Gavin Ortlund has a great peice on Tim Keller's thought on preaching over at The Gospel Coalition. Below is a excerpt.
Tim Keller argues that there are six characteristics of preaching that effectively engages the heart. I list them here, with my top personal takeaway from each.
1. Preach culturally.
If our preaching does not engage with the competing narratives of our surrounding culture, Keller argued, it will simply bounce off the surface of many listeners, rather than engaging their hearts. For instance, take the view that if two people really love each other, it is fine for them to have sex. To deflate this myth, preachers cannot simply expound a biblical view of sexuality and then expect listeners to connect the dots on their own. The preacher must show how biblical truth intersects with these cultural beliefs, and how it is far more fulfilling and meaningful. How many of my sermons have failed to do this! And what a difference it can make!
2. Preach from the heart.
People need to sense the preacher has been wounded and repaired by the text. Many preachers try too hard to be good at preaching, or to be passionate in their preaching. In order to do this, preachers must (1) know their material cold and (2) have a rich prayer life.
3. Preach imaginatively.
One of the great misconceptions about sermon illustrations is that they must always be stories. Images and word pictures can also powerful. For instance, in his famous sermon “Sinner in the Hands of an Angry God,” Jonathan Edwards said, “All your righteousness would have no influence to uphold you or keep you out of hell, any more than a spider’s web could stop a falling rock.” Connecting the abstract truth to a concrete, sensory experience can position it for stronger appeal to the heart.
4. Preach practically.
One of the most helpful ways to do application is the dialogical approach: ask questions. The more specific the questions, the better. Keller put it vividly: “You almost need to turn some parts of the sermon into counseling.” Imagine you are sitting in a counseling scenario and talking directly to someone, and then do exactly that in the sermon.
5. Preach wondrously.
J. R. R. Tolkien said that fairy tales continue to be popular because they give you stories in which characters escape time, escape death, hold communion with non-human beings, find perfect love, and triumph over evil. The gospel fulfills all these deep human longings. So do we preach this way? Is there a sense of wonder in our preaching?
6. Preach Christocentrically.
Preachers cannot appeal to the heart unless they preach Christ from each text. Keller referenced a comment from his wife, Kathy, to him early on in his preaching that until it gets to Jesus, it’s just a lecture, not a sermon. But when the sermon gets to Jesus, everyone puts their pens down, and instead of feeling like they are walking, people feel like they are flying. Worship happens.
Watch Tim Keller speak at our 2105 National Conference in Orlando, Florida.