'Preachers' and 'idolatry'. Surely these two words don't belong together? Or do they? The apostle John ends his first letter with the plea, 'Dear children, keep yourselves from idols' (1 John 5:21) - an exhortation to believers to keep alert to insidious temptations of all kinds. What is true of Christian life and ministry in general is true of preaching in particular, and John's warning may be taken as a specific warning to preachers who can easily fall prey to various forms of idolatry associated with their calling. With insight and wisdom, Derek Tidball reviews a selection of idols to which preachers are particularly vulnerable, under four headings: the self, the age, the task and the ministry. His aim is not to condemn - for the task is perilous enough - but to alert, and thereby help us to avoid those factors which, although good in themselves, become idolatrous, deposing God from the throne which is rightly and exclusively his. Our preaching should be offered up as a worthy sacrifice to the one, true, living God.
This book is for preachers. Its aim is to warn them of the particular forms of idolatry to which their calling exposes them. This task it accomplishes well, on the whole. The footnotes are a mine of information about recent books on preaching.
Twelve forms of idolatry, in all, are addressed, including the more obvious ones of popularity, success, entertainment and the quest for novelty. Tidball warns of the dangers of being ‘no longer shaped by scripture, but by technique and the desire for success’. At the same time, he stresses that we must avoid being boring and predictable. He is good also on the need to resist the clamour for immediacy.
One of the best chapters is that on busyness, including an illuminating exchange between an overworked pastor and his elders about the need for real pastoring over against the concerns of running the church. His sections on the dangers of secularization, familiarity and professionalism are helpful too, the last-mentioned balanced with a timely warning of the dangers of amateurism.
The section on the idolatry of the pulpit is less convincing. Preaching itself, like anything else, can of course become an idol. However, Tidball’s critique raises questions about the nature and centrality of preaching which seem not to reflect the primacy which the Bible itself gives to word ministry. He is good, however, in emphasising the need for the preacher to work at his preaching and not to despise the science of rhetoric, at the same time as depending entirely on the work of the Holy Spirit for fruit.
This is a worthwhile book for all preachers.
Principal, London Theological Seminary