The exegetical proposition focuses on the original audience with its historical and cultural context. The sermon proposition focuses on the cultural context of the preacher’s audience. The universal theological proposition provides a necessary bridge from the text to the audience that enables the preacher to combine relevance with authority.
The exegetical proposition for a sermon based upon John 13:1-17 might be, "Jesus in his divinity did not shy away from true humility because he knew who he was and who he loved." This is based upon John’s summary statement in John 13:1 that "Jesus knew that the time had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he now showed them the full extent of his love."
The theological proposition, stated once again, is "True divinity is compatible with loving humility and is not afraid to act upon it."
The sermon proposition takes the theological idea and frames it with the audience in view. In this case, Jesus’ humility is presented as an example for the disciples to follow. The idea might focus on the nature of the task: "The greatest thing we can do for God is usually the thing at hand." Or the proposition might focus on the compatibility between humility and greatness: "The surest path to greatness is the lowest path."
Bringing Theology to Life
The theological burden of the sermon may require repackaging for postmodern listeners, who feel that it is necessary to experience truth to "know" that it is true. When preaching to such an audience, it is often necessary to expose them to theology through the back door of analogy and illustration.
One of the best models of this kind of theological preaching can be found in sermons of the 18 century preacher Jonathan Edwards. Edwards was a theological and exegetical preacher. "His sermons," Conrad Cherry writes, "even his most revivalistic ones, were carefully constructed monuments to biblical exegesis, as they followed the tripartite scheme of clarification of biblical text, elaboration of doctrine implicit in the text, and application of text and doctrine to the lives of his hearers."
Edwards was a master of using vivid imagery and concrete analogy so that the theological truths he preached would impact listeners on an experiential level.Cherry points to Edwards’ most famous sermon, "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God," as a prime example: "The pattern of the scene which Edwards paints in this sermon follows the track of typologizing: from the literal to the symbolic, from the concrete to the spiritual; from beholding an oven and touching a hot coal (common enough experiences for eighteenth-century New Englanders) to eternal consumption by flame; from enduring intense pain a minute, then several minutes, to imagining the torment of constant, unrelieved pain."