A Review of the Book, The Art of Preaching in the Twentieth Century Between Two Worlds, by John R. W. Stott
Preaching is indispensable to Christianity, and Preachers are urged to have a practical understanding of their craft to make an impact. The deplorable situation in the Church Today is partly due to preachers that are not truthful to the Word of God. Preaching, in simple terms, is a Proclamation that is to reveal God to the target audience; the Christians. The Sermon is what a preacher makes of the Word of God, and many preachers no longer take the trouble to study the Word of God in depth to be able to proclaim it without fear or favor.
There is fear that the pulpit might lose its potency or power of delivery. That fear is probably why John R. W. Stott published ‘The Art of Preaching in the Twentieth Century Between Two Worlds, a 351-page book of Eight Chapters that aims to bring the much-awaited revival in Preaching. The author himself is a great preacher, and he was able to write effectively about preaching, showing that ‘one foot of a preacher must be anchored in the Bible and the other in the Contemporary world.’ The book’s contents begin from the Editor’s Preface to the Epilogue. There are Eight main chapters, and they are:
- The Glory of Preaching: A Historical Sketch
- Contemporary Objections to Preaching
- Theological Foundations for Preaching
- Preaching as Bridge-building
- The Call to Study
- Preparing Sermons
- Sincerity and Earnestness
- Courage and Humility
Summary of Book:
In Chapter One, titled ‘The Glory of Preaching: A Historical Sketch,’ the author restated that the Trinitarian Statement of a speaking Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and so of a Word of God that is Scriptural, Incarnate and Contemporary, is fundamental to the Christian Religion. The author glimpsed the glory of preaching through the eyes of its Champions in every century using:
- The historical survey of Jesus,
- The Apostles and the Fathers,
- The Friars and the Reformers;
- The Puritans and the Evangelicals;
- The Nineteenth Century and The Twentieth Century.
He then concluded on double value; the first is to demonstrate the long and broad of the Christian Tradition, which accords great importance to Preaching, and the second is the consistency of this long and broad tradition.
Chapters two and three identified the Contemporary Objections to preaching and the Theological foundations for Preaching. The three main obstacles to preaching Today highlighted by the author are (1) The anti-authority mood that makes people unwilling to listen; (2) addiction to television which makes them unable to do so and (3) the Contemporary atmosphere of doubt which makes many preachers both unwilling and unable to speak.
These three gave rise to paralysis at both ends, speaking and hearing. The author addressed this in the next chapter three. He argued theologically for the indispensable and permanent place of preaching in the purpose of God for His Church. The priority task of a preacher is to expound the truth of the Word of God. These truths about God and Scripture, the Church, the pastorate, and biblical exposition must reinforce our trembling convictions.
The author, in chapter four, summarized the principal features of a preaching ministry, conceived as an activity of bridge-building between the revealed Word and the Contemporary world. In chapter five, ‘The Call to Study,’ he explained this bridge-building further. To the author, Exploration means StudyStudy. It is only in the fruit of preachers’ conscientious studies; Preaching will be fresh, faithful, and relevant, yet also simple enough for people to understand. The last three chapters (Chapters 6 – 8 ) dealt with preparing Sermons and delivery of Sermons. The author looked into Sincerity and Earnestness, Courage, and Humility issues. His anecdote for Sermons preparation are:
- Choose Your Text
- Meditate on it
- Isolate the Dominant Thought
- Arrange your material to serve the Dominant Thought
- Write down and pray over Your message
The author quoted E. M. Bounds in his writing at the beginning of the century “the man, the whole man, lies behind the Sermon. Preaching is not the performance of an hour. It is the outflow of life. It takes twenty years to make a sermon because it takes twenty years to make the man.” (Bounds, p.11; what’s wrong with preaching Today?) He also quoted James Black ‘the best Preaching is always the natural overflow of a ripe mind and the expression of a growing experience.
A good sermon is never worked up but worked out.” The author agreed that the words’ outflow’ and ‘overflow’ express that faithful Preaching is never a superficial activity; it wells up out of the depths. He made an urgent call for courageous preachers in the world Today’s pulpits, like the Apostles in the early Church, who were all filled with the Holy Spirit and boldly spoke the Word of God. (Acts 4:31 cf. v.13)
In the author’s analysis of a preacher’s humility, he made a case for a humble mind (being submissive to the written Word of God), a humble ambition (desiring an encounter to take place between Christ and his people), and a humble dependence (relying on the power of the Holy Spirit). To him, this indicates that a preacher’s message must be God’s Word, not his, and his aim is Christ’s glory, not the preacher’s. Dr. Stott found it imperative to conclude the book’s last chapter by quoting some anonymous words which the Rev. Basil Gough found in the vestries of St. Mary – at – Quay Church in Ipswitch, Suffolk and Hatherleigh Parish Church in Devon:
“When telling thy Salvation free,
let all – absorbing thoughts of thee
My heart and Soul engross;
And when all hearts are bowed and stirred
Beneath the influence of thy Word,
Hide me behind thy Cross.”
My view from the perspective of a writer and a preacher is one of the author’s targets audiences. The book is durable with a bold, attractive typeface and cover. I commend the expert proofreading and editorial effort put into it. The clarity of the fonts and the prints make the book reader-friendly. In the book, the author brings to bear his years of experience as a preacher, a Christian Crusader’s zeal, and a teacher’s resourcefulness.
I agree that the book defends preaching and guides those called to do it into a practical understanding of Preaching. The book is Biblical, relevant to Today’s Preaching, and spiritual in its truth and thrusts. The book can change a preacher’s life.
The book “The Art of Preaching in the Twentieth Century-BETWEEN TWO WORLDS” achieved the author’s purpose to make one become a better preacher. Throughout the book, the author states that Preaching is indispensable to Christianity. He encouraged Preaching and showed how it must be balanced and anchored in the Bible and the Contemporary world. His opinion is that the ‘glory’ in the preaching ministry prepared us to face with integrity and gave practical advice on StudyStudy and sermon preparation. According to the author, God called us to preach with sincerity, earnestness, courage, and humility to restore health and vitality to the Church and lead its members into Spiritual maturity.
The strength also lies in its share of humor from the ecumenical parables, quotations, and references. The author believes that though the Holy Spirit is very potent in ministering to us, it offers no comfort to lazy, proud, and pious preachers who fail to prepare their sermons.
The historical sketch in chapter 1 was far from complete; the author used a very subjective selection of witnesses instead. The author did not offer what I can term a ‘Magical’ solution to turn a lousy preacher into a good preacher though he attempted it in his emphasis on the Dominant Thought. The helpful formula given by Dr. Sola Aworinde in getting the main idea in preparation for Sermon is not espoused in the book. “M.I = S + C” where M. I is the Main Idea, S is the Subject, and C is the completer. To me, this is a password to good Preaching. The book’s binding is not good enough as the sheets come loose with reading or opening pages.
I recommend it to all Preachers and Seminary Students, especially students of Homiletics. Please buy it, read it and study it.