The Glory of Preaching
Some books provide a comprehensive guide to preaching. Others specialize in one aspect of homiletics. The Glory of Preaching does a little of both, but it aims to do more: to remind us of what’s really happening when we someone stands up to preach. In short, it's a theology of preaching applied.
Whenever a human being, Bible in hand, stands up before a group of other human beings, invites the gathered assembly into a particular text of the Bible and as faithfully as possible tries to say again what the living God is saying in the text, something always happens. Something transformative, empowering, life-giving happens.
When we understand that, Darrell Johnson believes, we're on our way to understanding what it means to preach.
A Quick Survey
The Glory of Preaching is split into three parts.
- Part One lays out the theoretical foundations. It sketches a theology of preaching that helps us understand how God moves when we preach. It also explains what's happening when our preaching seems to have no effect. It provides a paradigm for expository preaching, and examines the biblical verbs for preaching.
- Part Two gets practical. It applies the theory to the life of the preacher, describing the steps we take from text to sermon and how to structure the sermon. It challenges the idea that preachers should apply the text, instead arguing that we must invite the listener to live in light of the implications of the text. It also surveys the person and life of the preacher.
- Part Three returns to theory, inviting us to stand in the mystery of preaching, and challenging us to "take our stand in the mystery of the human person, in the altered structures of reality and in what the creative, redeeming Spirit of God is doing with the text, the preacher, the hearers."
The epilogue provides a sermon on discipleship.
The Glory of Preaching alternates between theology and practice. I don't think I've ever read a book that spends so much time on what preaching is, while also covering the practical steps we need to take to prepare to preach.
The Heart of the Book
Most people — even preachers — don't seem to expect much from preaching. We do it, but we seem to tolerate it more than anything. Preaching seems humble, ordinary, even a little ugly sometimes.
The Glory of Preaching excels at challenging our diminished expectations. Do we really understand what God is up to when the preacher opens up the text? "One of the greatest needs of the preaching ministry, in any era in any cultural setting, is the continual recovery of confidence in the word of Jesus Christ," Johnson writes. The power isn't ultimately in our preaching, in the preacher, or in the listeners. The power is in the Word and the Spirit, who is active as we preach.
Our job as preachers isn't to get the message to the people, but to get the people into the text, so that they text (through the Spirit) can do its work. When we recover a proper view of the power of God's Word, we'll expect more every time someone preaches.
The Glory of Preaching makes some points that I've never read anywhere else. Johnson suggests that we memorize the text before we preach it, for instance. Talk about challenging! The section on writing for the ear is valuable, and his process is more exhaustive (and maybe exhausting) than most that I've read.
At times it felt like the book wasn't as tight as it could have been. Everything in the book is valuable, but I found it hard sometimes to trace each idea back to the main thesis of the book.
My favorite chapter may have been the one on application. Johnson writes:
I want now to do what I can to lift a horrible burden off of preachers. It is the burden of “applying the text” to the everyday life of the listeners. Yes, we can, and we should, try to help people understand the text’s radical implications. But applying the text is not the preacher’s responsibility.
This chapter is both provocative and necessary. I wish that every preacher could read it. You don't have to agree with Johnson, but he makes some excellent points.
As a result of reading this book, I'm more aware of the importance of preaching. When God speaks, something always happens. Preachers have the privilege of being part of this process, but it's not up to us. "The responsibility does not belong to the hearer. The responsibility belongs to the text, to the God of the text."
Reading this book will give you useful advice on how to preach. But it will do something even more important: it will help you expect more from the act of preaching. We don't just need to become better preachers; we need to recover our confidence in God's Word and God's Spirit. The Glory of Preaching will help you do both.
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