Preach the Word: Essays on Expository Preaching: In Honor of R. Kent Hughes Edited by Leland Ryken and Todd A. Wilson (Crossway, 2007).

A stellar array of writers is featured in this festschrift, including D. A. Carson, Wayne Grudem, Phillip Jensen, Duane Litfin, John MacArthur, and J. I. Packer. A brief critique of selected essays from the book follows.

Leland Ryken declares that “all biblical exposition is literary analysis” (39). If “evangelical hermeneutics has championed the idea of authorial intention,” then “it stands to reason that biblical writers intended that expositors do something with the literary dimension of their writing” (52). The reader will also appreciate Ryken’s advocacy of keeping preaching rooted in human experience and relevant to daily life. “Many (perhaps most) expository preachers are so captivated by theological abstraction and (even more) by the interlocking story of salvation history that pervades the Bible that the orientation of their sermons is to whisk us away from the everyday world to a world of theological abstraction” (50). Amen!

Here’s a recommendation from Wayne Grudem for seeing the “Big Picture” of the Bible: “The entire Old Testament leads up to [Christ] and points to him, and the entire New Testament flows from him. Therefore, we should always ask, ‘What does this text tells [sic] us about the greatness of Christ?’” (69). While one can have no issue with the sentiment that God’s ultimate revelation of Himself was the Logos incarnatus, one is unsure about the necessity of “always” seeing Christ in every text. Besides, Grudem also asks the interpreter to “read every passage of the Bible with a salvation history timeline in our minds” (71). One worries that such a reading, if one is preaching contiguous pericopes, will result in monotonous repetition of themes. For those engaged in preaching pericope by pericope, such an exclusive focus on systematic or biblical theology is inadequate; the specific theology of the pericope under consideration must not be forsaken.

John MacArthur calls for “expository faithfulness” that is the result of diligent investigation of the text (77). The trifold basics of Bible study are emphasized—observation, interpretation, and application (81–85). After providing some guidelines for undertaking this exercise, he concludes: “put together an exegetical outline and add illustrations” (88). Needless to say, I doubt if many of the readers of this Journal would agree that a sermonic outline should be exegetical, rather than homiletical. And, following MacArthur, BruceWinter makes exactly that point in the first sentence of his essay: “[P]reaching that ‘simply exegetes’ the biblical text is not sufficient to secure God’s intention of personal transformation through the Word of God” (93). Right on!

Duane Litfin’s burden in this book is to consider whether the kerygma Paul labels “foolishness” in 1 Cor 1:18 refers to the content or the form of apostolic preaching (108). Acknowledging that the majority of interpreters weigh in on the side of content, Litfin argues that “it also delineates something important about its form, about its mode of communication” (110). This may be true, but Rom 16:25; 1 Cor 15:4; 2 Tim 4:17; Titus 1:3; etc., seem to give more weight to content rather than form. And, in context, 1 Cor 1:18 and 1:23 seem to be clearly relating foolishness to the content of the preaching (so also 1 Cor 2:14). Litfin cites 1 Cor 2:2: “I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” But that, too, sounds like fixity of content, not of form. Guidance on Paul’s form is probably better located in 1 Cor 9:22. He desired to be all things to all people so that by all means some might be saved. Clearly, a degree of freedom in the choice of rhetorical form is thereby suggested.

Peter Jensen rightly asserts that “[i]t takes an entire seminary to produce a preacher” (209). He notes that this is not a new idea, for “[i]n an earlier day it was the clear aim of Protestant seminaries to graduate preachers” (210). This is certainly a creditable intention, but the goals of seminaries today are multifarious and not just limited to preacher-production. Neither is becoming a preacher necessarily the vocational goal of every seminary student these days. The point, nonetheless, is well taken: a collaborative inter-departmental effort is essential if seminaries are to serve the church. Moreover, Jensen declares, the quality of a preacher should not be determined in the homiletics class, but rather in and through the entirety of seminary life and curriculum (218–9). Indeed! The spiritual effectiveness of a pastor is more than preaching ability, no question.

Overall, the book provides fodder for thought on a variety of topics related to preaching. While not much is new, there are elements in each essay worth interacting with and reflecting upon. The preacher will find this collection useful.

Journal of the Evangelical Homiletics Society 9 (2009): 123–124

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