Preach the Word (Book Review) ~ BitterSweetLife

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Preach the Word (Book Review)

Because I don't have religious profiles of you readers (my supercomputer is still working on that) I'm not sure what chunk of you this review will pertain to. Probably a minority. But I'm going out on a limb to mention Preach the Word regardless, because it's worthy of...well, mention.

Preach the Word is a collection of essays on the topic of expository preaching--preaching that aims to "expound," i.e., directly explain, biblical texts--from over a dozen contributors. Some of the names I recognized were J.I Packer, Don Carson, Wayne Grudem and John MacArthur, but I felt that every author pulled his weight--and in fact, several writers who were new to me wrote my favorite chapters.

The book is theologically conservative (if a book repeatedly quotes the Puritans, it qualifies), and makes the case that expository preaching is the best way forward for preachers, because it allows the Bible to set our agenda and exposes people to the full breadth of God's revelation. (I tend to agree, while appreciating the point one writer makes: Even "topical" messages can be delivered in a way that is faithful to the texts being used.)

If you move in Christian ministry circles, the expository perspective is not new to you--but the collection of voices in Preach the Word make the position come alive in ways that a single author cannot. Because the writers focused on different aspects of theology and methodology, they are rarely redundant. Instead, they compliment each other, and the reader benefits from hearing a diverse group of personalities weighing in, which is a good way to avoid the mistake of merely emulating one favorite guy and trying to duplicate his approach with a checklist.

This book was a refreshing read, both theologically reflective and nitty gritty, with suggestions and anecdotes. I read a chapter each night before I went to bed...does that make me a theology geek? My own "Expository Preaching" class last semester would have benefited immensely from using Preach the Word as a textbook.

Highly recommended for anyone who pastors, speaks publicly from the Bible, or wonders about what exactly a preacher is supposed to accomplish. I only wish this book had a wider audience. Strong A.

Preach the Word now enjoys the honor of being the only book explicitly about preaching on the Master Book List.



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7 comments:

R. Sherman said...

Speaking as the schmo in the back row of the congregation, I prefer expository preaching. I want to be challenged to think about specific texts within the Bible.

Cheers.

John B. said...

Apparently, I'm missing something here, seeing as I was under the impression that all preaching on the Bible was "expository" by its very nature. If it's appropriate (and possible) to do so in comments, would you mind lining out a taxonomy of preaching?

gymbrall said...

John,
Ariel can give the definitive answer, but I'll take a quick crack at it. Expository preaching is often described to be at odds with the "other type" of preaching, which is usually referred to as topical preaching. In this taxonomy, expository preaching specifically refers to sermons that are drawn from a passage (whether part of a verse, a series of verses, a whole chapter, or even an entire book). The goal of such an expository sermon is to "unpack" the Scripture and deliver its meaning to an audience.

In this same taxonomy, topical preaching refers to sermons where the speaker prepares a sermon on a topic and then assembles a roster of supporting verses to make his point.

In my experience, the failure of topical preaching stems from the way it is approached. Frequently, a speaker (myself included) will choose a topic or a thought prior to scriptural examination and will then seek scripture to support that thought. The problem with this, is that almost any position can be supported and speakers frequently use a single verse or bits and pieces of verses taken out of context to support elaborate positions. (My father has an audio tape from seminary where a student was - rather jokingly - given the task of preaching on "Why Husbands should beat their wives". He chose as his texts, "they are become one flesh", and Paul's admonition to "buffet our bodies")

The position that I hold is that when a speaker seeks to preach on a topic, he should find a place in scripture his topic is addressed at length. This does two things: it exalts the mind and arguments of God and it keeps the speaker from injecting his own words into God's mouth. Of course in all styles of preaching, citing supporting scripture is strongly encouraged.

Anyway, that's my 2 cents.
Have a Happy New Year,
Charles
http://thepreacher.cac2.net

Ariel said...

Randall, I applaud your back-row savvy.

And Charles...nice. I don't have much to add to your comments re: preaching taxonomy.

I'd merely point out that people sometimes create a false dichotomy between "expository" and "topical"--when in fact, topical sermons can be soundly expository if the right Bible passages are chosen.

There are some other misconceptions floating around as well...for example, that expository preaching always needs to be heavily didactic and analytical (5 propositions, 12-pt outlines, etc.). But the best expositors unpack the Bible with brilliant anecdotes and lots of metaphor and imagination...and this can be done in a conversational way--you don't have to have protruding neck veins to preach.

John B. said...

Charles and Ariel, many thanks. So, then: Jonathan Edwards' "Sinners in the Hand of an Angry God" would be an example of expository preaching (of the "5 propositions, 12-pt. outlines" sort), no?

gymbrall said...

I'd merely point out that people sometimes create a false dichotomy between "expository" and "topical"--when in fact, topical sermons can be soundly expository if the right Bible passages are chosen.

Agree 100%. I was fumblingly trying to make that point. To my mind, any sermon that isn't expository (that doesn't focus on conveying God's Word/opinion/take to the listener) shouldn't be preached from the pulpit. Calling a sermon topical as if that removes the requirement of exposition is a cheat...

Re: the many ways of creative exposition. I agree with that as well as I'm pretty sure I know exactly what you mean. I'm just too familiar with hearing anecdotes from the pulpit that I've deleted as email forwards and listening to cute little analogies that start out with, "the family of God is much like an earthly family" and end with "and God is like Grandpa half sleeping in the rocking chair in the corner, half watching over everyone, and only intervening when a fight breaks out or some child needs a hug." It just gives me the willies thinking about it. But like I said, I know what you mean and agree readily.

Thanks for the post. I might have to check this one out.

Ariel said...

So, then: Jonathan Edwards' "Sinners in the Hand of an Angry God" would be an example of expository preaching (of the "5 propositions, 12-pt. outlines" sort), no?

Yes, I'd have to agree. Those preacher in the Puritan mold went in for very involved outlines, but there's a certain brilliance...

"the family of God is much like an earthly family" and end with "and God is like Grandpa half sleeping in the rocking chair in the corner, half watching over everyone, and only intervening when a fight breaks out or some child needs a hug."

Ha ha. I hate those forward-style illustrations as well. Rule of thumb: if you get your anecdotes from Yahoo...

Good metaphors take careful work and a disciplined imagination.

 

Culture. Photos. Life's nagging questions. - BitterSweetLife