What We Believe
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The Heart Is the Target by Murray Capill

Shane Lems

Ordained Servant: April 2015

Catechizing

Also in this issue

A Dozen Reasons Why Catechizing Is Important

Rediscovering Catechism by Donald Van Dyken

Grounded in the Gospel by Packer and Parrett

Confessing the Faith by Chad Van Dixhoorn

Catechism

The Heart Is the Target: Preaching Practical Application from Every Text, by Murray Capill. Phillipsburg: P&R, 2014, 272 pages, $16.99, paper.

Writing and preaching sermons is tough work—and that’s an understatement! The preacher has to labor in the original languages, lexicons, and commentaries. He has to know the background, context, structure, and flow of a text, not to mention the main themes and points found in the text. Then he has to organize the sermon in a way that is faithful, clear, and easy to follow. After this, he has to actually preach the sermon in a pastoral manner to the congregation. And if he doesn’t apply God’s Word in his sermons, he still has not done his duty. Writing and preaching sermons is tough work indeed!

There are quite a few helpful books on preaching—with which many Ordained Servant readers are familiar. But there are not many solid books that go into the details of biblical sermon application, so it is certainly worth pointing out a good one here: The Heart is the Target by Murray Capill. This book discusses the nuts and bolts of sermon application from a Reformed and biblical perspective. Capill says it this way: “Effective expository preaching takes place when biblical faithfulness and insightful application are inextricably bound together” (14).

The first part of the book is what Capill calls the “living” aspect of application. In this section he explains how God’s word is living, active, and profitable. Capill writes that application has to do with the life of the preacher and the lives of the hearers. To apply God’s Word to God’s people, God’s minister must know the Word, believe the Word, and be nourished from the Word himself. Capill also notes that biblical application aims at the heart of the hearer, which includes the mind, conscience, will, and passions. Furthermore, since people in the pews are all quite different, Capill takes a whole chapter to show that “one size doesn’t fit all” in application (chapter 5).

In the second part of the book the author gives details of how to apply Scripture. Here the topics of kingdom living, redemptive history, indicatives and imperatives, and a holistic approach to application are discussed. Thankfully, Capill purposely avoids legalism and moralism in his discussion on application since he constantly focuses on grace and the gospel. While I don’t necessarily agree with Capill’s brief notes on cultural transformation, I did appreciate his explanation that pastors must preach biblical truth in a way that is applicable for the various vocations to which God has called his people. At the end of the book there are some illustrations and helpful charts that summarize several of the outlines in the book.

I’ve read a good handful of preaching books before this one, but I have to say this one was more challenging and thought provoking than most. There were some parts of the book that were so good that I outlined them on a separate sheet to help me do the work of application better. In fact, some outlines are even still on the white board in my study as I type this review! One important thing I learned in the book is to be proactive about applying Scripture. That is, in sermon preparation and writing I shouldn’t wait until the end to make application points. Rather, I should be thinking about application early on in the process.

There isn’t enough space to explain all the specifics of why I appreciate and recommend this book. One example will have to do. In chapter 6, Capill encourages preachers to do four things with a biblical truth: 1) state it, 2) ground it, 3) impress it, and 4) apply it. How do we impress and apply the truth in a way that “hits” the hearts of the hearers? In these various ways: 1) appeal to people’s own judgment, 2) anticipate and answer objections, 3) give reasons, motivations, and incentives, 4) be specific, pointed, and direct, 5) use illustrations for clarity, 6) provide testimonies to the truth, 7) show what it looks like in practice, 8) use fresh and vivid words, and 9) speak personally and passionately. This is an excellent chapter because Capill explains in detail these various ways of applying God’s truth in sermons.

If you’re a pastor who would like some help applying God’s Word in your preaching, do yourself (and your congregation!) a favor by studying this book. Even if you don’t agree with every part of it, I’m certain it will be very helpful if you approach it with a teachable mind. As pastors, of course, we should always be students of homiletics. This book is a good teacher in that department!

Shane Lems serves as pastor of Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC) in Hammond, Wisconsin. Ordained Servant Online, April 2015.

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Ordained Servant: April 2015

Catechizing

Also in this issue

A Dozen Reasons Why Catechizing Is Important

Rediscovering Catechism by Donald Van Dyken

Grounded in the Gospel by Packer and Parrett

Confessing the Faith by Chad Van Dixhoorn

Catechism

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