LET THE EARTH HEAR HIS VOICE – Greg R. Scharf (2015)

earthPreaching is at the very heart of the New Testament church. Yet many preachers find themselves struggling to prepare, lack the exegetical and theological tools to research adequately, and struggle to deliver sermons that connect with people.

Greg R. Scharf identifies some of these homiletical struggles in his new book, Let the Earth Hear His Voice. His primary argument is that pastors have weaknesses which need to be identified in order to improve in the pulpit. He compares these struggles to bottlenecks that restrict the flow of God’s Word to his people. These bottlenecks need to be unclogged which will lead to a more effective preaching ministry.

Eight foundational principles are set forth in Scharf’s work. These principles provide pastors with the necessary “muscle” which will strengthen their pulpit ministries. The principles include:

  1. Trust God
  2. Speak as those assigned, equipped, and empowered to do so.
  3. Speak from the Bible in ways that reflect the Bible’s composition as a literary collection.
  4. Listen to God before they attempt to speak for God, discerning what he is saying.
  5. Understand those to whom God has called them to speak.
  6. Respect and reflect the clarity and orderliness of Scripture while discerning the way people hear.
  7. Respect and reflect the ways that Scripture communicates in stories, propositions, and images.
  8. Take seriously their role as messengers who also embody the message they proclaim.

Each principle is subsequently viewed in a negative way. That is to say, each principle is viewed as one of the eight bottlenecks. The author describes the bottlenecks (unbelief, unqualified or disqualified preacher, faulty text selection, inadequate understanding of the text, inadequate contextualization, faulty organization, inadequate balance of proposition and illustration, and flawed delivery).

Scharf carefully explains each bottleneck in the remaining chapters. He presents reasons for guarding against each respective bottleneck and strategies for overcoming them. The conclusion of each chapter contains practical exercises which are designed to help and encourage struggling shepherds.

Let the Earth Hear His Voice is not a typical preaching book. Frankly, it stands alone in a growing list of excellent books. Scharf’s work is a welcome addition and a complement to books like The Supremacy of God in Preaching by John Piper, Preaching & Preachers by D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, A Biblical Theology of Preaching by Jason Meyer, The Kind of Preaching God Blesses by Steven J. Lawson, and He is Not Silent: Preaching in a Postmodern World by J. Albert Mohler. Pastors would do well to absorb the excellent material in this book. May God use this book to his glory as pastors learn and discern their weakness and faithfully wield the mighty sword for the edification of God’s people!

I received this book free from the publisher.   I was not required to write a positive review.

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A BIBLICAL THEOLOGY OF PREACHING – Jason C. Meyer (2013)

1433519712_bAnyone who fills John Piper’s shoes deserves to be heard.  That’s my attitude about Jason C. Meyer, the young pastor who recently accepted the call to serve as Senior Pastor at Bethlehem Baptist in Minneapolis, Minnesota.  John Piper writes the forward to Meyer’s new book, A Biblical Theology of Preaching.  Piper eagerly endorses the new work and celebrates the “expository commitments of Jason Meyer,” (a phrase that should lure every expository preacher to this book).

I. THE BIG PICTURE: BIBLICAL THEOLOGY OF THE MINISTRY OF THE WORD

Meyer presents his thesis in the first chapter.  He argues, “The ministry of the Word in Scripture is stewarding and heralding God’s word in such a way that people encounter God through his word.”  In reality, the stewardship presented here is a three-way arrangement: There is a necessary stewardship of truth between God and the preacher and between the preacher and his congregation.  Ultimately, the stewardship rests in the members of the congregation who have a responsibility to hear God’s Word and be changed by it.

One of the major themes here is the resolution that God will bring; a resolution that will address a creation that is presently groaning.  God will bring a new creation through the majestic King, the Lord Jesus Christ – all through the promised seed of the woman.

II. A SURVEY OF PARADIGM SHIFTS IN THE MINISTRY OF THE WORD

Part two is a panoramic look at Scripture and a survey of paradigm shifts.  The author presents ten paradigms as it relates to stewardship of the Word.  These shifts are outlined below:

  1. The Stewardship of the Covenant of Creation
  2. The Stewardship of the Covenant of Promise
  3. The Stewardship of the Covenant of Law
  4. The Stewardship of Joshua, the Judges, and Samuel
  5. The Stewardship of the Covenant of Kingship
  6. The Stewardship of the Prophets
  7. The Stewardship of Psalmists and Scribes
  8. The Stewardship of the Son
  9. The Stewardship of the Apostles
  10. The Stewardship of the Pastor

Meyer gives readers a chance to pass on section two.  However, in my mind, expository preachers should be urged to press through this excellent material as the author makes direct application to ministry.  One set of principles that emerge in Chapter 6 is especially helpful:

  • God’s word is bursting at the seams with life-giving power and man’s word is not.
  • Sin and rebellion stem from a failure to steward God’s word.
  • God’s word is a word of blessing when followed and a curse-bearing word of judgment when broken.
  • Even after God’s word is broken, it provides the promise of redemption with the announcement of a coming deliverer.
  • Redemption results from hearing and trusting God’s work of redemption promised by his word.

Meyer works hard to show the positive examples (Noah, Abraham, Moses, Joshua, Samuel) and negative examples (Balaam, Eli) of biblical stewardship as they surface in the redemptive plot-line of Scripture.

III. EXPOSITORY PREACHING TODAY

Part three is the “skeletal structure” of the book and provides readers with the rationale for expository preaching.  Meyer helps readers understand the what, the how, and the why of expository preaching.  Anyone who surveys these chapters will be convinced of the necessity to preach expository sermons.  The unconvinced probably should not be preaching.

IV. SOUNDINGS FROM SYSTEMATIC THEOLOGY

Part four includes several reflections that build on the previous sections.  One helpful sentence makes this section especially worth reading: “I am not to be a lead questioner of the text as a model for my students, but a lead worshipper over the text – modeling worshipful engagement with God through the text for my students.”

The strengths and weaknesses of topical preaching are given.  But in the final analysis, local church ministry should be undergirded by expository preaching.  Meyer notes, “A preaching ministry with a steady diet of expository preaching is the best strategy for the long-term health of the body of Christ.”

SUMMARY

A Biblical Theology of Preaching is a much-needed book in an age that is drowning in proof-text preaching, topical preaching, and man-centered methodology.  Meyer’s sounds the alarm and invites preachers to wield the Word of God in the way that God intends with power, authority, and faithfulness.

4 stars

THE KIND OF PREACHING GOD BLESSES – Steven J. Lawson (2013)

There is a crisis in the church, a crisis of preaching that is both expository and biblical.  Dr. Steven Lawson identifies this crisis in his newest book, The Kind of Preaching God Blesses. 0736953558_l And while Lawson takes time to uncover the preaching crisis, the lion’s share of the book is a measured antidote; an antidote that is soaked in Scripture and is focused on the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ.

The Kind of Preaching God Blesses is an expanded sermon based on 1 Corinthians 2:1-9 that Dr. Lawson has preached in several settings.  The book is comprised of six headings and are summarized as follows:

1. Everything Except the Main Thing

The author reminds preachers that their task is to proclaim Christ crucified.  Lawson writes, “Sadly there is enough dust on the average pulpit Bible to write Ichabod upon it.”  Indeed, the glory has departed!  What is needed is a new Reformation in the pulpit today: “To fulfill this sacred duty, every preacher must proclaim the full counsel of God.  Every doctrine in Scripture must be delivered.  Every truth must be taught.  Every sin must be exposed.  Every warning must be issued.  And every promise must be offered.”

I can bear witness after serving in pastoral ministry for over 20 years that Lawson’s challenge comes with a price tag.  As one who has sought to preach the full counsel of God’s Word, it is a sad thing to admit that the greatest criticism has come when I have proclaimed the doctrines of God’s sovereignty, predestination and reprobation, radical depravity, monergistic regeneration, and of course – the doctrine of hell.  But price tag or not, preachers have this mandate before them: “Preach the Word!”

2. Slick Schtick

“To an alarming degree, an increasing amount of preaching these days can only be described as ‘slick schtick.’  By this I mean that form of communication in which the preacher has little to say, but tragically, says it very well.”

Here the author opposes the postmodern trend to tickle the ear and attract seekers by watering down the message.  He notes, “Carnal ears will always want to be charmed and not confronted, captivated and not challenged.  Those who stand in pulpits must not cave in to these demands, but maintain the apostolic standard of preaching.”

Chapter two is a primer on how not to preach.  Using Paul’s model to the Corinthians, the author warns pastors to refuse to preach with superior speech or lofty speech.  He repudiates the use of gimmicks in the pulpit.  And he warns against the use of worldly wisdom and so-called human wisdom.

3. One Master Theme

109_0932The master theme that must resound in every sermon is the person and work of Jesus Christ.    For “to preach the Bible means, chiefly, to preach Christ and him crucified.”

In one of my several visits to the former Soviet Union, I walked into a village church and noticed a sign with Russian characters inscribed above the pulpit.  I asked the pastor, “What does it say?”  He responded with a huge smile, “Oh, David – it says ‘We preach Christ crucified.'”  And so must every man who steps up the preacher’s desk on a weekly basis.
109_0935

Lawson pounds home the importance and necessity of preaching Christ crucified.  He notes, “By His vicarious death, Jesus did not merely make salvation hypothetically possible based upon man’s response.  He actually saved a definite number of sinners.  True preaching declares the cross as the only way of salvation.  Those in bondage to sin have been redeemed by the blood of Christ.”

And the author boldly challenges pastors: “Is Jesus Christ the dominant theme in your preaching?  In the pulpit, do you magnify His sovereign lordship and saving work?  In your ministry, do you continually point your listeners to him?  Do you call people to commit their lives to him?”

4. Strength in Weakness

The focus of chapter four is the role of the Holy Spirit as He empowers the preacher.  Paul writes emphatically, “And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God” (1 Corinthians 2:3–5, ESV).

So pastors must rely exclusively on the Holy Spirit to receive power when proclaiming the truth of God’s Word.  Preachers who are empowered by the Spirit, therefore have a God-dependence about them.  Additionally, they are passionate about the truth they proclaim.  No passion – no preaching.

5. A Sovereign Wisdom

The kind of preaching God blesses is grounded in sovereign grace.  Lawson remarks, “There is a foundational truth in preaching that must undergird every message – namely, that God is sovereign over all things.  With all Spirit-empowered exposition, God must be proclaimed as the Supreme Ruler over all the affairs of human history.”  So biblical preaching entails a strong message of God’s sovereign control over all things which finds its culmination in the cross work of Christ which was foreordained before the foundation of the world.

This chapter is especially encouraging to me – for over the years I have been challenged by some who questioned my emphasis on sovereign grace.  Indeed, the proclamation of sovereign grace is not a mere footnote to the ministry of proclamation; it stands at the very center of a solid preaching ministry!

6. Marching Orders

Dr. Lawson concludes with an exhortation to preach with distinctly Trinitarian messages.  Faithful pastors proclaim Christ crucified, emphasize the ministry and power of the Holy Spirit, and draw the attention of listeners to the predestinating work of the Father.  This is the kind of preaching that God blesses.

Summary:

The Kind of Preaching God Blesses is not a typical homiletics text, however it does speak to the topic of homiletics.  Most preaching texts will prescribe specific nuts and bolts of biblical exposition.  Lawson’s work serves as more of a stimulus – a “holy shove” if you will.  It is less of a play book and more of a prescription book.  Indeed, this book is the book that pastors everywhere need to read and re-read, absorb, study, and take the contents to heart.  It is not a “t.v. dinner” that serves up empty calories that refuses to satisfy.  Rather, this work is something akin to a prime rib feast with all the trimmings.  Some will be put off by Lawson’s approach.  Others will discount it as old and archaic.  But those who ignore the message of this book, do so to their own detriment.  This little book is destined to explode in the hearts and minds of hundreds of pastors around the world.

This little book is destined to explode in the hearts and minds of hundreds of pastors around the world. I am excited to see how God will use this valuable book; one that should be in the library of every pastor as a forceful reminder that concerns the magnitude of the preaching task.

5 stars

PREACHING FOR GOD’S GLORY – Alistair Begg (2001)

Originally published in 1999, Alister Begg’s Preaching for God’s Glory is a welcome reminder that points to the necessity of expository preaching.

Begg argues that preaching should by definition be expository, “Bible-based, Christ-focused, marked by doctrinal clarity, a sense of gravity, and convincing argument.”  He clearly chronicles  the tragic demise of this kind of biblical preaching which is of no advantage to God’s people.

Begg discusses the reason for the departure of expository preaching from so many pulpits.  He is convinced that there is a loss of confidence in the Bible.  He adds, “The expositor is not a poet moving his listeners by cadence and imagery, nor is he an author reader from a manuscript.  He is a herald speaking by the strength and authority of heaven.”

The tragic failure to preach expository sermons has resulted in confusion and malnutrition.  “The tragic medicine,” writes Begg “for this disease is the preaching and teaching ministry that God has established to bring his people to maturity.

Begg explores the nature of expository preaching.  Preachers must begin with the text, stand between two worlds, and show how a given text is relevant in the twenty-first century.

Finally, Begg discusses the benefits of expository preaching.

1. It gives glory to God alone.

2. It makes the preacher study God’s Word.

3. It helps the congregation.

4. It demands treatment of the entire Bible.

5. It provides a balanced diet.

6. It eliminates Saturday night fever (or last-minute preparation).

Preaching for God’s Glory is a worthy addition to a small list of worthwhile books on the preaching task.  Begg does not pretend to offer a  comprehensive look at preaching.  It is, however, a reaffirmation of the importance of expository preaching that must not go unheeded.  Indeed, all pastors must embrace the mandate to preach for God’s glory.

4 stars.