PRACTICAL APPLICATION VERSUS HEAVY DOCTRINE
Many sermons you hear these are divided into two camps: heavy on practical application (how to live out the Bible in your daily life) or heavy on doctrine (what does this text teach us about God). Those who are heavy on application tend to tell a lot of personal stories and avoid explaining theological categories–believing that they be over too many people’s heads or may end up sounding boring; while those who are heavy on doctrine tend to spend quite a bit of time describing details of a text/background/theological which may not have been necessary for the average listener and leave many wondering what is the relevance to this text to my everyday life. This divide (application versus doctrine) leaves many hungering for “deeper” sermons and others for more “how to” applications…
To help us understand how to create applications which are faithfully extracted from the text of Scripture, we would do well to hear the advice of the English puritan William Perkins–a man who wrote one of the first books on preaching ever published in the English language. He argues that good sermons not only faithfully explain Bible texts in their respective contexts, but also show how doctrine is derived from the passages and how they might be applied in daily life. These sermons are both doctrinal and applicable! He gives us two broad categories of application (mental and practice), each of which are broken down into categories. Such an approach is relevant for us as we seek to be theologically faithful to the text and relevant to our hearers.
Here are his categories and some words of caution (taken from ch. 8 of ‘The Art of Prophesyings’):
Mental application= doctrine and reproof
Doctrine: “biblical teaching is used to inform the mind to enable it to come to a right judgment about what is to be believed.”
Reproof: “using biblical teaching in order to recover the mind from error.”
Warnings: 1. Understand the issue thoroughly; 2. Reprove only the errors which currently trouble the church; 3. If the error is not foundational to the gospel, then reprove in a gentle fashion.
Practical application= instruction and correction
Instruction: “the application of doctrine to enable us to live well in the context of the family, the state and the church”= encouragement and exhortation
Correction: “the application of doctrine in a way that transforms lives marked by ungodliness and unrighteousness”=admonition
Warnings: 1. Our expressions of hatred for sin must always be accompanied by obvious love for the person; 2. Include oneself in reproofs if possible; 3. All four (doctrine, reproof, instruction, correction) can be used for nearly every verse, but its best to only use ones that relevant to the present condition and circumstances of the church.”