Entering into the pulpit is a dangerous endeavor for every preacher. The Lord places preachers in the pulpit to deliver His Word from His scriptures (that is, His theology). They are not called to offer up their own ideas, politics, or philosophies. They are certainly not in the pulpit to develop a new theology for their congregation. Yet, it would be naïve and foolish for preachers not to recognize that their understanding, their theological hobby horses, and their personal ways of expressing theology will be found in the pulpit and will have a great deal of influence over the people of God. Hence why it is so dangerous to enter the pulpit. As one who preaches on a regular basis, it is hard work to keep out of God’s way!
It is necessary for preachers to have both the humility to acknowledge that they must keep watch over their teaching and the means to have their preaching constantly formed and shaped by God’s Word. To this end, the essays in Theology Is for Preaching is a great gift to the Church. Scholars from Moore College School of Biblical Theology in Sydney, Australia, as well as a number of other scholars from around the globe, offer a variety of essays to help pastors recognize the importance of theology for the craft of preaching while demonstrating how to preach theologically.
The book is broken up into five sections. “Section 1: Foundations” offers the basic presuppositions for theology and preaching that the authors of this collection are working with. “Section 2: Methodology” dives more into the specifics of how various branches of theology are to be worked into preaching. “Section 3: Theology for Preaching” demonstrates how major theological themes (soteriology, sanctification, eschatology, and worship) impact the nature of our sermons. “Section 4: Preaching for Theology” presents essays dealing with the way sermons form the theology and the lives of the hearers. Finally, “Section 5: Theology Preached” presents two sermons which exemplify the principles laid out in the previous essays.
I found the collection to be delightfully engaging and quite challenging. A review of this book proves difficult as I would love to engage each essay on its own merit. But, in order to save you from reading a review of twenty-one individual essays, I will offer three highlights which stood out to me from the book along with a few notes on where I found the book lacking.
First, reading a book by serious scholars with a high view of both the Bible and preaching is a breath of fresh air. The authors come from a theologically conservative Reformed/Anglican perspective and hold to a high view of the scriptures as inspired by God. Appealing to scripture alone, Claire S. Smith’s word-study/essay “Preaching: Towards Lexical Clarity for Better Practice” (34-52) answers the questions of what teaching and preaching are in the New Testament and who, according to Scripture, is permitted to engage in those activities. Scripture, she argues, not social changes nor contextual nuances, decides who can preach and teach and in what ways. Would that the Church in our day could recover Smith’s perspective and way of doing theology!
Reading a book by serious scholars with a high view of both the Bible and preaching is a breath of fresh air.
Second, the emphasis on a Christological reading and preaching of Scripture is evident throughout. The authors fully realize we cannot keep ourselves (that is, our personalities) out of the pulpit. Nor should we, argues Graham Beynon in his essay, “The Preacher as Person: Personality and Relationships in the Pulpit” (179-195). Thus, it is incumbent upon the preacher to make sure his personality is used in service to preaching Christ from God’s Word. The entire second section of this book (Methodology) offers important guidance to this end. Especially helpful was, “Old Testament Challenges: Christocentric or Christolectic Sermons?” by Daniel Y. Wu (111-127).
Third, as I mentioned already, the essays are from a Reformed/Anglican tradition. Not having a great deal of regular engagement with this tradition, I found the essays which engaged the history of preaching in the Reformed tradition to be quite insightful. Timothy Ward’s engagement with the reformer, Heinrich Bullinger, in “Preaching and Revelation: Is the Sermon the Word of God?” (53-66), gave me a much greater appreciation for Reformed preaching. “Expository Preaching in Historical Context: A Rich and Inspiring Resource,” by Peter Adam (155-178), has sent me looking for a good history of preaching in my own tradition.
There is much more to be said in favor of the book, and I leave it to the reader to check it out on their own. However, there are a few points worth considering as you engage with the text.
As a Lutheran, there were points at which I felt like I was listening in on the conversation as an outsider. I actually do not see this as a problem in any way. It is just a note to those outside of the Reformed/Anglican world, the language will seem different at times.
That said, the book helped me see a significant difference in the way the Reformed Church and Lutherans conceive of preaching. For example, many of the essays spoke as though the primary goal of the sermon is to form the lives, beliefs, and behaviors of the listeners. Editor Paul Grimmond’s concluding essay, “Letting the Word Do the Work: A Constructive Account of Expositional Preaching” (286-297), suggests Biblical preaching will:
- Preach to the affections of the congregation.
- Preach in a way that educates the congregation into action.
- Preach to repentance (i.e., behavioral change) (296).
No doubt, Biblical preaching must consider these three aims, all of which are very important. However, each point focuses primarily on the hearer and not on Christ. There is no gift, no forgiveness, and no Christ. The goal of preaching with these goals in mind is not the delivering of Christ and His mercy to sinners, but behavioral change. Though I agree preaching should impact and change our behavior (Romans 12:1), this comes when the work of Christ for sinners is proclaimed and faith in Him is the goal of each sermon. Sermons focused primarily on the hearer’s affection and behavior will form a faith focused on affections and behavior, not on Christ Jesus as my Savior.
Preaching should impact and change our behavior (Romans 12:1), this comes when the work of Christ for sinners is proclaimed and faith in Him is the goal of each sermon.
A further example of this can be found in Jane Tooler’s otherwise marvelous essay, “The People Who Listen: The Corporate Task of Hearing God’s Word” (269-285). She rightly reminds preachers of their responsibility to, “Craft faithful, persuasive sermons, but to encourage and educate their congregations to attend faithfully and humbly to God as He speaks” (296). Later, she encourages us to, “...test the message, and our listening, against the testimony of Scripture, to discern the Shepherd’s voice” (278). Amen! However, she then offers fifteen: “Practical questions for the ideal listener.” These focus only on the listener and her response to the sermon (278-279). Not one question focuses on the Shepherd! It is not that the questions are wrong or even bad, it is just how they are all focused on me and not on what Jesus has done or is doing for me. Albeit unintentionally, this over-emphasis on the Christian life instead of the Christ removes Christ from the center and replaces Him with the Christian.
Nonetheless, I would gladly recommend this book to anyone interested in enriching the theological depth of their sermons. The reader will be directed to a more faithful preaching of the Word with a greater appreciation for the fact that preaching is inherently theological, a gift through which the Lord gives Himself and His Word to His people.
Book Review: Theology Is for Preaching: Biblical Foundations, Method, and Practice
Editors Chase R. Kuhn & Paul Grimmond
Bellingham, Lexham Press, 2021
Review by Bob Hiller