Dabney’s 7 Points for Preaching

R. L. Dabney

T. David Gordon’s Why Johnny Can’t Preach is responsible for bringing R.L. Dabney’s (1820 – 98) 7 “cardinal requisites” back on my radar. I’m generally against “New Year’s Resolutions” as being far too American and theologia gloriae (wink, wink), but I do hope to reflect more proactively to my own preaching in light of Dabney’s requisites for the year to come.

When I first read these, I was surprised to see nothing about “Christ-centered,” “redemptive historical,” etc. Now, I would suggest that Dabney is getting more at preaching method than content. Thoughts? Without further ado, then, the 7 “cardinal requisites:”

1. Textual Fidelity
“Since the mind of God is disclosed in Scripture, the sermon must be entirely faithful to the text-a genuine exposition of the particular thought of a particular text.”

2. Unity
“Unity requires two things. The speaker must, first, have one main subject of discourse, to which he adheres with supreme reference throughout. But this is not enough. He must, second, propose to himself one definite impression on the hearer’s soul, to the making of which everything in the sermon is bent.”

3. Evangelical Tone
“It is defined by Vinet as ‘the general savour of Christianity, a gravity accompanied by tenderness, a severity tempered with sweetness, a majesty associated with intimacy.’”

4. Instructiveness
“The instructive sermon is that which abounds in food for the understanding. It is full of thought, and richly informs the mind of the hearer.”

5. Movement
“It is, in short, that force thrown from the soul of the orator into his discourse, by which the soul of the hearer is urged, with a constant and accelerated progress, toward that practical impression which is the designed result.”

6. Point
“Point is thus a result of unity, movement, and order, which put a convincing, compelling weight on the soul of the hearer. The hearer feels a certain point impressing itself on him, and feels that he must either agree or disagree, assent or deny.”

7. Order
“Order is simply the proper arrangement of the parts, so that what is earlier prepares for what is later. A well-ordered sermon reveals a sermon’s unity, makes the sermon memorable, and gives the sermon point.”

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