What We Believe
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Theology Is for Preaching: Biblical Foundations, Method, & Practice, edited by Chase R. Kuhn and Paul Grimmond. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2021, 343 pages, $29.99, paper.

A pastor must be both theologian and preacher. In his mind, the union between them should be so strong than neither can be considered without the other. Theology and preaching are bound together like fuel and fire. Neglect theology and preaching becomes separated from the life-giving and life-sustaining truths of God’s Word. Neglect preaching and there is no proclamation of divine truth, the truth that kindles a love for God and faith in Jesus Christ.

That love of theology and preaching distinguishes the twenty-one essays in Theology Is for Preaching. Contributors demonstrate expertise in their fields and a firm grasp of the place expository preaching holds in the life of God’s church.

The editors, both lecturers at Moore Theological College in Sydney, are persuaded that “when we preach, we come to every text with a theology, and each text refines our theology as we carefully listen to the word” (xix). Therefore, faithful preachers pay attention to both biblical and systematic theology as well as adopting a preaching method that “will flow from theology” (xx–xxi).

Essays are arranged under five headings – Foundations, Methodology, Theology for Preaching, Preaching for Theology, and Theology Preached.

Part 1: Foundations

In the opening essay, “Theology for Preaching, Preaching for Theology,” Chase Kuhn makes the case that “preaching in its most biblically faithful form is deliberately theological” (1). The Reformation affirmation sola scriptura does not mean that interpreters approach a passage of Scripture as if it were a newly discovered island awaiting exploration, its terrain as yet to be mapped. Instead, there is a “nexus of recursion” between text and theology in which “theology informs our reading of Scripture, and our reading of Scripture continues to refine our theology” (10). Failure to study theology impoverishes preaching.

Mark Thompson contends that preaching is not a pragmatic tool chosen by the church to spread its message (31). Rather, preaching is grounded in the doctrine of God—the God who speaks—and with words reveals his character and plans. Indeed, “God’s speech is the engine room of the biblical story” (23–24). His Son, our Savior Jesus Christ, is the Word made flesh, and his life and ministry were “word-saturated” (29).

Other essays in this section include a lexical study of words translated “preaching” and “teaching” in our English versions, a historical examination of the Second Helvetic Confession’s denominating the sermon “as the word of God,” and a presentation of the biblical qualifications of preachers and the way they are set apart for the preaching office. The last essay (67–79) by Christopher Ash contains a helpful review of the qualification of pastors and the role that ecclesiastical bodies perform in examining candidates for ministry. The God who sends out ministers to fields of harvest is good and sovereign, and those preparing for ministry do well to “remember that God is able to get you into the service where he wants you, in the place he desires, in the time he chooses” (78). Candidates for ministry, sessions, and presbyteries will benefit from the author’s exposition of Scripture and prudent counsel.

Part 2: Methodology

These seven chapters cover a variety of topics as they relate to preaching methodology and include the role of Scripture in the worshiping congregation, Old Testament hermeneutics (with a helpful explanation of the emphases of Christocentric and Christotelic views of preaching, 111–27), the implications of proclaiming Christ crucified in preaching, and the person of the preacher.

In his chapter “Expositional Preaching in Historical Context: A Rich and Inspiring Resource” (155–78), Peter Adam offers “twenty features of expository preaching” (156–57). He demonstrates how those features were displayed in the preaching of Augustine and Calvin. Their preaching methods serve as a vantage point from which contemporary preachers may evaluate their own work.      

Part 3: Theology for Preaching

How preaching is shaped by the doctrines of salvation, sanctification, eschatology, and worship is the focus of this section.

Although most readers of Ordained Servant are not a part of the Anglican tradition, they will still benefit in reading David Peterson’s “The Priority of Proclamation: Preaching in a Liturgical Context” (236–50). He notes the inclusion of Psalm 95 in the order of daily morning prayer (found in the 1662 Book of Common Prayer) and its position before the day’s other Scripture lessons. Psalm 95, he comments, “is both a call to corporate worship and also a challenge to hear God’s voice and not harden one’s heart against him” (242–43). Study of historic orders of liturgies can alert today’s pastors to how the various parts of worship fit together and serve the ministry of the Word. We should assume that earlier generations may have captured significant insight that may well have escaped us. Whatever our tradition, we will prepare better for worship and ministry of the Word if we have taken the time to familiarize ourselves with the historic liturgies of the church.

Part 4: Preaching for Theology

Theology shapes the lives of those assembled to hear God’s Word preached. Just how this transformation takes place concerns this section’s three essays.

According to Simon Gillham, as the congregation grows in right theology (its knowledge of God), hearers grow in maturity and godliness. Therefore, “there is a perpetual feedback loop, or better a feedback spiral. Knowledge leads to transformation (to fear of God, obedience, love, righteousness, and the like), and transformation leads to knowledge. What is more, both are expected to continue to do so” (254–55). Preaching, at its best, does more than derive a series of truths from a text and then present them along with applications. Biblical preachers must consider the literary forms of the Old and New Testaments, and how they should influence the composition of our message. He deals with two specifically: narrative and parables (260ff). The preached Word is meant to shape the congregation throughout the week as they live together in families and in communities, communicating within these contexts right theology (264–66).

A pastor instructs his congregation in how to listen to sermons. Helpful counsel for listening well is found in Jane Tooher’s (269–85) essay. Her counsel is concrete and imminently practical. For example, she offers a list of questions that an “ideal listener” might ask in response to a sermon, including “What must I do? What might I do? What can I do? (actions),” “How does this change / challenge / encourage my thinking? (knowledge),” and “How does this passage challenge / correct / encourage my emotions?” (278). Any reader—pastor or lay person—will benefit from her wisdom.

Paul Grimmond fittingly concludes this section with “Letting the Word Do the Work: A Constructive Account of Expositional Preaching” (286–97). Beyond question, biblical preaching must be faithful to the text and communicated in language that is accessible to the congregation, but it also must appeal to the heart. “Faithful expositional preaching will shape God’s people by addressing their hearts in the very way that Scripture addresses the heart” (292). Week-by-week expositional preaching gives the congregation the “framework” they will need to live faithfully and obediently for Christ in their various relationships (292—93).

Part 5: Theology Preached

The final section forces the preacher to consider what his congregation actually hears when he preaches. Of course, they must hear a sermon that is faithful to the Word of God. For that to happen, argues Simon Manchester, the preacher must listen before speaking (301–12). This requires that the minister himself listen to God’s Word before he preaches, a point the author ably demonstrates from Jeremiah 23:16–32. Are the preacher’s words accurate expositions of the text, or does he only tell the congregation what he thinks they need to hear? The author shares that “one of the things I keep thinking through with my own team in the ministry is whether we are turning good news into bad and caning God’s people, or are we turning bad news into good simply to satisfy our people and protect ourselves?” (304–5)

Phillip Jensen concludes the book with a sermon on Luke 5:1–11, “Meeting Jesus,” (313) and offers observations about the sermon. In keeping with the book’s premise, he explains how his commitment to the unity of Scripture shapes his message (322). I wish there had been additional chapters like this—sample sermons followed by the preacher’s explanation about how he approached the text and selected his sermon’s contents.

Conclusion

I recommend this book. Its contributors succeed admirably in demonstrating the critical importance of theology to preaching. The link between right theology and faithful preaching is indissoluble.

Theology Is for Preaching is a much-needed corrective to an unfortunate trend in contemporary evangelicalism. We live in a time when many preachers, consciously or otherwise, approach preaching without regard to how their own theological tradition shapes their ministry of the Word. This is misguided. Theology has a disciplining effect on the preacher, directing both what he says and does not say. David Starling puts it well when he reminds that

a prior knowledge of the theological tradition can have an appropriately chastening effect, reminding the brash or impetuous interpreter that he or she is not the first to wrestle with these verses, and that the conclusion that seems self-evident to one interpreter is not always so obvious to another. Theological understanding can sometimes help us to say less, not more. (91–2)

Do not look in this volume for any shortcuts to faithful biblical preaching. The preacher must perform strenuous spadework in the biblical text as he prepares his sermons. It is challenging, time-consuming work—so much so that the pastor ends up spending little or no time preparing the congregation to hear and apply the preached Word. The essays in part four will help pastors tend to this important duty.

Reading this book made me think of the treasure Presbyterians have in questions two and three of the Westminster Shorter Catechism. Here we find our theology of the Word derived from Scripture itself: “The Word of God, which is contained in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, is the only rule to direct us how we may glorify and enjoy him.” Here we find the preacher’s task: He is to study the whole counsel of God so that he may proclaim “what man is to believe concerning God, and what duty God requires of man.”

Charles M. Wingard is senior pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Yazoo City, Mississippi (PCA), and professor of pastoral theology at Reformed Theological Seminary in Jackson, Mississippi. Ordained Servant Online, February 2022.

Publication Information

Contact the Editor: Gregory Edward Reynolds

Editorial address: Dr. Gregory Edward Reynolds,
827 Chestnut St.
Manchester, NH 03104-2522
Telephone: 603-668-3069

Electronic mail: reynolds.1@opc.org

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Ordained Servant: February 2022

Prayer in Ministry

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Digital Covers of Ordained Servant Online 2006–2021

The Priority of Prayer for the Pastor

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Commentary on the Form of Government of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, Chapters 24

Reflections on Revelation in the Time of Covid, by Susan E. Erikson

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