an eyewitness himself of the events. Comparing the text of Matthew, Mark and Luke across the death and resurrection of Jesus yields two steps.

Firstly, the common ground. All three accounts tell of...
Simon of Cyrene carrying the cross…. · Jesus labelled as King of the Jews…. · Criminals crucified with Jesus… · Darkness in the daytime… · Jesus' loud final cry… The women who witnessed Jesus death, and Jesus' burial… · The tomb lent to Jesus by Joseph of Arimithea… · The women who went to the tomb on the morning of the…

Songs we're singing in Church

Christians are a singing people, it's part of what we do when we gather.

Our church meets morning an evening on a Sunday - normally using 5 songs in each service. So, over the year that's about 520 song-slots available. The report from the database system we use ( tells us that in the past year we've sung about 150 different songs.

Our current most used song has been sung 11 times in the last year, just under once a month. Our top 10 are used about every 6 weeks. By #30 we're talking about songs used every two months. The tail is long and includes loads of classic hymns from across the centuries, plus other songs from the past 40 years, that we have used around once a term or less.

1. Rejoice - Dustin Kensrue

2. Come Praise & Glorify - Bob Kauflin

3. Man of Sorrows - Hillsong

4. Cornerstone - Hillsong

Rejoice was a song I didn't previously know, along with a couple of others that have quickly become firm favourites for me: Chri…