Why a good start should not be important but is
I've enjoyed a few weeks away and noticed how many of the good books I read began well. Can you spot the openings? Click through for the answers. (I realise, by the way, that releasing my summer holiday reading habits is a dangerous business, but I'd just like to point out that this wasn't all I read!)
- Thirty years ago, Marseilles lay burning in the sun, one day.
- Everything comes to an end
- His children are falling from the sky
- Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again
- The thud of a big gun woke Ian Fleming from his doze.
Doubt you got them all, but then my reading tastes are a bit eclectic. The point is that the first line often draws you in. It hooks you.
So should it be with sermon introductions. They need to faithfully introduce the sermon, I think. You can't just tell your best one-liners. But they need to hook and intrigue and tell listeners – this is one for you.
But here's the thing. They shouldn't have to. In an ideal world, our hearers would be so hungry for the word of God that we could begin like John Owen, "The apostle in these verses carries on in his previous design." But the sad reality is that our messages have to accommodate to the fact that people are not hungry as they should be, they need to be persuaded to listen. And therefore, a good start is important. Don't write it first (before you know what direction the sermon is going to take). But do take care over it.
Best books on preaching (10)
I've saved one of my favourites till last. Peter Adam's volume is the theology of preaching and it warms my heart. This is such a dense, packed book that it requires slow reading to take in all the gold that is found here. It's not dry and dusty theory though. Adam backs it all up with practical help and advice. It was formed from material origianlly given at Moore College Sydney and later delivered on our ministers conferences (incidentally, Peter is speaking at our Spring conferences next year, why not book a space now?). It's now republished in the New Studies in Biblical Theology series by our friends at IVP. Better cover. Same excellent book.
Best books on preaching (9)
You know what Piper is going to say, right? Of course. But here he applies his trademark style to preaching, and it is worth it. It's not long. It's easy to read. But it's important stuff. It takes us away from the 'how to' and delivers on the 'why?' Erwin Lutzer says every preacher should read it once a year. Well, I'm British, so I'm less effusive. But it's certainly worth reading more than once! You know what you're going to get – a healthy dose of Jonathan Edwards (taking up last three chapters). The chapter on the work of the Holy Spirit in preaching is biblical, measured and challenging.
Best books on preaching (8)
I said Ed got two in the list and here's the second. I'm always telling my preaching group to make sure their sermons offend the Rabbi and Iman. That's a rather provocative way of saying that preaching should always be preaching. This book is actually a collection of sermons – worked examples of the principles laid out in the first chapter. Both warming and helpful. And, joy, in print still!
Best books on preaching (7)
When The Trellis and the Vine came out, many of us thought 'this is an excellent book, but where is preaching mentioned or championed?' The answer was – if only we knew it – that we were waiting for volume 2. And it was worth the wait. This book is not long, it's essentially a developed and worked illustration of an arrow and target, but it is readable, useful and rewarding. If you are an experienced preacher it may not tell you anything you do not know – but I still think it's worth the read anyway. And buy copies for your leadership team too. Read it with them. Importantly, it stresses the importance of both systematics and biblical theology (a necessary balance which may have been lost in recent years).
Happy Bank Holiday
The office is closed today (UK Bank Holiday) so enjoy an extra rest day. We will.
Best books on preaching (6)
It used to be that preachers were marked out by whether they liked Stott on preaching or MLJ. No longer, I hope. Both are useful. But sadly, until recently, both were out of print in the UK. That's Hodder for you. Langham have sorted out the Stott book. Who's going to sort out MLJ? It has been reissued in the US and is available in the UK through amazon in a nice hardback with essays from Dever, Duncan, Piper et al. It can be a bit dated at times, being written up, as it was, from lectures given at Westminster Theological Seminary. But the material is still of immense value. Practical and warm too. It's typical Doctor – not a laugh a minute lite, but weighty, thoughtful and useful. A nice present in hardback form and, like Stott, one to go back to regularly.
Best books on preaching (5)
5. Preaching and Biblical Theology by Ed Clowney
Ed gets two books in my list. Here is the first. Every preacher knows the importance of biblical theology. But every preaching also knows how it can limit preaching if you're not careful. It can end up sounding like you've only got one Old Testament sermon, for example. Ed sorts that out. This is a masterful addition to Vos' work on biblical theology where Ed expands the implications for preaching. It's not new (1961) and is out of print – but there are cheap second hand copies around (search ebay and abebooks). Worth hunting down.
Best books on preaching (4)
Short. Pithy. Pastoral. To the point. A book written for ordinary preachers in ordinary churches. A book which simply says "it is worth it." Every pastor needs this book and needs to re-read it from time to time. Nuff said.
Best books on preaching (3)
There are lots of "how to" books on preaching. These make me a little nervous because they give the impression that the spiritual work of preaching can be reduced to a classroom exercise. People (except those who have actually come) say the same about Cornhill. For the record, it is hardly unspiritual to think carefully about a text and aim to convey its message faithfully! That does not deny the Spirit's work, nor say that there is nothing spiritual needed when one preaches!
Haddon Robinson's book (called Biblical Preaching in the US) is the masterly introduction to prepaing expository messages. It covers many of the same things we would cover on Cornhill, perhaps a little more rigidly. As such it is really very useful to someone starting out in preaching. In fact, as I write, I am prompted to send a copy to someone I know who needs some help – it's that kind of book.