Each year seems to bring new treasures to the preacher's bookshelf, and 2009 was no exception. While there was not an abundance of publications in the field of homiletics, there were some quality offerings released in recent months.
Several titles were legitimate contenders for our Preaching Book of the Year recognition this time, but the winner is being cited because of the breadth of quality resources it makes available in the field of preaching.
The New Interpreter's Handbook of Preaching actually was released by Abingdon Press at the end of 2008, but it was released too late to be considered last year. This substantial volume is the work of four editors: Paul Scott Wilson (General Editor), Jana Childers, Cleophus J. Larue and John M. Rottman, plus 135 contributing authors.
One of the things I appreciate about this volume is the diversity of its writers, reflecting a broad range of denominational and theological perspectives. You'll find some of the best-known writers and thinkers on homiletics among the contributors, including Ron Allen, Bryan Chapell, Scott Gibson, Joel Gregory, Sidney Greidanus, Tom Long, Eugene Lowry, Michael Quicke, Robert Smith, Barbara Brown Taylor, Tom Troeger and William Willimon. (Disclosure: I wrote three of the articles, but because my role constitutes far less than 1 percent of this book, I didn't let my participation disrupt recognition of this outstanding collection.)
The collection offers a wide array of articles on preaching-related topics, from biblical studies to literary ones, plus a wonderful collection of articles on rhetoric, sermon preparation and delivery. The New Interpreter's Handbook of Preaching is an encyclopedia of preaching within the covers of one book, and it warrants a place on any preacher's bookshelf.
One other outstanding book on preaching was released too late to be reviewed in recent issues; a full review will be offered in the next issue of Preaching, but we wanted to make sure it was recognized in this survey of the year's best.
Faithful Preaching (B&H) is the work of Tony Merida, pastor of Temple Baptist Church in Hattiesburg, Miss., and assistant professor of preaching at New Orleans Baptist Seminary. Merida writes with the perspective of one who prepares effective sermons week by week for a congregation, but with the background of one who prepares young ministers to learn to become preachers themselves.
The book primarily is targeted toward the newest generation of church leaders, but will be read with enjoyment and benefit by preachers at every stage of ministry. He introduces the reader to the rich tradition of preaching, including its biblical and theological foundations, then offers practical counsel for developing expository sermons that will touch lives.
In the past several issues, we've reviewed most of the other major books released in the area of preaching. Here are some excerpts from those reviews, reminders of the outstanding books which have been published in preaching in recent months:
If the Word of God is to come alive in the pulpit, it will necessitate the death of the preacher, according to Steven W. Smith in his new book Dying to Preach (Kregel).
As Smith asserts, "The inestimable challenge of preaching is at once to grow in the development of the task while simultaneously giving it away—that is, being willing to die for people so they might live. This means a preacher will care deeply about preaching while at the same time surrendering his communication to God…The death to self that is demanded of the preacher works life in his people."
This is a powerful book that deserves to be read by any pastor as a reminder that "the greatest threat to the pulpit is the giftedness of its preachers." Smith does a valuable service in reminding us that only as we die can our preaching truly live.
In his new book Preaching from Memory to Hope (Westminster John Knox), Tom Long says, "What happens is that trusted structures and strategies of the pulpit suddenly seem to lose their potency; and worried preachers, their confidence shaken, begin to scramble for the next new thing."
Long is one of the most gifted homileticians in the mainline church today, and his insights will be read with interest by anyone serious about preaching. Among the topics Long addresses are the swing away from narrative preaching (a theme that has dominated preaching texts for the past two decades), dealing with the new spirituality (which he pegs—quite accurately, I think—as to a large extent just the old Gnosticism) and what he considers the neglected theme in preaching, eschatology.
Bryan Chapell's superb book Christ-Centered Preaching (Baker) has become one of the standard texts on preaching in evangelical seminaries. Church leaders now can welcome a parallel volume in Chapell's newest contribution in his book Christ-Centered Worship (Baker). In addition to exploring the church's various liturgical streams, Chapell also discusses the biblical patterns and emphases that should undergird and inform our worship practices.
In Christ-Centered Worship, Chapell has pressed the church to re-think its approach to worship and reminded us that worship is not about us and our preferences but about Christ and His glory.
According to T. David Gordon, "less than 30 percent of those who are ordained to the Christian ministry can preach an even mediocre sermon." That may be the nicest thing he has to say about today's preaching in his brief book Why Johnny Can't Preach (P&R).
Gordon's concern is not that there may or may not be "great" preachers around, but that "the average Christian family in the average pew in the average church on the average Sunday" is being starved. He observes, "If Jesus tests Peter's profession of love by the ministerial act of feeding his sheep, our sheep do not need gourmet meals. But they do need good, solid nourishment, and they are not ordinarily getting it."
The problem, Gordon argues, is not that preachers are lazy or that seminaries haven't done their job, although some may question that latter assumption in many cases; but that shifts in "culturally dominant media" (the movement from a text-based to an image-based culture) have altered our society and the way we think.
Too often preaching is done with technical competence but without the passion and depth that comes from meaningful tine spent with God and His Word. In Deep Preaching (B&H Books), Kent Edwards reminds us why we preach and offers powerful insights about developing and preaching sermons that go far beyond the superficial.
In Deep Preaching, Edwards offers preachers practical counsel for digging deeper as they proclaim God's Word. This book is less about preaching methodology than about an attitude of openness to the Spirit of God as the Source and Guide, as he reminds us the power of the sermon ultimately depends on the work of the Holy Spirit.
In How Effective Sermons Begin (Mentor), Ben Awbrey does a solid job of identifying the importance of sermon introductions and explaining how to use introductions to engage the congregation, establish the purpose of the sermon and establishing the context of the passage through orientation, summarization and connection. There is a lengthy and detailed discussion of the development of the sermon proposition, which Awbrey sees as an essential part of the introduction.
At times the book reads more like a seminary text than a book for pastors, but preachers at any level of experience will find How Effective Sermons Begin offers practical guidance for helping sermons make that all-important positive first impression.
R. Albert Mohler is the author of He Is Not Silent: Preaching in a Postmodern World. (Moody Press). Expressing his concern that "dangerous trends and many popular examples threaten to undermine the centrality of biblical exposition in evangelical pulpits around the world," R. Albert Mohler argues for a renewal of expository preaching that faithfully confronts congregations with the Word of God in this new book.
Mohler writes as a theologian and president of one of the nation's largest seminaries, but also as one who regularly preaches and has a significant interest in the subject. (He served as associate editor of Preaching from its founding until assuming the presidency of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky.) In He Is Not Silent, Mohler calls on preachers to avoid contemporary trends which would sidetrack them from their primary focus of reading and explaining the biblical text to their listeners.
He Is Not Silent is a powerful argument for the importance of biblical exposition in today's pulpits. It will provide a nourishing and encouraging reminder of the glory of our call and the urgency of our task.