Sunukjian, Donald R. Invitation to Biblical Preaching: Proclaiming Truth with Clarity and Relevance. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel 2007.
Don Sunukjian, a key figure in evangelical homiletics, has just released his magnum opus, Invitation to Biblical Preaching. Sunukjian, professor of preaching and chair of the Christian Ministry and Leadership department at Talbot School of Theology, has contributed to many books on preaching and to this website. Now he has given us his long awaited, comprehensive statement of his homiletic approach.
The primary interest of the book is the presentation of the Scripture with “clarity” and with “relevance.” The book succeeds on both counts. Sunukjian has always championed clarity in the presentation of Scripture while at the same time emphasizing the life situation of the listeners. It is this dual approach that makes his preaching so effective.
Sunukjian is a careful expositor of Scripture in the classic declarative mode. Much of what he offers follows the lead of his close friend and mentor Haddon Robinson, though sometimes with altered terminology. For example, Robinson’s “big idea” becomes the “take-home truth” in Sunukjian’s treatment. This reflects his concern to especially emphasize the application element of the sermon, something that Robinson also appreciates.
Sunukjian’s process moves from “the passage outline” (what happened) to “the truth outline” (what happens) to “the sermon outline” (what is happening). Note, however, that the sermon is always outlined. The idea of plotting a sermon, or utilizing narrative or genre-specific approaches to the task is not given a great deal of space in the book.
The strength of this book is its detail. Every instruction is carefully illustrated through examples from biblical texts, serving to help the reader understand exactly what he has in mind. Sunukjian’s own preaching bubbles up through the text on almost every page.
Preaching can take many forms. There is no one way to get to the result of a biblically faithful sermon, thus writers like Sunukjian offer us the best advice they know on the subject. In this case, the instruction offered is a bit complicated. Yet, preachers who follow it will serve their congregations well.
“To present the true and exact meaning of the biblical text” means the sermon must unfold according to the natural flow of thought of the biblical author. If Isaiah were listening to a sermon from his writings, he should be thinking to himself, “Yes, that’s what I was saying, and that’s how it fits this crowd.” But if Isaiah hears the sermon, shakes his head, and says, “What? No! No!” the preacher is in trouble. Biblical preaching takes great pains to present the ideas and sequence of thought of the inspired biblical author.” (10)