January Review - Preaching

Preaching by Timothy Keller, approximately 6 hours reading time. 

They say, 'It takes one to know one!'  If that's so then it's probably a good thing that this New York Times best-selling author is also a pastor and  preacher.  

I went over this book three times, not because it is a 'comprehensive text' but for much the same compelling reason as Rev. Fred Fulford, who says it has helped the most of anything he has read since Bryan Chapel's 'Christ-Centered Preaching'."  Fred  estimates this to be the best book he has read on Preaching in a decade.  

Timothy Keller offers up fresh insights on communicating the essence of the Christian faith, whether it is delivered via a Sunday sermon - or a chat in a coffee shop. 

Well-known for his other solid books like, 'Walking With God Through Pain and Suffering',
'The Reason for God', and
'The Meaning of Marriage',
Keller here offers another practical resource for anyone who wants to connect the Gospel better with an increasingly secular age. 

The truth is, it isn't easy nowadays to communicate what it really means to be a follower of Christ in a compelling, life-changing way.  I agree with Keller's feeling that even pastors have difficulty applying the Bible to people's lives so that they encounter Jesus. 

In studying the 33 words translated as 'preaching' in the New Testament, Keller finds the ministry of the Word of God is not just public speaking before an audience.  Teaching and admonition can be on a much  more informal level in the home or casual one-on-one.  Citing 1 Pet. 4:10-11, the gift of speaking is broadly understood as counsel, instructing, teaching or evangelizing; Keller including today's  small groups and blogging as examples.

Not really a how-to book, Keller suggests that what takes us from good to great preaching comes from the Holy Spirit's anointing.   Central to this book is the insistence (see 1 Cor 2:1-5) that our preaching should have nothing but Jesus as the main theme, just as the early Church's preaching did, yet only with the older testament as its text.  This follows the disciple's discussion with the resurrected Christ on the Road to Emmaus who explained who He was from all the scriptures (Luke 24:27).   We must confine ourselves to Jesus but we never need become repetitious. 

We are preaching in service to the text almost desperate with love for the word and love for people, as matter of life and death. We must preach the gospel every time to the culture, with wonder at the greatness of what we have in Christ.  A saying Keller likes is 'Let the lion out!'  We don't need to overly defend our view of the authority of Scripture.  Preach, and it will defend itself. 

Contextualization is a key concept in this book. We care enough to confront, while realizing the madness of Christianity to people in the secular age.  The preacher must watch for terminology and insider language (we vs. them) of what I like to call the distraction of 'churchianity'.   The apostle Paul confronted culture and yet found catalyzing points for the listener.   Preaching must build on exposition and culminate in application laying the heart bare to Christ.  With people so highly mobile today, Keller majors on expository preaching and also offers topical preaching because we want the hearer to have as wide a range of teaching as possible.

Grace salvation works out in obedience as a loving response.  Both legalism and antinomianism reject grace. They are twins of self-salvation stemming from a belief that God does not truly  love us.  Grace is the antidote to doubting cynicism. 

But some have asked:  Is the sermon form dead?   Do we need to adapt in order to confront?  Keller urges us to find the most loving way - we both care and confront a society that is not as hostile as it is ignoring of Christianity.  Secularism has its own set of beliefs but are they largely invisible to those who embrace them.   We need to hold a light to the hidden belief web of  modernity's sovereign self.   Ultimate meaning cannot be found philosophically because the question of identity is not 'Who am I' but 'Whose am I'. He names us as ourselves, as His child.  We need Someone from the outside to tell us of our worth.  

As we call out cultural norms, we affirm and contrast with biblical themes.  To contextualize is to persuade in familiar ways.   By supplementing the biblical text with contemporary thinkers in quotations and anecdotes that reach a secular mindset,  Keller gives ample examples for the preacher to springboard from as he synthesizes multiple scripture passages with a variety of impactful quotes.  
He recommends that preachers diversify their conversation partners in order to demonstrate an understanding of disbeliefs.   This comes by listening well and acknowledging the hard questions are there. On occasion, agree to disagree in sermons. 

We are all, believers or not, shaped by our culture.  Engaging it in challenging gospel preaching equips the believer as it also witnesses to the unbeliever.  We end up doing evangelism and spiritual formation at the same time, with our audience ranging from the sceptic to the committed Christian (see Mark 4 soil conditions).
You can't touch hearts - the mind, will, imagination - unless your own heart has been moved:  humbled, wounded, healed, exalted.  Preaching has nothing to do with acting or manipulation.  With a well prepared and thoroughly prayed through sermon, you can then preach it and experience your sermon.  As Whitfield said, "Thunder and Lightning can never be put down on the page."  So when was the last time you heard preaching with tears of joy?  Do we evoke wonder with analogy, word pictures, and extended metaphors, putting fresh words to familiar concepts?

Keller prefers a variety of application be woven throughout by asking direct questions , warning, encouraging, comforting, urging and stirring up.  Let the text and not your temperament control.  We will at times be warm as well as forceful. 

Spiritual fruit is held up as more important to the pastor than even gift-skills.  We need true grace in operation, not mere gifts.  Encouragingly, Keller speaks of a 'compensatory godliness' whereby wisdom and love make up for shortcomings such as shyness, cautiousness, etc.  With loving boldness we can preach in humility and power. 

Beyond information, Keller describes the worshipping sermon as most complete.  It is preaching from the heart - powerfully, wondrously, affectionately, authentic - Christ adoring.   In closing a sermon the following is suggested. "You can't live like this.  But One did, and you can begin to live like Him."  Christo-centric through and through. 
In this accessible guide for pastors and laypeople alike, Keller helps listeners learn to present the Christian message of grace in a more engaging, passionate, and compassionate way.