November 7, 2013

Book Review: Preaching? Simple Teaching on Simple Preaching by Alec Motyer

Alec Motyer attempts the challenging task of trying to explain how to preach in as simple a manner as possible without losing focus on the upmost importance of Scripture which is Christ. One of the overriding theses of this book is hinted at when the author states that he wishes to assure that no one who wants to preach need do it in a poor manner. He posits that people's sermons turn out bad because they are muddled and untidy. He states that we make mountains out of molehills by making the sermon too complex and this detracts from its effectiveness. Sermons contain too many superfluous ideas and language (I've been guilty of this myself). We use ten dollar words and ideas when we can use five dollar ones.

He insists that one of the primary dangers of a person preparing a sermon is the temptation to turn personal experiences into universal truths. I agree with him on this issue. We must never forget as expositors and preachers of the word that we are called to teach and preach the Word first. If we need to add application to the sermon to carry a point, that's fine. But to totally shanghai the sermon and make it a personal diatribe flirts with misrepresenting God's word and this is dangerously close to heresy.

As Motyer launches into his book he hits the central issue of preaching square on its head like a hammer driving home a nail into the Cross. The centrality of Scripture is the Gospel and Jesus Christ. It therefore stands to reason that the Gospel of Jesus Christ deserves the primary focus of a sermon. The author in a roundabout manner essentially states the question everyone needs to ask themselves about a passage of Scripture being exegeted for a sermon:

"Where is the message of Jesus in this passage and how do I draw that out of the passage so it is understandable?"
The opening of Chapter 4 further elucidates this point by stating:
"The New Testament has an enormous vocabulary in connection with communicating the Gospel."
The implication from this statement is that the language is already there for use, we need only faithfully proclaim it. Jesus is the Gospel. We need to always be trying to find Jesus in  our passage and how do we draw Him out of the passage in an understandable way?

Motyer then outlines central ideas for outline. These ideas are central to many preaching books I have read in attempting to refine my gift:

(1) There is a central point
(2) There is a planned method of disseminating that truth (sometimes right within the text)
(3) There is a decision to parlay that truth with as much clarity and accessibility as possible
To tie the centrality of the message directly from Scripture and use the Scripture to do so is essentially the root of expositional preaching. This is the heart of what Motyer is getting at in this book. It is the age old question for preachers: What is the main point and how do we keep the main point the main point? Doing so without interjecting too much outside personal biases starts the task of creating a sermon as stated above. The outline subsequently mentioned helps to refine this task.

All of this takes examination of not only the Bible but how it applies to our lives. We need to study the Bible and the world we live in. We need to study ourselves or human nature and how we relate to the Bible text. He then redirects the reader to all the modern avenues for accomplishing these tasks. The Bible itself is our primary source since the first rule of interpretation is to let Scripture interpret Scripture. He also mentions other technical sources such as commentaries, cross-references, etc. All the while we need to maintain the focus on the central issue in our passage and the principle it is trying to convey.

The author also seems attentive to the absolute necessity of coaxing the true meanings in the words and grammar that often get lost in translation like participles and Greek tenses such as perfect tense. The English versions are accurate to the original texts in most cases in either a literal word-for-word (NASB) or paraphrasing of ideas (NIV) but the English still comes off "wooden". Motyer seems to encourage the coaxing of the meanings by reading multiple sources of the same material to get a better rounded picture of the intent of the passage in its proper context. Those that know the original languages have an advantage here but there are now so many resources (mostly electronic) that this advantage has been greatly diminished.

Along with all of the systematic organization and clinical advice this book gives for examination of source material (Bible) and secondary interpretive material (commentaries) it also hints on other essential time-honored areas critical to successful sermons. The foremost of which is the spiritual aspect. Preaching is not all dried bones of academic legwork. It is not all technical praxis. It is at its root, a relational communication to the One that has revealed Himself in the Scripture we are to examine. We need to pray and we need to maintain that spiritual link to the one that gives life to the Scriptures that we attempt to examine and expound on so others can understand its meaning. In this way the Scripture has the seeds within itself to produce life in others. The same life that resides in the text requires we maintain the link to the one that gave Scripture its life. If there is no Spirit in the work of examination and proclamation one needs to ask themselves if it is really the work of God in the sermon we create. There is not only inspiration of the Spirit in the writing of Scripture, there is also the Spirit working on the other end when we take the truths out now.

All in all the book is biblical and does a decent job of making the aforementioned points. It strenuously conveys the importance of keeping Christ central and keeping the main point focused in a sermon. It is a quick read. Is the material trendy and extraordinarily new? No. It dosen't seem that this was the intent of the author. It stays true to its intent by practicing what it preaches:

Simplicity and focus of thought. That focus of thought is on the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

The book clocks in at 144 pages before entering the appendices. Is it a horribly technical book? No, it wasn't meant to be. There are other books out there on preaching for that purpose.

As the book alludes to but never comes right out and states, the Gospel doesn't need gimmicks. The pattern for preaching the Gospel was laid out by people like Jesus in the Gospel accounts and Peter / Paul in Acts. When we try to add fancy window dressing to the Gospel it is like adding ketchup to prime rib. When we make the Gospel about ourselves...we miss the main point. It is about Christ, not us. The more of us we keep out of the way of the Gospel, the more clearly and more easily the Gospel is conveyed. We need only make sure our sermon is properly researched, organized and delivered...and that is the main point of this book.

1 Corinthians 2:2 ~ For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.

1 Corinthians 15:3-4 ~ For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures

No comments:

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...