As a rare and occasional ‘preacher’, I’m interested in books that will make my next unlikely adventure worthwhile, whilst as a Reformed person who loves the Bible, I’m always interested in what is being said by people I respect about things I love. This book – ‘When God’s Voice is Heard: The POWER of Preaching‘ – fits into the above categories rather well. Edited by two good preachers, and with a sterling cast of contributors, it is a book that has simulated and tweaked my thinking around this vital subject.
The great strength of this book, perhaps unsurprisingly, is the breadth of its contributors. Divided into three parts, it addresses the different and relevant components of preaching. The first part is an interesting study, of Dick Lucas and St. Helens Bishopsgate, by Chris Green, titled ‘Preaching that shapes a ministry‘. When I reflect on the people who have impacted my life through their preaching, they are known for that ministry in their different contexts. I think particularly of John Benton at Chertsey Street Baptist Church, Peter Lewis at Cornerstone, and John Wright at Trent Vineyard, and latterly (with less national or international fame, but a balm for my soul, Neil Woodward at South West London Vineyard Church). The study of Lucas and Bishopsgate, though, is fascinating.
The first part of this book looks at the relationship between preaching/the preacher and the Bible. This is a good place to start! Peter Adam kicks off with a study of ‘The preacher and the sufficient Word: Presuppositions of Biblical Preaching‘, which is a helpful look at how important the text and a theology of preaching is. John Woodhouse then helpfully unpacks ‘The preacher and the living Word: Presuppositions of biblical preaching‘, which is a helpful reminder of one of the Holy Spirit’s most important roles. There is a helpful chapter from Peter Jensen on ‘Preaching the whole Bible: Preaching and biblical theology‘, which is an important thing to keep in mind – every text is part of a bigger context, the grand narrative and sweep of the whole of Scripture. This section closes with a masterful chapter from Sinclair B. Ferguson, ‘Preaching Christ from the Old Testament‘, again a vital reminder, and here done beautifully.
The middle section is the shortest, interestingly, and looks at the preacher as a person, and focuses on two key roles. J. I. Packer clearly unpacks one of my passions in his chapter, ‘The preacher as theologian: Preaching and systematic theology‘, which is a helpful reminder of a slightly different tone to Jensen’s, but again emphasising the place of any given sermon/text in a wider whole. This is followed by what could be one of the most important chapters in this book, Edmund P. Clowney’s ‘The preacher as pastor: The Shepherd’s care‘. Often, certainly in some of the Evangelical circles I have floated in, preaching can be seen as an academic exercise, or even a competition! One of the primary tasks of preaching, however, is the exercise of the pastoral office. Clowney unpacks this well, in what is an important chapter.
The third and final section deals with what preaching does. Again, moving away from a narrow, cerebral view of preaching is welcome, and the chapters in this section contain some gems. Frank J. Retief starts with ‘Preaching that grows the church‘, looking at the different forms and ways of growth that are relevant to preaching. Philip Jensen then returns with an interesting chapter, ‘Preaching that changes the church‘, which offers ideas that would be helpful for preachers looking to shift and change the tone or direction of a church. Don Carson follows this with a great chapter, ‘Preaching that understands the world‘, echoing John Stott’s charge to understand culture and text, which is very helpful. Truth doesn’t change, but the place and way we proclaim it looks different now than to what it used to. John Chapman provides a helpful penultimate chapter, ‘Preaching that converts the world‘, which is a helpful reminder of the power of preaching, properly understood, in bringing life to the spiritually dead. Much preaching – and indeed many preachers – seems to exist only to maintain the status quo, but God’s mission, and intent for preaching, is more than maintenance. The final chapter comes from David Jackman, known in the UK for his preaching and training of preachers, and is simple; ‘Preparing the preacher‘. This chapter is another welcome one that goes beyond the cerebral and contributes to making this a well rounded and comprehensive collection of thoughts and theology on preaching.
In conclusion, then, this is a great book on preaching! It is certainly a useful manual for those who regularly preach, a reminder too, but also offers a cohesive and (as mentioned above) comprehensive look at the way in which preaching works and is meant to work. I’d recommend this book both to preachers (whether regular or sporadic!) and to those with an interest in preaching, as well as those trying to work out what they think about the preaching of God’s word.