The title of this book is sure to garner attention and even surprise from full-time pastors and preachers. To this, Piper offers his rationale behind the title:
The title of this book is meant to shake us loose from the pressure to fit in to the cultural expectations of professionalism. It is meant to sound an alarm against the pride of station and against the expectation of parity in pay and against the borrowing of paradigms from the professional world. Of for the radically Bible-saturated, God-centered, Christ-exalting, self-sacrificing, mission-mobilizing, soul-saving, culture-confronting pastors!
Piper divides this book into 30 short chapters that may serve well as a devotional for pastors to read one chapter a day, thus finishing the book by the end of the month. These chapters deal with different areas. The first area Piper addresses is the love of the true nature and glory of God. He lays an excellent foundation for the pastor’s ministry in rightly representing God’s character before his people. Piper also encourages pastors to have a love for the doctrines of the Scriptures by rightly dividing the Word of truth, even the hard texts.
Piper also encourages a love for the church of Jesus Christ. He exhorts pastors to avoid sacred substitutes and man-made traditions which add to and take from the Scriptures all at once. Piper also encourages pastors to actively minister to their people during times of affliction and tragedy, giving them the sacred promises of God and assurance of his presence. He also encourages pastors to preach salvation not just to the lost but also to the saints so they will persevere in the faith.
Piper then encourages pastors to maintain a strong and healthy devotional life. He promotes the priority of prayer, as well as the reading of Christian biography. Pastors must see themselves as fellow servants of Christ and the church and therefore must sincerely model a walk with Christ before their people.
• “[God’s love for his glory] is no isolated note in the symphony of redemptive history. It is the ever-recurring motif of the all-sufficient Composer” (7).
• “The holiness of God is the absolutely unique and infinite value of His being and His majesty. To say that our God is holy means that His value is infinitely greater than the sum of the value of all created beings” (13).
• “Paul warns against any view of God which makes Him the beneficiary of our beneficence. His informs us that God cannot be served in any way that implies we are meeting His needs. It would be as though a stream should try to fill a spring that feeds it” (40).
• “Prayer is the coupling of primary and secondary causes. It is the splicing of our limp wire to the lightning bolt of heaven” (53).
• “Since preaching and the pastoral ministry in general are a great means to the saints’ perseverance, the goal of a pastor is not merely to edify the saints but to save the saints. What is at stake on Sunday morning is not merely the upbuilding of the church but its eternal salvation” (106).
• “The issue of racial prejudice and snubbing and suspicion and mistreatment is not a social issue; it is a blood-of-Jesus issue. When you get the conviction and the courage to say something about it to your people, tell them you are not becoming a social-gospeler but a lover of the blood-bought blessings of the cross of Christ” (197).
John Piper stands as a pastor and scholar captivated by displaying the glory of God in all things. As a result, he sees the professionalization of pastors diametrically opposed to exalting the glory of God in preaching and ministry. God must set the course for Spirit-led pastoral ministry and not the agendas of the world. John Piper’s book is a much-needed tonic for the contemporary evangelical world that looks to the culture first in order to address cultural issues. Piper declares:
We are most emphatically not part of a social team sharing goals with other professionals. Our goals are an offense; they are foolishness (1 Cor. 1:13). The professionalization of the ministry is a constant threat to the gospel. It is a threat to the profoundly spiritual nature of our work (3).
This statement sets this book apart from other books dealing with pastoral ministry which are pragmatic and program-laden in nature.
What strikes the reader most is the difference of perspective between Piper and those of the New Homiletic and the Emergent Church. Whereas these two movement seek (whether intentionally or unintentionally) to move away from the sole authority of Scripture to a more open and conversant style of ministry, Piper sprints toward Scripture’s authority thus giving traction to the pastor’s message and ministry.
One of the great strengths of this book is Piper’s dogged determination to support every belief he preaches from Scripture. This fact alone distinguishes this book from the majority of other so-called Christian books. Piper seeks to establish every principle he puts forth on the basis of Scripture. All pastors would do well to model this practice of his. He notes:
Where pastors can no longer articulate and defend doctrine by a reasonable and careful appeal to the original meaning of Biblical texts, they will tend to become close-minded traditionalists who clutch their inherited ideas, or open-ended pluralists who don’t put much stock in doctrinal formulations. In both cases the succeeding generations will be theologically impoverished and susceptible to error (84).
This exhortation serves the pastors and their churches well. In many Baptist state conventions, a large amount of rhetoric comes forth from these entities against the ill effects of alcohol and gambling. In regards to alcohol, traditionalists advocate total abstinence — even though the Bible never explicitly advocates this understanding. In regards to gambling, few biblical references accompany the high rhetoric against the lottery and casinos, although exceptions to exist.
In Chapter 21, entitled “Brothers, Don’t Fight Flesh Tanks with Peashooter Regulations,” Piper unfolds the controversy within himself and ultimately the church in dealing with the subject of alcohol. The majority of Baptist churches contain a clause in their church covenant calling for abstinence of alcohol. To this, Piper responds, “I am persuaded that such a regulation for church membership falls into the category of legalistic exclusivism and stands under the judgment of the apostolic word in Scripture” (152). Piper describes legalism as “the terrible mistake of treating Biblical standards of conduct as regulations to be kept by our own power in order to show our moral prowess and earn God’s favor” (153). Again, on every level, the reader sees Piper’s desire to honor God and his Word in every area, even in areas that may cause great controversy and even dismissal from a ministry position. He makes the pastor and preacher think through each of the issues he holds dear and to examine those issues under the white-hot light of the Spirit-inspired Scriptures.
Piper uses the gospel to address to distressing social issues of our time: racism and abortion. In Chapter 26 (“Brothers, Sever the Root of Racism”), Piper asks, “Are our churches thermometers registering the racial attitudes and actions of the world; or are they thermostats raising the warmth of commitment to racial understanding and love and demonstrable harmony” (197)? Instead of appealing to another social construct to turn the church away from racism, he appeals to the Scriptures’ discussion of the barrier broken down between Jew and Gentile (Ephesians 2:11-22). In addressing the issue of abortion, Piper adamantly exhorts pastors to exhibit courage to stand and fight for those who cannot fight for themselves.
I believe pastors should put their lives and ministries on the line in this issue. The cowardice of some pastors when it comes to preaching against abortion appalls me. Many treat the dismemberment of unborn humans as an untouchable issue on the par with partisan politics…. The law of our land is immoral and unjust. That should be declared from tens of thousands of pulpits in America (212).
One rather convicting area Piper addresses to pastors is the issue of continually using and understanding the biblical languages. Piper believes that the languages in our churches and denominations should be “cherished, promoted, and sought” (82). He believes that the reason that expository preaching has lost its luster among the churches is because it lacks “precision and clarity” (83) along with the problem that preachers “tend to be second-handers. The harder it is for us to get at the original meaning of the Bible, the more we will revert to the secondary literature. … Secondhand food will not sustain and deepen our people’s faith and holiness” (83).
While this book stands tall above the majority of other books on pastoral ministry, one weakness is the intensity that Piper brings to the book. Clearly, the Puritans’ influence on Piper shows. When Piper noted how the Puritans preached salvation not just to the lost but also to the saints, he says, “What is at stake on Sunday morning is not merely the upbuilding of the church but its eternal salvation. It is not hard to see why the Puritans were so serious” (106). Piper is short on humorous anecdotes and illustrations in this book and for a reason. He does not want to give pastors the idea that pastoral ministry should not be taken with utmost gravity and seriousness. Yet Piper shares so many convictions in this book that he deems necessary, the reader risks being overwhelmed under the load, which may serve as Piper’s point.
I have read this work several times over the past five years and would highly recommend this book to every preacher and pastor. Pastors need to reclaim the understanding of the high calling God has placed on them. Piper’s contagious attitude toward the glories of Christ and the love for the church is refreshing and illuminating. This would stand as one of the first books I would recommend to any pastor, regardless of age or experience.
Piper, John. Brothers,
We Are Not Professionals. Nashville, TN:
Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2002. 286 pp.
I am genuinely excited about Graeme Goldsworthy coming to Southern Seminary this Spring. He will speak on Tuesday, March 18, in Alumni Chapel at 10:00 a.m. In my Old Testament class for my DMin, I first became acquainted with Goldsworthy and his book “Preaching the Whole Bible as Christian Scripture” (see my review of this book) and his most recent work, Gospel-Centered Hermeneutics.
Here are some links to help you get to know more about Dr. Goldsworthy.
- Buzzard Blog: Graeme Goldsworthy Interview
- IVP – Graeme Goldsworthy: Biographical information about Goldsworthy;
- Articles from him at Monergism.com;
- More books by Goldsworthy!
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I am currently working through William Perkins’ “The Art of Prophesying” (a Puritan way of saying ‘preaching’). Sinclair Ferguson does wonders in making this readable for today’s preachers, yet still capturing the spirit of what Perkins communicates. Consider how he begins this book:
There are two parts to prophecy: preaching the Word and public prayer. For the prophet (that is, the minister of the Word) has only two duties. One is preaching the Word, and the other is praying to God in the name of the people: ‘Having … prophecy, let us prophesy in proportion to our faith’ (Rom. 12:6); ‘Restore the man’s wife, for he is a prophet, and he will pray for you and you shall live’ (Genesis 20:7). Notice that in Scripture the word ‘prophecy’ is used of prayer as well as of preaching: ‘The sons of Asaph, of Heman, and of Jeduthun, who should prophesy with harps, stringed instruments, and cymbals’ (1 Chron. 25:1)… . Thus, every prophet’s task is to speak partly as the voice of God (in preaching), and partly as the voice of the people (in praying). …
Preaching the Word is prophesying in the name and on behalf of Christ. Through preaching those who hear are called into the state of grace, and preserved in it.
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Willhite, Keith. Preaching With Relevance Without Dumbing Down (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2001. 141 pp. $11.99.
“At the core of expository preaching are two questions for the preacher: (1) What does the text mean? (2) How do I communicate the relevance of the text’s meaning to my listeners?” (16). This is the crux of Dr. Keith Willhite’s work Preaching With Relevance Without Dumbing Down. Willhite teaches preaching and serves as chair and professor of Pastoral Ministries at Dallas Theological Seminary. He also serves as the founder and president of Strategenuity, a ministry consulting firm.
In this book, Willhite develops ten strategies that will help the preacher find the balance between being grounded in the biblical text and applying the biblical text in a relevant way. This book seeks to answer the second question given above to help the preacher understand the perspective of the parishioner in the pew. He notes:
This book is not about preaching for itching ears. It’s about preaching substantive biblical truth in a way that people can discern its relevance for their lives as they seek to walk with God. I am convinced that we do not have to sacrifice biblical content to speak to our culture (19).
In Chapter One, entitled “Look from the Pew’s Perspective,” Willhite helps the preacher embrace a receiver-oriented perspective by understanding the people to whom we are preaching as well as providing helpful tools to help the preacher get to know his people. In Chapter Two, entitled “Get Into a Good Argument,” Willhite assists the preacher in moving from the audience’s worldview into the content of the biblical passage which will support the central theme of the message. Chapter Three, entitled “Whet an Appetite for God’s Word,” delves into the process of crafting the sermon’s introduction in order to establish the relevancy of the sermon.
Chapter Four addresses the usage of applicational wording that moves the sermon from exegesis to theology to homiletics. With this outline, the focus of the wording is for the people to absorb and apply. In Chapter Five, entitled “Bundle a Packaged Deal,” Willhite puts forth four tools to unify a sermon that will further aid the listener in comprehending the message. In Chapter Six, entitled “Unite People, Purpose, and Proposition,” Willhite gives the preacher tools in uniting the audience’s understanding, the study of the text, and the single theme for the development of the sermon.
Chapter Seven, entitled “Adjust the Questions,” addresses the value of adjusting the questions in order to maintain the interest of the listener who longs for a relevant answer. In Chapter Eight (“Tell ‘n Show”), Willhite helps the preacher “discern the value of ‘picturing’ application for our listeners” (95). Chapter Nine deals with illustrating according to three specific purposes illustrations usually accomplish. Chapter Ten addresses the necessity of clarity in preaching, as well as the tools by which the preacher may be clear.
- “From a communication perspective… listeners determine whether a sermon is relevant” (21-22).
- “Every sermon is an argument that seeks to advance a claim through supporting evidence” (36).
- “Introductions must tell listeners what’s at stake for them in the sermon, that is, how this sermon will speak to a particular need in their lives” (48).
- “Many listeners need the sermon’s application pronounced in no uncertain terms, so state the desired application clearly and boldly” (72).
- “In Jeopardy! an answer is given, and the contestant must respond with a question to fit the given answer. The preacher, just as in Jeopardy, must shape the focus question to fit the text’s given answer” (88).
- “Clear sermons grow out of a clear sense of the big idea or homiletical proposition. In other words, communication originates in the mind, not in the mouth” (123).
The expository preacher will take great solace in Willhite’s understanding of Scripture. “Our communication perspective … serves as a means to convey the theological perspective. We are not making God’s Word relevant, for it already is relevant. … We seek to demonstrate that God’s Word is relevant” (18). Given the wide array of preaching books and philosophies that promote how a preacher must artistically and creatively make the Bible relevant to 21st century people, Willhite takes much of the pressure and strain off the preacher who serves merely to show the relevance already in the text.
Willhite’s book serves as a helpful contribution to the field of homiletics. The preaching philosophy known as The New Homiletic influences pastors to react against the science of deductive, propositional preaching of past generations in favor of a more artistic style of preaching which is more inductive and narrative in nature. Yet, the advocates of the New Homiletic have given away far too much ground. The problem is not that deductive preaching is bad, but that bad deductive preaching is bad, and a more balanced approach is needed. The themes of the Scriptures must serve as the themes for the preachers’ sermons. Yet, even though a preacher may choose this style of preaching does not automatically make the sermon irrelevant. One may preach from the themes of Scripture and still use helpful tools to show the relevance of Scripture in contemporary life. Willhite accomplishes this task admirably.
One of the great strengths of this book is the exercises found at the end of each chapter that help apply the principles taught in the chapter itself. Especially helpful are the “You Try It!” sections. Whereas many homiletical texts only give the principles for preaching, Willhite’s work gives practical insights and exercises on how to apply these insights. For example, from chapters four through seven, Willhite challenges the reader to use the same text of Scripture (James 1:2-11) in putting an outline together using applicational words, developing a theme and then uniting that theme to the issues of the people. With this understanding, Willhite not only lauds the necessity for application in preaching, he models that necessity by using application in the lessons that the chapter puts forth.
Chapter Five will surprise many students and experienced expository preachers. For centuries, rhetoricians have consistently held to the notion that speeches should consist of one main theme. Willhite believes otherwise:
“Messages gain unity, however, through more than sticking to a single thesis. And tools exist that help us to maintain that unity by presenting the message as a neat package” (73).
Willhite helps the expositor by showing the validity of illustrations. For those who hold to the authority and inspiration of the Scriptures, many believe the use of illustrations take away from the centrality of the Word of God in preaching. He rightly notes that the preacher must not simply use illustrations for illustrations’ sake.
“An illustration that doesn’t shed light upon something is just an isolated story, statistic, or example. The illustration must connect to the subject in order to shed light on the subject” (115).
Preachers may connect more effectively by making sure the illustration stays in its rightful place: emphasizing, not overshadowing, the sermon’s main idea.
One weakness in this particular chapter is in the You Try It! portion of the illustrations chapter. Willhite urges the preacher to look over the past five sermon manuscripts to evaluate the illustrations he used. Then he encourages the preacher to do the following exercises:
1. Explain the game of baseball to a four-year-old.
2. Convince a four-year-old that he or she will like the game of baseball.
3. Show a four-year-old how to catch a ground ball.
4. Listen to a sermon by a preacher whom you respect. Evaluate his illustrations. Did they serve their purpose? How might you have illustrated the same points? (119).
While exercise four is a worthwhile exercise, the first three exercises are cause for concern. While Willhite rightly notes how illustrations should not be beyond the grasp of the average layperson, illustrations should neither be too far below the comprehension level of the average layperson. Otherwise, the preacher risks talking beneath his parishioners, which he should continually avoid.
Especially helpful is Willhite’s insights on introductions. In Chapter Three where he helps the preacher whet an appetite for God’s Word, he shows the necessity for developing an interest in the upcoming sermon. Whereas Eugene Lowry in his book The Homiletical Plot advocates developing interest that will lead to a narrative, inductive sermon that shies away from propositional truth, Willhite offers the proper balance. Like Lowry, he recommends starting with the people and evoking a particular image which connects to the main theme of the sermon. He recommends shaping the introduction into one of the following:
• A question to be answered
• An issue to be explored
• A problem to be solved
• A situation to be resolved
Sadly, Willhite fails to give specific treatment in the area of conclusions, a difficult area for beginning expositors. If Kregel Publications chooses to publish another edition of this book, the inclusion of a section on the execution of conclusions would be beneficial.
I would heartily recommend this book to all pastors, along with Using Illustrations to Preach with Power by Bryan Chapell and Preaching to a Postmodern World by Graham Johnston. These three books would greatly offset the problematic preaching philosophy of the New Homiletic advocated by the likes of Fred B. Craddock. A balanced philosophy of Scripture-based, relevant preaching is needed in this postmodern culture. Willhite’s work helps provide just such a balance.
Craddock, Fred B. As One Without Authority. St. Louis: Chalice Press, 2001. 160 pp. $18.99.
“That there is in our time a language crisis, a general experience of the loss of power of words, is all too evident. Needless to say, this means a crisis in preaching” (7). So says Dr. Fred B. Craddock, the author of the book As One Without Authority. Craddock serves as the Bandy Professor of Preaching and New Testament, emeritus, at the Candler School of Theology in Atlanta.
Craddock believes that preachers “must be in conversation with the issues of its own time and the voices that address those issues” (viii). He seeks to provide a method for contemporary preachers and pastors to connect to the pressing issues of the day, issues that the majority of parishioners deal with on a day-to-day basis. He rings the death knell of propositional, deductive preaching, holding and hailing an inductive method of preaching.
Craddock divides his volume into three parts. In Part I, he seeks to analyze the present situation of the evangelical pulpit in America. He lays the groundwork for the entire book by denouncing the problematic nature of deductive preaching which uses propositions, logical sequence, and three-point outlines in favor of a more fluid, conversational tone — even a conversational sermon where the congregation participates.
In Part II, entitled “A Proposal on Method,” Craddock advocates the preacher using inductive preaching as his particular mode of communication. He believes that the preacher should start with the experiences of the listeners and then move them to their own discovery of truth. In this way, the listeners are more able to arrive at their own application, since the preacher has connected with each listener’s personal collection of images and experiences. In understanding how the preacher could easily move toward conversation in the pulpit without preparation in the study, Craddock outlines methods to show how to maintain unity and structure with this inductive method.
The concluding part of this work contains five appendices. In the first appendix, Craddock outlines the process of crafting the sermon. The remaining four appendices are sermons crafted by Craddock himself that demonstrate the model put forth in this book into practice.
• Offering slang and fashionable jargon as “renewed” preaching, celebrating the secular embrace of certain Christian symbols … or reducing the gospel to the lowest common denominator of acceptable faith and ethic will hardly be received by a serious world as adequate penance (19).
• Language is, therefore, not only the supreme event of human existence, but the very being of humanity is founded in language. In short, humanity is a conversation (31).
• If … the preacher is to communicate in such a way that the congregation can hear what she has heard, she will not be satisfied to reduce the sights and sounds of her experience to points, logical sequences, and moral applications. She will fervently desire to recreate that experience and insight; she will seek to reflect it, not simply reflect on it (63).
• The most important single contributing factor to consistently effective preaching is study and careful preparation … because the method [of inductive preaching] itself can so easily degenerate into casual conversation with the congregation (79).
• How one communicates comes across to the hearers as what one communicates, and they receive very clear impressions of what the speaker thinks of himself, his text, his sermon, his congregation, and the world. There is no avoiding the fact that the medium is a message, if not the message (114).
Craddock’s work remains a popular volume on preaching in many evangelical circles. One understands his desire to minister to the present generation with the Word of God by evaluating the current condition of American pulpits. Fewer and fewer attend church with each passing generation, and Craddock is right to look primarily at those who are responsible for shepherding the flocks.
While Craddock nobly seeks to make the sermons more understandable to the modern culture, he goes too far in looking first to the culture to determine the content of the sermon itself. He notes of a “current sag in the pulpit [which] is the loss of certainty and the increase of tentativeness on the part of the preacher” (11). With the culture shying away from any perceived authoritative figure, preachers tend to compensate so as not to offend. This reliance on the congregation’s perception of the sermon is overstated.
Rather, Craddock believes the key to contemporary preaching is for sermons to cease being exclusively one-sided. He believes the congregation should have some part in the preaching process. While preaching in some degree is a community experience, boundaries do exist — yet Craddock seeks to move the boundary markers more toward the congregation and away from exclusively the preacher. “Without question, preaching increases in power when it is dialogical, when speaker and listener share in the proclamation of the Word” (18). “Without question”?
Secondly, the preacher will find value in certain aspects of Craddock’s model of inductive preaching. Rather than starting with a particular truth and moving to particular applications (deduction), Craddock believes that starting with the listeners’ experiences and moving them to the biblical propositions would reach more people, especially those in Western culture. He notes:
Anyone who preaches deductively from an authoritative stance probably finds that shared experiences in the course of service as pastor, counselor, teacher, and friend tend to erode the image of authority. Such preachers want protecting distance, not over exposure. However, these common experiences, provided they are meaningful in nature and are reflected on with insight and judgment, are for the inductive method essential to the preaching experience (49).
Yet, Craddock implies that a preacher cannot be transparent in relating to his parishioners’ experiences, yet still relay propositional truth. The preacher is not the ultimate authority, but what authority he has is found in the God-given Scriptures from whom that authority derives.
He conveys that the listener is the ultimate arbiter of whether a sermon is of value or not. This mindset is troublesome. For instance, in the same chapter as the quote from above, he gives a reason for stressing inductive preaching: “If it is done well, one often need not make the applications of the conclusion to the lives of the hearers. If they have made the trip, it is their conclusion, and the implication for their own situations is not only clear but personally inescapable” (48-49). While he rightly presents the fact that the ultimate responsibility for one’s Christian walk lies not with the minister but with the listener, his rationale falls apart. He understands how Western/American culture has difficulty in thinking in a Christian worldview in which propositional truths are processed (implying they need help in this area), he then questions why a minister would want to come along and concretely and objectively help them in properly applying the Word to their lives.
Though Western culture is most certainly image-driven rather than word-driven, this trend is not necessarily a good trend that preachers should feed. Craddock would do well to remember the doctrine of fallen humanity. The very members of his audience look through the lenses of their own depravity. The experiences and images are quite subjective, and therefore tinged by sin and self. Deductive preaching that begins with the clear, objective propositional truths of Scripture that serve as anchors in the midst of the minds of cultural subjectivity.
Pastors would take offense to a particular statement that truly sums up Craddock’s not-so-veiled attempt to decry the deductive method of preaching, he propounds that preachers lack academic respectability because of their use of this method in the modern and postmodern age. While he does not advocate a speech teacher to teach preaching in seminaries, he continues:
And, of course, when preaching is taught by a pastor, retired or active, the course suffers, deservedly or not, from that particular brand of harsh laughter reserved by students and faculty for that which lacks academic respectability. As a natural consequence, preaching continues for another generation as “a marginal annoyance on the record of a scientific age” (5).
The general nature in which Craddock refers to the majority of preachers does not help his credibility in addressing the so-called ills of deductive preaching. While his concerns may have some legitimacy, to paint such a broad brush stroke over pulpits and seminaries alike is irresponsible. The “thin diet of fond memories” (4) in which he accuses the church of living in perpetuating this method of preaching may well continue for a reason.
Craddock’s propensity to direct intentionally the book toward the female minister is particularly disturbing. One could forgive this indiscretion if he provided more balance — yet he exclusively refers to the ministers that he describes with the feminine gender. Given how this book seeks to reach the broadest base of ministers and lay leaders possible, Craddock conveys an agenda which seems more reactionary to conservative evangelicalism which clearly (and biblically) holds to male spiritual leaders in favor of a more liberal mindset in addressing and acknowledging only female ministers. While many in various evangelical circles laud this book (even desiring a second edition), he loses a major marketing base by such a transparent and disappointing agenda that distracts from the message he wishes to convey.
Regardless of the reception of this book both at the time of its original publication and now, I could not recommend this book to fellow preachers. If I did, I would only recommend this book to show the problematic nature of listener-oriented, exclusively inductive preaching. For a more balanced work, I would recommend Preaching with Bold Assurance by Hershael York and Bert Decker. This work seeks to help the preacher with engaging exposition which seeks not only to touch the listeners’ minds but also to touch their hearts as well. Craddock laments that not enough preaching is relevant for audiences, but blames deductive preaching. Deductive preaching need not be irrelevant preaching. York’s book clearly demonstrates this.
(I posted this article at Bro. Matt’s Blog, but wanted to reproduce it here.)
Heisler, Greg. Spirit-Led Preaching: The Holy Spirit’s Role in Sermon Preparation and Delivery. Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishing Group, 2007. 156 pp. $17.99.
Dr. Greg Heisler (Ph.D., The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, KY) serves as assistant professor of preaching at the Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina. His passion for the nature of preaching is quite clear:
Our students need to see the complementary relationship between the Word and the Spirit and to understand the proper function of sermon mechanics and sermon dynamics for preaching. They need to have as much zeal for the theological realities as they do for the dependence on the Holy Spirit (15).
He states this because the previous generations of homiletics professors and their works only offer a “passing reference to the Spirit” (11). In this volume, Heisler admirably makes the case in how the Holy Spirit must not be an afterthought in sermon preparation and delivery, but he must stand in the forefront in every step of the process of constructing a sermon as well as a holy life.
The preacher will appreciate Heisler’s chapter on “What is Spirit-Led Preaching?” He illustrates two differing models of expository preaching: “text-driven preaching” (18) in which the focus is on presenting the biblical text correctly, with the Spirit’s role seen as implicit; and “spirit-driven preaching” in which the focus is “on the dynamic of the Spirit and the Spirit’s text” with the result being a “Christological witness and Spirit-filled living” (19). He uses a picturesque illustration to drive home this concept:
I imagine the Holy Spirit’s power touching down on the tracks of the biblical text, and suddenly the combination of Word and Spirit together ignite into sermonic propulsion. The preacher’s
responsibility is not to push the train in his own strength; nor it is the preacher’s responsibility to build new tracks to new places. The preacher’s responsibility is to keep the train on the tracks (19)!
Preachers would do well to internalize this concept and embrace this powerful picture. Heisler rightly reinforces the complementary relationship between the Scriptures and the Spirit in Chapter Five. Given the problematic theology of the charismatic movement who puts the Spirit and the Word against one another, Heisler gives a strong argument demonstrating the harmony between the two.
Together Word and Spirit form the powerful catalyst that serves as the theological foundation for
Spirit-led preaching. The Word activates the Spirit, and the Spirit authenticates the Word. The Word is the instrument of the Spirit, and the Spirit is the implement of the Word. The Word is the written witness, and the Spirit is the inward witness. In terms of preaching, the Word is the source and substance of our preaching, and the Spirit is the supernatural power of our preaching (62).
He rightly notes how the three testimonies of preaching (Scripture, the Spirit, and the Preacher) come together toward a Christological witness. “The Spirit’s ministry is a continuation of Jesus’ ministry, as the Spirit stands in place of Jesus until Christ’s triumphant return” (57). Heisler is correct when he says that preaching which claims to be Spirit-filled and Spirit-led but fails to preach Christ-centered sermons are not Spirit-led sermons.
The strongest chapter in this volume is Chapter Seven where Heisler addresses “The Preacher and the Spirit.” Heisler makes a stunning statement that the preacher must absorb:
I believe that the passion and confidence the prophet of God experiences in his preaching ministry are directly proportional to the daily obedience and surrender to the call of God on the preacher’s life. . . . It’s as if God has subpoenaed us to stand before him, not in a courtroom in front of a jury but in a pulpit in from of his people. We are there by divine calling, and we are there by divine authority (72).
Heisler sounds a clarion call for ministers to incorporate the Spirit into their personal lives before they attempt to incorporate him into areas of their professional lives such as preparation, presentation, and delivery. Personal obedience to Christ and preaching the Word of Christ must coincide.
The only weakness found in this work is the lack of conciseness in Heisler’s working definitions. For instance, when he presents his definition of expository preaching, he states:
Expository preaching is the Spirit-empowered proclamation of biblical trust derived from the illuminating guidance of the Holy Spirit by means of a verse-by-verse exposition of the Spirit-inspired text, with a view to applying the text by means of the convicting power of the Holy Spirit, first to the preacher’s heart, and then to the hearts of those who hear, culminating in an authentic and powerful witness to the living Word, Jesus Christ, and obedient, Spirit-filled living (21).
While the construct of this definition reminds one of the Greek sentence construct of the Apostle Paul (see Ephesians 1:3-14), this structure does not allow for the reader to absorb the definition easily. Breaking this sentence down into two, three, even four sentences would be helpful. His vision of teaching homiletics commits the same faux pas — to which he readily admits (75).
Even so, this reviewer plans on using this book as a textbook in training expository preachers in his local church setting. The evangelical world in general and preachers specifically should be grateful to Greg Heisler for re-introducing the Spirit to expositorypreaching. Along with this volume, Arturo G. Azurdia’s book on Spirit-Empowered Preaching serves as an excellent compliment. Praise God for raising up Spirit-led preachers in our present age.
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