In his book Why Johnny Can’t Preach, T. David Gordon taps an old book (Sacred Rhetoric by Robert Lewis Dabney, circa 1870) for “The Seven Cardinal Requisites of Preaching.” I think it’s a helpful list. Gordon writes:
These seven requisites (not excellences, but requisites) are seven minimal requirements that Dabney believed (and his reviewers agreed) were essential to every sermon. None of these seven categories is subjective; each is perfectly susceptible of objective evaluation.
Here’s the list, with some elaboration:
- Textual Fidelity – the sermon declares the text, rather than one’s own insights, opinions, and convictions;
- Unity – the sermon is governed by the main idea of the text, rather than a series of unrelated ideas;
- Evangelical Tone – the sermon brings us to our need of God, and God’s provision of that need through Christ;
- Instructiveness – the sermon engages the mind and reshapes the way we see God and the world; it is not full of clich√©s, slogans, and general truths;
- Movement – the sermon unfolds with a sense of progress and momentum;
- Point – the sermon brings the listener to a point of response or verdict;
- Order – the parts are arranged to contribute to the whole.
These could be simplified a little, but it’s a pretty good grid to use. Although this list is challenging, you don’t have to be exceptionally gifted to preach a sermon with these characteristics.
If you’re preaching this Easter, by the way, I found this reminder helpful:
My encouragement to all Christian preachers is to not get too fancy on Easter.
It is the day we want to be incredibly clear about the death of Jesus for our sins and the resurrection of Jesus for our salvation. We do not need to be clever. We need to be clear. And we need to add to that clarity a fitting and authentic excitement for the victory of Jesus Christ over Satan, sin, death, hell, and the wrath of God while calling sinners to be saved.