Preaching by Alec Motyer“The Word of God is the constitutive reality at the heart of the Church.” (18)

There are as many ideas about how to grow a church as there are books on the subject. There are books that focus on meeting felt needs, worship strategies, small groups and a myriad of other ministries that can be maximized to grow your church. However, what many of these books fail to recognize or address is that the bedrock of growing a church is the ministry of the Word through preaching.

With a biblical focus on the Word of God at the heart of a church Alec Motyer has written Preaching?: Simple Teaching on Simply Preaching. As the Old Testament editor for The Bible Speaks Today series, Motyer has turned his pen to writing on preaching and has written a book that addresses both the biblical-theological aspects as well as some practical issues.

The first five chapters address the nature of preaching. These chapters are exegetically grounded in various passages of Scripture. Motyer defines good preaching as that which has a “sense of being plain and unmistakable.” (11) Preaching that is good is to be expositional, that is, “the restatement of a Scripture.” (30) Motyer wants to impress upon his readers that preaching is the ground upon which the whole church grows and functions. All ministry grows out of the Word and the preaching of the Word. His exegetical work deals with many NT passages that provide us with the nature and task of faithful biblical preachers. His observation, especially of the book of Acts, is that it is the ministry of the preaching of the Word that drove the growth of the early church. Surely there were other attending contributions, like the work of the Spirit through the Word, but it was always the Word that led the way and was responded to.

The second half of the book addresses several issues surrounding sermon prep along with some discussion on application and the spiritual life of the preacher. For sermon preparation, Motyer discusses five aspects: examination, analysis, orientation, harvesting and presentation. These deal with knowing and understanding the resources available for good exegesis, doing the task of exegesis itself and extracting the heart of a text for presentation. On the preachers spiritual life, Motyer turns to the lives of Paul, Ezekiel and Isaiah to draw practical encouragement and direction as the preacher does his divine task. In chapter thirteen, Motyer continues this focus on the life of the preacher as he highlights Paul’s words in Acts 20:28 to “take heed to yourselves.”

Preaching? is exactly as the subtitle states, a book that has simple teaching on simply preaching. Motyer does not break new ground on the nature and practice of preaching. What he does is give us a good reminder of the preachers responsibility as a minister of the Word of God. This is a great primer on preaching for preachers young and old.

NOTE: I received this book for free from Christian Focus through Cross Focused Reviews. I was under no obligation to provide a favorable review. The thoughts and words expressed are my own.

The call to preach the Word of God is the highest calling of the pastor. For centuries preachers have recognized that it is not enough just to open ones Bible and speak your mind on a passage and call it preaching. When opening up the pages of Scripture we recognize that there is a way of interpreting, developing a sermon and delivering it that is most faithful to the text. Some might call this package expository preaching. Most books on preaching only focus on one or two of these parts. What is needed is a comprehensive book that presents the material in a way as to show how they all work together.

With the goal in mind to bring together hermeneutics, homiletics and delivery under the same roof Daniel Akin, Bill Curtis and Stephen Rummage have written Engaging Exposition. This book seeks to lay out a methodological strategy for hermeneutics and homiletics to work in harmony. Hermeneutics is done in the service of homiletics and homiletics is dependent upon good hermeneutics while both are packaged in good delivery.

The entire book is centered on developing the main idea of the text (MIT) hermeneutically and homiletically while following up with some tips on good delivery. Bill Curtis writes the section on hermeneutics, Danny Akin on homiletics and Stephen Rummage on delivery. The intended relationship between hermeneutics and homiletics that the authors wish to convey is succinctly summed up in these words by Curtis

The study of a text is incomplete if it fails to assess its significance for today’s listeners. However, attempting to discover the significance of a text, without first gaining a thorough understanding of the author’s intended meaning, will be equally incomplete. (p. 13)

The first section of the book deals with hermeneutics. Throughout this section, Curtis covers the basics of hermeneutics that one would find in any standard hermeneutics text book such as genre, historical/geographical/theological context, genre specific outlines, characters, languages and the MIT. Since this section only covers about 120 pages the discussion is basic and most pastors will find much of the material repetitive to their hermeneutics classes and further reading. The difference in this discussion of hermeneutics is the intentional desire to help the preacher do their hermeneutics with their homiletics in mind. Throughout Curtis’ discussion of the basics of hermeneutics he weaves in the idea that this first step to preaching is not an end in itself. It is servicing the homiletical step.

The second section of the book deals with homiletics. Again, since this section only covers about 125 pages, the discussion is brief and basic. Topics such as illustrations, introductions, applications and conclusions are all discussed. It is here that the reader will begin to see how the book is written with the harmonious relationship between hermeneutics and homiletics in mind. Here, we move from the MIT hermeneutically to homiletically. Page 128 is perhaps the best page in the book and almost worth the price of the book alone. Akin lays out the grand plan of the books aim with the help of a triangular diagram. The outline of the book follows a seven step process:

  1. Study the Scriptures – “Flesh”
  2. Structure the Scriptures – “Skeleton”
  3. The Main Idea of the Text (Hermeneutical focus)
  4. The Bridge – Moving from the Then of the text to the Now of the audience.
  5. The Main Idea of the Text (Homiletical focus)
  6. Structure of the Message – “Skeleton”
  7. Teach the Scriptures – “Flesh”

In my opinion, this is the best outline of the relationship between hermeneutics and homiletics I have ever encountered.

Rounding out the book is section three in dealing with the delivery of the message. While it may be one of the last things a preacher thinks about investing time in honing their skills at, message delivery is important because “no matter how careful you were in your exegesis and interpretation and no matter how skillfully you put together your message, your sermon will be evaluated on the basis of how you deliver it.” (p. 249) Delivery is the packaging that hermeneutics and homiletics come in when it comes to preaching. Throughout this final section, Rummage addresses the basics of message delivery by touching on subjects like how delivery works between the preacher and the listener, proper speech technique, speaking with your body and voice and the age old discussion of how and whether to use notes when preaching.

My only critique of the book is not so much in its content but in its range of use. While the authors don’t state they desire it to be used in hermeneutics classes I don’t recommend it. Further, while young pastors can greatly benefit from this (especially if they have only had one or two homiletics classes) most of the book will be unnecessary repetition for many seasoned pastors who will have (at least should have) experienced the relationship between the three areas discussed in this book and taken steps to improve them.

What Engaging Exposition has done is shown the reader that hermeneutics is not an end in itself, homiletics will fail if not built on a good hermeneutical foundation and good delivery skill matters if you want the MIT to be understood and effective for the intended audience. This book will be of great benefit for homiletics teachers and students in both college and graduate classes.

NOTE: I received this book for free in exchange for a review. The words, thoughts and opinions expressed are my own.

“The most urgent need in the Christian Church today is true preaching; and as it is the greatest and most urgent need in the Church, it is obviously the greatest need of the world also” (p. 17)

It is with these timeless words that Martin Lloyd-Jones begins Preaching & Preachers which is one of the most classic books on preaching. Lloyd-Jones faithfully ministered to the congregation at Westminster Chapel in London for over thirty years and the thousands of sermons he preached there echo throughout the Christian world even today. Originally given as a series of lectures to the students of Westminster Theological Seminary, Preaching & Preachers is a clarion call for ministers of the gospel to take their task of preaching seriously.

If the most urgent need in the Christian church is true preaching then “the primary task of the Church and of the Christian minister is the preaching of the Word of God” (p. 27). But the urgency Lloyd-Jones speaks to is not just the timeless need for preaching the truth of Scripture. Lloyd-Jones believed that preaching in the church was waining:

While men believed in the Scriptures as the authoritative Word of God and spoke on the basis of that authority you had great preaching. But as belief in the great doctrines of the Bible began to go out, and sermons were replaced by ethical addresses and homolies, and moral uplift and socio-political talk, it is not surprising that preaching declined. (p. 21)

For Lloyd-Jones, there was an untie-able knot joining belief in Scripture as the authoritative Word of God and truly great authoritative preaching. If one does not accept the authority of Scripture then how can one preach the words it contains with any kind of authority? If it merely offers some words of wisdom, moral guidance or examples to follow then it stands as an equal next to every other book out there that vies for our attention as it seeks to do the same. But, if Scripture is from God and has the message of the saving gospel of Jesus Christ then it carries with it and in it an authority that is unrivaled by any other book. It is the belief in this authority that needs to drive the words of the preacher.

With the 40th anniversary edition of Preaching & Preachers there are a few additions to enhance the readability and impact of the book. First, subheadings have been added throughout in order to follow the flow and change of ideas and subjects within each chapter. Second, the end of each chapter has questions to hep reflect on the content of the chapter. Third, sprinkled throughout the book are a number of contemporary preachers reflections on the impact of Llyod-Jones book and preaching on their own preaching ministries. Readers will find that these inserts will help to make the content of the book more palatable (as some of it can be hard to swallow) and enable you to be more appreciative of Lloyd-Jones style.

I have come upon reading this book at the age of thirty and I have to admit that had I read this book while in college or seminary I might have passed much of it off as irrelevant, stuffy, offensive, wordy and I might not have bothered to finish it. This is a book that every young preacher can benefit from reading but I am not sure they could appreciate it. Lloyd-Jones is very opinionated and only seems to see areas as grey where he is in the grey about them. Most everything else he comments on is black and white – period. His critique of the state of preaching of his day is eerily similar to that of our own today. He would never debate, believed you should always wear a black robe while preaching, decried the public testimonies of the famous, was skeptical of too much music in the church,  felt tape-recording was an abomination, was put off by books on method, was ardently against altar calls and was not in favor of lay preaching.

Though there is much in the book some readers will have a hard time stomaching, those who finish the book will be greatly rewarded. This is a chance to sit a the feet of one of the Christian churches greatest preachers and learn. Preaching & Preachers is full of biblical foundations for preaching, personal examples, wisdom and advice. For all of the hard to swallow pills in this book there are many more spoons full of sugar to help them go down that make the book well worth the time to read.

I recommend Preaching & Preachers to all preachers. Many preachers should probably read it a few years out of school and into ministry. More mature students could handle the book in school and would be all the better for it. There is a reason this book is a classic and I trust it will serve generations of preachers to come.

NOTE: I received this book from Zondervan for free to review. I was under no obligation to provide a favorable review and the opinions expressed are my own.

Few, if any, would disagree that one has ever felt prepared to preach what every preacher would consider their hardest sermons. So often we go through preaching classes and read books on how to hone the preaching craft and never think about those sermons that we will have to preach that will be the most challenging on so many levels. Pastors are never prepared for the first and hardly feel more prepared for each subsequent one.

Death. It befalls us all whether we see it around the corner or it comes to us unexpectedly. Every preacher will have their share of sermons tied to death through community tragedy, the death of an unborn or young child, death by suicide, death by tragic circumstances or death by sudden or prolonged natural causes. Though no funeral is easy to preach some are harder than others due to the nature of the circumstances and every preacher hopes he can receive help and guidance on how to preach his first and many more after.

Perhaps the first of its kind, Bryan Chapell has brought together some of the hardest sermons ever preached on a wide variety of topics. The Hardest Sermons You’ll Ever Have to Preach is a compilation of sermons by well-known pastors like Mark Dever, John Piper, Bryan Chapell, Tim Keller and Michael Horton. In the introduction, Chapell points out that all of the preachers featured in this book are from “the Reformed theological perspective, believing in the sovereign control of God over all things” (p. 12).

This sovereign control of God over all things is one of the defining and unifying features of this collection of sermons. Each pastor believes that God is not hands off in the midst of tragedy but is sovereignly working all things together for good to those who love Him and are called according to his purpose (Rom. 8:28). At the same time, these pastors realize that as finite creatures we cannot comprehend all the workings of God and that God ash seen fit not to reveal to us here on earth the reasoning and wisdom of everything he does and allows. Thus, there is always mystery in tragedy. Yet, within the mystery of God’s sovereign control amidst tragedy is a message of hope – the message of the cross. It is only because of the cross and Christ’s redemptive work on it that we can have any hope amidst tragedy. “The cross of Christ is the warrant for confidence in God’s promises of ultimate good, despite great heartache” (p. 15).Though the believer grieves in the death of others, we can come out of it with the hope that Christ has died to death for those who put their faith in Him as the only salvation from the penalty of death for their sins. Further, though He has died to death on our behalf He has risen to life and thus conquered death. It is because of the resurrection that our hope is secure and that one day “He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things has passed away” (Rev. 21:4, ESV).

It is these truths, the message of the gospel of Jesus Christ that runs deeply through each sermon in this book. Each sermon is drenched in the hope offering message of the gospel. Though the circumstances of each death and funeral are different, the ever applicable message of the cross is the same. This is the unifying and underlying thread that runs through each sermon presented here. There are times in reading through a sermon that you will be so emotionally drawn into the situation and the joyfulness of the hope of the gospel that you will be brought to tears.

The book is broken into five parts and each has sermons dealing with preaching in response to tragedy like 9/11, after the loss of a child like a miscarriage, at funerals with difficult circumstances like premature death, after the death of a public figure like a celebrity and after a suicide like that of a friend.

The setting in which the sermon was preached is explained followed by any concerns the preacher had to take into consideration while preparing for and preaching the message. This part is very helpful because it allows you to see by example the kinds of things preachers in these circumstances need to be sensitive to. The wisdom and carefulness of though in this section of each chapter is outstanding. In light of the concerns for each situation, the following approach each pastor takes in delivering the message is explained. This is equally full of wisdom as the aim of each sermon is discussed and the pastor looks at the situation of the death and those to whom he will be speaking.

Sermon after sermon, The Hardest Sermons You’ll Ever Have to Preach is a goldmine of pastoral wisdom and gospel truth applied to preaching the hardest sermons a pastor will ever have to preach. This is the kind of book that should have been written years ago and I hope it is one of the top books on preaching for generations of preachers to come. Every man preparing for the ministry and every pastor in the ministry needs to have this book on their shelf!

NOTE: I received this book from Zondervan in return for a review and was under no obligation to provide a favorable review nor was I compensated.