Excellence in PreachingBy Simon Vibert (Intervarsity, 2011)

Excellence in Preaching: Studying the Craft of Leading Preachers (Paperback)
by Simon Vibert

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Simon Vibert is acting principal and director of the School of Preaching at Wycliffe Hall in Oxford, and associated with John Stott’s “Langham Trainers” which seeks to equip pastors around the world.

This is basically a collection of 8–10-page profiles of a variety of preachers from the U.S. and U.K., almost all of them in Reformed tradition: Tim Keller, John Piper, David Cook, John Ortberg, Rico Tice, Alistair Begg, Mark Driscoll, Mark Dever, etc. The structure makes for easy reading and the style is light. Each chapter/profile concludes with “Lessons for Preachers” containing an assimilable bulleted list of imperatives.

The book begins with “Jesus Christ The Preacher: Setting the Supreme Standard,” an assumption that the Son of God is the model for preaching par excellence. I do not disagree. But I would hasten to mention that all we see of Christ’s preaching in Scripture are edited snapshots here and there provided by writers who have are propounding their own Spirit-inspired theological agendas. That is to say, whatever we have in Scripture of Christ’s preaching (or the preaching of any other, for that matter) is scant evidence, hardly adequate for building a homiletical scaffolding or a hermeneutical paradigm. Considering the Sermon on the Mount, Vibert deals with Jesus’ audience (his own followers), theme/content (teaching plus exhortation), structure (bookends, chiams), manner (persuasion with authority and use of rhetorical techniques: syllogism, metaphor, humor, etc.), and movement (beginning, middle, and end) (21–31). The “Lessons for Preachers” in this chapter are: “Don’t be afraid to use rhetorical techniques”; “Draw in the congregation through a dialogical approach”; “Speak with authority”; and “Provoke questions” (31). No doubt useful lessons. But I am not convinced Matthew was giving us a set of homiletical/hermeneutical principles upon which to construct our own sermons. Neither am I persuaded that what Jesus did for his ancient audience is necessarily what I am to do with my modern listeners. Just because Jesus used these “Lessons,” does it become a mandate for the modern preacher?

From Tim Keller, we are to learn to “Anticipate objections”; “Read thoroughly and widely”; “Create intrigue”; and “Preach for a verdict” (39–40). From John Piper, “Apply Bible truth through the head to the heart”; “If it is true, be passionate about it”; and “Repreach the same passages or biblical themes until they are clear in your own mind” (49–50). And so on. In the opinion of this reviewer, such a shotgun approach is not conducive to improving readers’ homiletical skills. Perhaps a close analysis of a single sermon transcript from each candidate would have served better to highlight their strong points and to teach us all how to evaluate sermons, our own and others’.

Vibert concludes with an ambitious composite portrait of a good preacher, twelve things they should do well: be aware of cultural and philosophical challenges to the gospel; inspire a passion for the glory of Go; let the Bible speak with simplicity and freshness; be a Word-and-Spirit preacher; use humor and story; create interest and apply well; preach with spiritual formation in mind; make much of Jesus Christ; preach with urgency; persuade people passionately; teach with directness; preach all of the Bible to all of God’s people (152–153).

What I got most out this slim volume was a useful introduction to several U.K.-based preachers: Vaughan Roberts, Simon Ponsonby, Nicky Gumbel, Rico Tice, etc. I made up my mind to catch at least a few of them online one of these days. For most readers of the Journal, however, the bite-sized Lessons of homiletical wisdom in Vibert’s profiles will not be particularly useful.

Journal of the Evangelical Homiletics Society 12.2 (2012): 79–80

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