Having paid good money for a 300-page tome, you might feel cheated when you discover that one third of the pages are taken up with acknowledgments, an appendix and 68 pages of end notes! But you could do with an extra bookmark to guide you through the end notes since they are worth reading!
There is much to stimulate heart and mind in this latest offering from Tim Keller. He writes engagingly from a long-term ambition to write about preaching. Acknowledging that many have done the same before him, he is humble enough to recommend 17 previously published books on the subject.
The material is presented in three parts: ‘Serving the Word’, ‘Reaching the people’ and ‘Preaching in the Spirit’. There is a chapter on sermon preparation in the appendix. His text is laced with quotations from many sources, with Alec Motyer, Sinclair Ferguson, C. H. Spurgeon, John Calvin and Jonathan Edwards featuring strongly.
The book is advertised as ‘an accessible guide for pastors and lay people alike to present the Christian message’, but I suspect its readership will be more among the former.
Keller stresses the need to preach Christ and to preach the gospel in every sermon. He warns against a purely moralistic application of Scripture. The gospel is to be applied to unbelievers and to believers. Believers are to be exhorted to live gospel lives on the basis of what Christ has done for them.
He takes great pains to emphasise the requirement to speak into the culture of our day, understanding its thought patterns, using its language and quoting from its sources, in order to bring the challenge of the gospel. In my opinion, he overstates the importance of acquainting ourselves with culture.
Having agreed with Spurgeon that we may spend too much energy defending the Bible when we should be expounding it, he falls into that same trap. I found the chapter on ‘preaching to the modern mind’ tedious and distracting, with its extensive analysis of the western mindset. Such an emphasis could lead to sermons taken up with apologetic material rather than biblical content.
Keller rightly emphasises the importance of preaching Christ from all of Scripture. However, in doing so, he offers what I consider some unconventional and unhelpful examples of how this should be done. I think he is inclined to force Christ into texts where he is not meant to be found; I believe ‘Christ in all the Scriptures’ doesn’t mean Christ in every verse.
With the above reservations, there is much here to help those of us engaged in the demanding work of preaching the unsearchable riches of Christ to our generation.