Developing Sermon Outlines — Dr. David L. Allen

September 12, 2013

Thank you, Dr. David L. Allen
SBCToday is delighted and appreciative regarding Dr. David L. Allen’s signal contributions to this blog in the past, and is even more deeply pleased to announce his commitment to post articles here every other week on Thursdays. Dr. Allen has distinguished himself in a variety of ways as a Southern Baptist statesman, as his biograph below reveals. SBCToday expresses heartfelt gratitude to Dr. Allen, and looks forward to many more salient, encouraging posts from his prolific pen.

David L. Allen serves as the Dean of the School of Theology, Professor of Preaching, Director of the Center for Expository Preaching, and holds the George W. Truett Chair of Pastoral Ministry at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas.
Trusting Christ at age nine, young David later responded to God’s call to preach at 16.
He received the B.A. at Criswell College (1978), Master of Divinity at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (1981), and Ph.D. in Humanities with a Major in Linguistics from The University of Texas at Arlington (1987).
During his ministry he served as senior pastor of two churches for a total of 21 years, and has served as interim pastor of a dozen churches.
Dr. Allen has led or been a part of more than 400 revivals, Bible conferences, and lecture series, including study tours in the Philippines, Israel, Oxford and Germany.
Along with numerous other articles and chapters in multi-author volumes, he is the author of:

Hebrews in the New American Commentary Series (Broadman & Holman, 2010);
Lukan Authorship of Hebrews (B&H, 2010); and 1-3 John: Fellowship in God’s Family  in the “Preaching the Word” Series (Crossway, 2013).
Dr. Allen is also the co-editor and contributor of Whosoever Will: A Biblical-Theological Critique of Five-Point Calvinism (Nashville: B&H, 2010),
Text-Driven Preaching­ (Nashville: B&H, 2010),
The Return of Christ: a Premillennial Perspective (B&H, 2011), and
Preach the Word: Essays on Biblical Preaching in Honor of Jerry Vines.

Dr. Allen is currently working on a monograph on the extent of the atonement, and a commentary on Job (Exalting Jesus in Job) in the Christ-Centered Exposition Commentary Series.
He can be followed on Facebook (David Lewis Allen) and on Twitter (@DrDavidLAllen).

Developing Sermon Outlines – Acts 2:41-47 as a Test Case

by Dr. David L. Allen
Dean of the School of Theology
Professor of Preaching
Director of the Center for Expository Preaching
George W. Truett Chair of Pastoral Ministry, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary


Most preachers I know are forever on the lookout for good sermon outlines. Of course, those who preach expositionally will (or should be!) taking their outlines from the text itself. That does not mean the outline will be in the exact form or wording of the text. It does mean that the outline, as a structure for the sermon, should clearly reflect the structure and content of the text.

Take the following sermon outline for Acts 2:41-47:

The early church in Jerusalem had a:

1. Converted Membership (41)
2. Consistent Ministry (42-47a)
3. Continual Multiplication (47b)

I first heard this outline and recorded it in my Bible as a young teenager in my home church when my pastor, Dr. Jerry Vines, was preaching through the book of Acts. Recently I asked Dr. Vines about this outline and he indicated as far as he could recall that it was original with him. Let’s examine whether this three-point outline accurately reflects the text.

The context of Acts 2:41-47 is Peter’s Pentecostal sermon (Acts 2:14-36), followed by Luke’s narrative comments concerning the audience’s response to Peter’s sermon (v. 37) and Peter’s exhortation to the audience in answer to their query concerning what action they should take (vv. 38-39). This is followed by Luke’s concluding summary narrative statement (v. 40) indicating that Peter made many appeals for his audience to respond which Luke has not recorded. The final paragraph of the discourse unit is vv. 41-47. This paragraph constitutes a summary[1] description of the interior life and activity of the church in Jerusalem in the weeks and months following Peter’s sermon.

From the Greek New Testament, two reasons tip the scales in favor of viewing v. 41 as introducing a new paragraph. First, the use of the inferential conjunction oun (“therefore”) logically marks new paragraph onset. Second, the use of the rhetorical device inclusio (inclusion), where the same word is used at the beginning and end of a paragraph to bracket the paragraph, often indicates the boundaries of a paragraph unit. Notice the repetition of the verb prostith?mi (“to add to”) in v. 41, “and there were added,” and again in v. 47, “the Lord added….” Acts 3:1 clearly begins a new discourse and paragraph unit.

Thus, there is good linguistic justification for considering Acts 2:41-47 as a preaching unit. The sentence structure in this paragraph is clearly marked by the use of the conjunction de in Greek. A new sentence is introduced with de in v. 42, v.43, and again in v. 44. The sentence begun in v. 44 ends at v. 47a. Verse 47b begins a new sentence with the conjunction de as well. This oun, de, structure in Greek serves to give cohesion to this paragraph unit.

On the basis of the analysis, Acts 2:41-47 can be divided semantically into three sub-paragraphs: 41, 42-47a; 47b.

Notice several things in the text:

1. Luke focuses on conversion as the precursor for entrance into the church.
2. Those who were converted became actively involved in the local church in Jerusalem.
3. The Lord Himself was adding an ongoing stream of new believers to the church.

It would seem reasonable to “group” the verses in the text together, and the propositions they communicate, in the following three-fold way:

1. Verse 41 contains three propositions, all related to the notion of conversion and its aftermath:

1) People received Peter’s word in the sense they believed it and obeyed it.
2) Those who received the message were baptized.
3) The number of people added to the church was 3,000.

2. Verses 42-47a contain several propositions stating activity within the church and influence on the people outside the church:

1) The people devoted themselves to doctrine, fellowship, breaking of bread, and prayer. [These are actually four propositions but clearly grouped together.] (42)
2) Fear came over everyone [apparently within and without the church]. (43a)
3) The apostles performed many wonders and signs. (43b)
4) All believers were together and shared their goods with each other. (44)
5) Believers sold possessions/property and distributed to those in need. [These are actually two propositions combined.] (45)
6) Devoted themselves to meeting daily in the temple and in homes. [These are actually two propositions combined.] (46)
7) They ate their food with gladness and simplicity. (46b)
8) They praised God and had favor with all the people. [Two propositions combined.] (47a)

3. Verse 47b contains the final proposition in the paragraph:

 1) The Lord added to their number daily those being saved. (47b) [Notice the final proposition in point 3 differs semantically from the previous ones in the second point in that the Lord is the subject.]

Therefore, linguistically there is good justification for dividing Acts 2:41-47 into three sub-units:

1. Verse 41
2. Verses 42-47a
3. Verse 47b.

The structure of the text indicates the early church in Jerusalem had a:

1. Converted Membership (v. 41)
2. Consistent Ministry (vv. 42-47a)
3. Continual Multiplication (v. 47b)

This seems to accurately capture Luke’s point concerning the early church. The outline is more of a content outline than a communication outline in that the lack of a verb/verbal in each phrase makes it a bit static, but it does communicate with reasonable accuracy the content of the passage. One could convert the points into a more contemporary communication outline by adding something like “A church should be characterized by a . . . .”

The use of alliteration works well in this case, though I am not a fan of using alliteration in outlines very much these days. Notice each parallel word in the three, two-word phrases begins with the same letter, and points 1 and 2 have a triple-syllable rhythm.

This outline is workable because it 1) accurately reflects the Greek structure of the paragraph, 2) accurately reflects the overall semantic structure of the passage by grouping the propositions as the text itself does, 3) accurately reflects the summary content communicated in each sub-division of the paragraph, and 4) accurately expresses Luke’s focus in the paragraph.

So, . . . preach it! . . . and thank Dr. Jerry Vines!

[1] Luke makes use of summary statements and summary passages throughout Acts. In one sense, verse 41 is a summary statement that serves a dual function: to close the previous paragraph and introduce a new paragraph. Acts 2:41-47 constitutes a summary passage. Notice that everything in this paragraph is repeated in one fashion or another in the remainder of Acts, especially in Acts 1-7.

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Norm Miller

Dr. Allen: My homiletics professor said, “Any text without a context is a pretext.” Your essay emphasizes an appreciation for and understanding of not just textual sermon prep and preaching, but biblically contextual prep and preaching. Thank you for sharing . We look forward to your next post in two weeks.

Robin Foster

Dr. Allen

That sir is a pretext to great preaching! Thank you. :)

Alan Stoddard

Dr. Allen,

It’s needs a little work. Just kidding :)

When you mentioned the outline came from Dr. Vines, the tension was gone :)

I look forward to seeing you at the Revelation Preaching Conference. Seriously thinking to preach revelation in 2014.

Ben Simpson

I appreciate so much being encouraged to bring the points for preaching out of the text itself. Indeed, what we say in the pulpit must begin with what does the Bible say.

However, I don’t believe that this is a good preaching outline. I’m in no way trying to be contrary or argumentative. I’m simply desiring to discuss preaching outlines. So, I mean nothing personal toward Drs. Vines or Allen. I agree that it’s a great descriptive outline, but is it aimed at nearly knowledge or life-change? There are no timeless principles for living here.

Where is the what Bryan Chapell calls a “Fallen Condition Focus,” which is “the mutual human condition that contemporary believers share with those to or about whom the text was written that requires the grace of the passage for God’s people to glory and enjoy Him” (Christ-Centered Preaching, 2nd ed., 50?

Where is the what John RW Stott calls “bridge-building” between the world of the Bible and the world of the audience (Between Two Worlds135-79? This should certainly show up in our outline.

Where is what Haddon Robinson calls “the Big Idea” (Biblical Preaching)?

Where are what Hershael York & Bert Decker call the “proposition” and the “applicational points” (Preaching with Bold Assurance, 139-43)?

I don’t say this to denigrate Dr Vines. I’m sure that he took that outline and preached eloquently with power and that God did amazing things through it. However, my opinion and the opinion of those who trained me to preach, is that that outline needed to go another step in development. It stopped at description instead of going on to the principle for living, which helps us build sermons to change lives.

These ideas have been instrumental in shaping me as a sermon prepper. They also help with the delivery, but probably the one delivery foundation that has been helpful to me is John Piper’s idea of “expository exultation.” Piper says that preaching should be expository in that it “aims to exposit, or explain and apply, the meaning of the Bible.” But, preaching shouldn’t just have exposition. It should also have exultation. Piper says that preaching should be exultation in that “the preacher does not just explain what’s in the Bible, and the people do not simply try understand what he explains. Rather, the preacher and the people exult over what is in the Bible as it is being explained and applied.” He goes on to say, “Preaching does not come after worship in the order of the service. Preaching is worship. The preacher worships—exults—over the word, trying his best to draw you into a worshipful response by the power of the Holy Spirit. My job is not simply to see truth and show it to you… My job is to see the glory of the truth and to savor it and exult over it as I explain it to you and apply it for you. That’s one of the differences between a sermon and a lecture,” (all of Piper’s quotes are from his article “What I Mean by Preaching,” May 12, 2009, located on the Desiring God website). Just google “expository exultation” to find the article.

    Norm Miller

    Ben: Constructive criticisms are always welcome. Thank you. I am sure Dr. Allen will address your points when he responds, which my not be until next Thursday, actually. Looking at his creds, one can see just how busy he is. In fact, today, he has preached at Cedarville University.

    Alan Stoddard


    The “big idea” here is that of outlining. So, I would assume the thesis, big idea, fallen condition focus, preaching idea, etc. whatever we want to call it – would be included. Why? It’s in Vines book “Power in the pulpit.” Also, I’ve seen old school expositors preach and even when they don’t mention or drive the “main idea” where it is clearly heard, they still do it. Where? It births itself from preaching that is done in context regardless of the outline and how it is worded.

    Do you agree with what I’m saying?

      Ben Simpson


      Undoubtedly, I believe you are right that even if those things weren’t in the outline, they were probably there in the actually deliver. However, if we’re talking about exemplary preaching outlines, those things should be there in the outline. Do you agree?

      As I said earlier, which apparently Ron didn’t believe given his comment below, my comments are in no way a personal attack toward Drs. Vines or Allen. I’m simply trying to add to the discussion about how to develop an exemplary preaching outline.

      Johnathan Pritchett

      I agree with what you are saying, but I also agree with what Ben is saying.

      To me, it is a great outline for description, which Ben stated as well.

      So, to be fair, the outline is just the outline that follows the text, and I think Ben was looking for the sermon that went with it. I don’t think that was Dr. Allen’s aim with the post though. Which is why it seemed to be only 20 minutes worth of sermon material.

      However, because it is a good descriptive outline, all the points of the sermon itself that would fall under those descriptive points should relate to those descriptive points, and be presented in flow with the outline. Were I to go for pedantic precision, I would say those three outline points are more like sermon subject headers than sermon points in the sense Ben was perhaps thinking. The actual “sermon points” would fall underneath these subject headers, and again, I don’t think Dr. Allen’s intent was to give the sermon, just the “outline”, or, in other words, the “subject headers” of the passage from which the sermon points would follow.

      I’d also like to mention that I am right with Piper on “expository exultation.” However, while “expository exultation” is indeed critical, there is a fine line between that, and devolving into pompous, pseudo-pious windbaggery filled with over-embellishment that almost always leads to error and mishandling the text. Many of Piper’s parrots fall into the latter with alarming regularity, but the same could be said of a lot of pastors within any theological camp. So far as I know, not enough people within the SBC are willing to call out and dump on parroting and pompous, pseudo-pious windbaggery that hides behind bomfog’d theological platitudes. Too often, what many pastors and preachers. again, regardless of theological camp, or even age for that matter, think is soaring rhetoric that takes people into new heights is actually just “lofty”, amateurish, sensationalized hackery.

      Having said all that, I don’t think that “preaching” is the primary mode for sermon delivery in corporate worship anyway. Rather, teaching, granting that it is okay for teaching to get “preachy” on occasion, is what pastors should primarily do in corporate worship. If they want to preach, there are plenty of strip mall parking lots available for venue. I am not convinced by the arguments many try to make when they to point to verses where preaching and teaching both appear and then assume without any warrant that the words are merely interchangeable and do not refer to separate modes of communication with different aims and content without regard to other Biblical, lexical, and social factors that make such assumptions fall flat.

        Norm Miller

        My sentiments, too, Johnathan. I agreed with the content Ben prefers, but I did not see the outline as exhaustive of all the content necessary. What Ben suggests, I believe, would develop as the rest of the sermon developed. And yes, my preacher daddy hollered in the pulpit and hollered at home. I didn’t see much diff. Hollerin’ for hollerin’s sake is just, well, hollerin’. Talk to me; don’t scream at me.

          Johnathan Pritchett

          Yeah, I can agree with Ben’s sentiments, but I just think he was looking for something beyond the scope of the post. The sermon that should result, per the criteria Ben helpfully listed, should follow that “outline” on the one hand, and pertain to the content of the text on the other.

          I actually do like it when preachers yell, on some occasions, but that, again, is not really “preaching” in the Biblical sense, but rather, is a prophetic warning, which that sort of delivery should normally be reserved for either the lost when they have rejected the Gospel (like Jesus in Matthew 23), or the church acting like the lost in the form of a rebuke. But to actually preach to the lost should be as the Bible defines it, which is namely, the glad tidings of the Gospel. In a Gospel presentation, I don’t even think it is proper to call things like hell, wrath, judgment, etc. “the bad news” before getting to the “good news.”

          Even in Jesus’ teaching on hell, or “perishing”, which many are both right and quick to point out he did more than anyone else, it is often left out that while it is a negative thing, it is often presented in the context of positive teachings (unless it is found in a prophetic warning like the aforementioned Matthew 23), and that hell is essentially a good thing that exists in which it is bad to end up there when there is a better option for both living in the present and spending eternity in the future. The same could be said about Biblical data on wrath, destruction, perishing, etc. It all redounds to God’s glory on the one hand, and redounds to the “good news” that God is good enough to punish evil rather than sit indifferent to it on the other. That dynamic is often left out when people preach and teach about hell as it relates to the Gospel. Sadly, wrath and hell is too often taught as just the “bad news” before getting to the “good news”.

          This is bad Gospel preaching and teaching in my opinion, and it is way too humanistic. What I mean is that sort of “Gospel preaching” which says, “You are going to hell, but you don’t have to. It would be better and more happy if you didn’t, so believe in Jesus, and you don’t have to go there.”


          Hell itself is good news. God will punish evil. That it includes the audience because of their sin and evil must be coupled, as it normally is in Scripture, with the appeal to the Imago Dei in which the guilty, sinful and lost audience still has a sense and longing for justice. Preaching the wrath of God without appeal to not just His holiness, but His goodness, fails to give God the glory He deserves for having wrath against sin in the first place. I.e. that God is good as well as holy (totally other/separate).

          Sadly, we don’t keep all these distinctions (or definitions) as clear in evangelicalism as we ought.


    Ben, I do not believe that this would be the end of sermon prep. At SEBTS, we would take the the divisions and expound with Explanation, Illustration, Argumentation and Application, we would have division statements, introductions, conclusions, and so on. We would also have outlined the text and preached the sermon without notes. But, as far as he goes, Dr. Allen is spot on (except perhaps for the unneeded alliteration). This is not a textbook, but rather an example of letting the text guide your sermon.

Darryl Brunson

Dr. Allen, great stuff. We use verse 42 as what we want to characterize our personal and corporate lives. We want to be continually devoted to His Word (apostle’s doctrine), His People (fellowship), His Sacrifice (the breaking of bread), and His Presence (prayers). We feel that if this is true in our lives we will be seen as those who (verse 47) are praising God (thoughts, words, and actions), have favor with all the people (the community or surrounding area is glad we are here). This will hopefully lead to God adding to our number day by day those being saved. Oh, how I want to get some of that Old Time Religion.

Ron F. Hale

After reading your lecture to Dr. Vines on preaching — may I humbly suggest to you a tiny book: A little exercise for young theologians by Dr. Helmut Thielicke.

    Ben Simpson


    With all due respect, give me a break. My comment above demonstrates that I lectured no one and directed nothing at Dr Vines or Dr Allen. I’m afraid I don’t have access to that book you’ve recommended. Perhaps you could give me a quick summary.

    BTW, since I commented on the outline, how about you? What do you think about the outline as a preaching outline?

Robert Vaughn

I read this post with interest and find some helpful things in it regarding the structure of Acts 2:41-47. “Outlines from the text itself” should be a basic approach to both understanding and teaching. Yet in some ways this seems like “preaching to the choir.” Maybe the readers of this blog constitute a consistent choir who all agree with the presupposition that preaching should be expositional. I have been hoping to read some material that not only presupposes it, but interacts with the styles of the preaching examples we have in the New Testament. Should we or should we not preach that way? Are the evangelistic gospel sermons preached to mixed crowds also examples of the teaching of gathered body of believers? Was the sermon proper (as we understand it) the basic unit of teaching in the NT churches, or were there often more interactive services? Maybe that is out there somewhere, but I haven’t found it. This is not a direct complaint against David Allen’s thoughts here, but just bounces off of what seems to be a general assumption that all/almost all/the best preaching must be expository.

I am glad to read that a Professor of Preaching at a leading Baptist Seminary is “not a fan of using alliteration in outlines very much these days.” Another not a fan says, “Amen!” If alliteration is a good thing, the constant drumbeat of alliterative point after alliterative point and alliterative sub-points is too much of a good thing that is both cloying and annoying (not to mention a rare part of normal communication outside sermon outlines). May his tribe increase!

    Johnathan Pritchett

    “Are the evangelistic gospel sermons preached to mixed crowds also examples of the teaching of gathered body of believers?”

    For the most part, no. At least, not in the ancient equivalent of a “corporate worship” setting. What we do find primarily in both the OT and the NT is the study of Scripture among the gathered believers (and apparently, men and women prophesying as well…which is the modern equivalent of today’s “sermon”…people get confused on what prophesy actually entails, and it isn’t simply “prediction”), as well as the hearing of epistles and Gospels that will become Scripture for us.

    Now, just my preference, but I think that the steady diet of sermons from the pulpit on Sunday morning should be expository teaching (preaching really is the wrong word here). That does not negate topical sermons altogether though.

    I think that if a church meets three times a week, Sunday morning should primarily be NT expository sermons. Sunday night should be doctrine, theology, topical sermons, and apologetics, and then Wednesday night Bible Study should be expository sermons on the OT. Though one could swap out Sunday night and Wednesday night.

    Now, because introductions to commentaries are getting longer and longer, a pastor taking a few weeks to prepare for the next NT book for sermons leaves open room for topical sermons, guest speakers, holiday specific sermons, etc.

    Sprinkling topical sermons on Sunday morning is a great way to boost Sunday night (or Wednesday night) attendance by giving a preview of the stuff one presents that those who do not normally attend those times miss out on. On the flip side, if one just does topical sermons on Sunday mornings, and does book studies some other time, going straight through a book on Sunday morning to break it up might garner interest the other way around. Though my preference is the Sunday morning sermon being expository, it is just that…preference. While I think that is the best thing, I certainly am not going to be all weird, legalistic, and dogmatic about it.

    But the ever-popular “sermon series” of topical sermons these days makes my head hurt, because the pastor dictates to Scripture what will be spoken from it, where as expository preaching means the Scripture dictates things (though the pastor chooses the book). I find that to be the better option.

    Far too many thrice-weekly meeting SBC churches do topical sermons for either two or even all three meetings (note how the prayer time on Wednesday nights gets shorter and shorter every year), and no one in the congregation really learns the Bible that way.

    As for preaching the evangelistic Gospel sermon, I agree with the guy in Houston at the SBC thing who challenged pastors to get out from the safety of the pulpit and four walls of the church building, and get into the highways and byways if they want to preach the evangelistic Gospel sermon.

    One of the best lines from an episode of the West Wing (yes, I like shows about liberals) was when Communications Director spoke to a new hire about his speech writing, He said:”You’re alliteration happy: “guardians of gridlock,” “protectors of privilege.” I needed an avalanche of Advil.

      Norm Miller

      Johnathan: Like you, I want exegesis. But one guy said, “Don’t give me exegesis, just give me Jesus!”
      Nah, really, I truly enjoy both hearing and preparing/delivering exegetical/expository sermons. But after a diet of such “steak,” a little lobster in the form of a topical/exegetical sermon is refreshing. Topical w/o exegesis is like a topical medicine — it sinks only skin deep — uh, pretty shallow.

      Robert Vaughn

      Thanks for your comments, Johnathan. I agree with you, at least as far as I understand it. I realize there is one part of my question I didn’t make clear, which I’ll mention in a bit.

      My own practice is mainly expository/textual teaching. Once in awhile what I do might be better described as running commentary. But mostly I take a section of scripture (usually a paragraph) and teach from that portion, drawing out its meanings by its “points and sub-points”. This fits well with what I do — not using notes or outlines in the pulpit. The outline is right in front of you there in the text. I do also include topical studies, which in my case is going to be something like a brief biblical theology of a Bible subject, e.g. baptism. We need exposition of parts of scripture, continuous connected study through books of the Bible, and putting together in one understanding the scattered teachings on a topic to get a full picture of the message God has sent to us, in my opinion. [I can’t imagine a good Baptist who hasn’t preached a topical sermon on baptism! :-) ]

      I have seen some preachers who seem to preach much the same sermon whether they start out expository, topical, or something else, and regardless of what text they use. They end up in the same place. As to the evangelistic Gospel sermon, though not always out of place in the church building, it mostly needs to get into the highways and byways, as you say. Not sure how common it is now, but when I was growing up it seemed to be fairly common for preachers to preach gospel or salvation sermons on Sunday mornings. No wonder the regular Sunday morning crowd never developed into more than basic Bible students!

      But one thing I meant re the illustration of what is normally dubbed a sermon in the New Testament, is not just that the content was evangelistic, but that the style itself — an oration or lecture by one person — may have been mostly used for evangelism rather than church edification and growth. This is pretty much the style we’ve adopted in church meetings. But some of the church meetings in the New Testament seem to have been more open for input, such as Paul’s dialogue in Troas, or those in Corinth yielding to someone else who had something to say.

      Thanks again.

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