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.