Soul-to-Soul not Paper-to-Paper

A well-used Bible is a dear friend and sometimes needs to be rebound. The seminary library where I taught had access to a book bindery, and I had my Bible nicely rebound. When a friend of my oldest daughter needed her Bible rebound, I suggested we do it through the seminary. When I received the Bible, there were sermon notes stuck in the Bible every few pages. It took some time to pick them all out so the Bible could be rebound. I wondered, “What did this young lady do with all those notes?” I shook my head. Her Bible was a storage bin.

When you look around in church during morning worship, quite a few people are avidly taking notes. And some pastors organize their sermons to help the people take notes. The objective seems to be to facilitate the transfer of information from the pastor’s notes to the people’s notes. If that’s the goal, I ponder, “Why not just reduplicate the pastor’s notes and pass them out to the congregation?” OK! Perhaps I’m overstating the case. But there is a philosophy of ministry here. In my view, preaching is to be heart to heart or soul-to-soul instead of paper-to-paper.

As I have indicated elsewhere, good communication is a two-way street. When you cultivate this reciprocal relation, it involves a mutual sympathy of soul-to-soul. R. L. Dabney (1979) writes, “The heavenly flame must be kindled first in your own bosom, that by the law of sympathy it may radiate thence into the souls of your hearers” (p. 247). W. G. T. Shedd (1877) emphasizes the need for plainness in preaching style. Consider his statement in light of the reciprocal soul-to-soul relation between preacher and people.

There is a prodigious power in this plainness of presentation. It is the power of actual contact. The plain writer, or speaker, makes the truth and the mind impinge upon each other. When the style is plain, the mind of the hearer experiences the sensation of being touched; and this sensation is always impressive, for the man starts when he is touched (p. 64).

Remember the importance of non-verbals in the communication process. See the previous post. When the preacher frequently consults his notes, he breaks eye contact with the people. Note-takers also often break eye contact with the preacher, concentrating on their note-taking task. The more notes there are between the pastor and the congregation, the less eye contact there may be. The less cognizance of facial expression and body language there is. This note-taking process, therefore, impedes two-way communication.

The sermon should be constructed as oral communication to strike the soul, to “touch” and “start” the people. The sermon is an arrow to pierce the heart. Therefore, Jonathan Edwards (1987) says, “The main benefit obtained by preaching is by the impression made upon the mind in the time of it, and not by an effect that arises afterwards by a remembrance of what was delivered” (p. 394).

In this same context, Martyn Lloyd-Jones (2014) says: “I would add that I have often discouraged the taking of notes while I am preaching. It is becoming a custom among evangelical people; but it is not, as many seem to think, the hallmark of spirituality!” (p. 360). Tim Keller (2006) frames the discussion as follows:

The informational view of preaching conceives of preaching as changing people’s lives after the sermon. They listen to the sermon, take notes, and then apply the Biblical principles during the week. But this assumes that our main problem is a lack of compliance to Biblical principles when, in fact, our problems are due to a lack of joy and belief in the gospel. If that’s our real problem, then the purpose of preaching is to make Christ so real to the heart that in the sermon itself people have an experience of God’s grace such that false idols and false saviors lose their power and grip us on the spot. That’s the experimental view of preaching we see in someone like Jonathan Edwards.

It may be that note-taking during sermons was a Puritans innovation. In his discussion of Puritan preaching, Joseph Pipa (1985) quotes Millar Maclure to the effect that, “Note-taking at sermons was very common” (p. 30). Pipa goes on to say, “Sermon note-taking, in fact, was taught in school” (p. 30). And the practice may be the outgrowth of Scholastic teaching. John Broadus (1893) notes, “The scholastic method of dividing and subdividing without end reappears in these great Puritan preachers as nowhere else” (p. 204). Pipa goes on to quote William Mitchell: “Mitchell relates that one Puritan schoolmaster expected his students to record: ‘1. The text, or part of it. 2. To mark as neere as they can, and set down every doctrine, and what proofs they can, the reasons and the uses of them’” (Pipa, 30).

But Lloyd-Jones (1971) adds this note about the Puritans: “I think we need to be judicious in our use of preachers like the Puritans. The danger is that we read them and say, ‘This is marvelous, this is the way to do it.’ But if you try to emulate them, you may find that it is not the way for you to do it” (p. 197).

Jared Wilson (2015) quotes a Tim Keller sermon, saying, “I don’t mind if you take notes at the beginning of a message, but if you’re still taking notes at the end, I feel like I have not brought it [the message] home.” Keller follows Edwards (1987) at this point, “The main benefit obtained by preaching is by the impression made upon the mind in the time of it, and not by an effect that arises afterwards by a remembrance of what was delivered” (p. 394). Design your sermons and Bible lessons to be gospel arrows that strike and pierce heart and soul at the time of teaching or preaching.

Denny Prutow
Copyright © 2020

Broadas, J. (1893). Lectures on the History of Preaching. New York: Armstrong and Son.
Edwards, J. (1987). The Works of Jonathan Edwards (Vol. 1). Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth.
Keller, T. (2006). “Informational vs experiential preaching.” Retrieved from
Lloyd-Jones, D. M. (1971). Preaching and Preachers. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.
Lloyd-Jones, D. M. (2014). The Puritans, Their Origins and Successors. Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth.
Pipa, J. William Perkins and the development of puritan preaching (Unpublished doctoral dissertation). Westminster
Theological Seminary, Philadelphia, PA.
Shedd, W. (1877). Homiletics and Pastoral Theology. New York: Scribner, Armstrong & Co.
Wilson, J. (2015). “Thoughts on note-taking during sermons.” Retrieved from

2020-03-06T13:27:25-04:00 March 9th, 2020|