Always watchful of the fate of the printed word, Benjamin Franklin surveyed the trends of the late eighteenth century and warned in 1786 that Americans were abandoning books for newspapers.
Two hundred years later the book finds itself up against even stronger foes, including that most formidable opponent, television. Yet the printed page remains the most useful means of conveying thoughtful information and discourse.
Indeed, the problem is not in finding enough books to read. The major presses in the United States produce literally thousands of new titles each year — many of them worth reading. The challenge for the preaching minister is to choose from those volumes the books most useful and challenging for ministry.
Each year Preaching surveys the publishing markets most relevant for preachers and, in consultation with our Board of Contributing Editors, reports in our Annual Book Issue some of those worthy new titles. Our listing is necessarily selective, and many worthy books will be slighted in the brief survey.
Some books mentioned below have been featured in “The Preacher’s Bookshelf.” Others are new books from religious publishing houses and major trade publishers.
Our Board of Contributing Editors brought rich suggestions and evaluations to this process. From positions in academic life and parish ministry, each brought a unique perspective to the new resources available to the preacher.
One thing is clear: the preacher who would stay sharp and stay interesting will be an avid reader of the best books available. Each of the books suggested below will serve the preacher well.
Fred Craddock recently noted the emergence of a whole new interest in serious books on preaching. His own book, Preaching, our 1986 “Book of the Year,” has become one of the mainstays of the homiletical world.
Clearly, our 1987 “Book of the Year,” Homiletic, will take its place among the most influential recent volumes on preaching. Nevertheless, in addition to the emergence in recent years of the magisterial preaching texts such as Buttrick, Craddock, and Cox, a whole new market of books directed at specific dimensions of the preaching task has emerged.
These range from the short but extremely thoughtful essays A Primer for Preachers by Ian Pitt-Watson (Baker Book House, 1986), and Why Preach? Why Listen? by William Muehl (Fortress Press, 1987), to books directed toward particular problems and contexts for preaching.
J. Randall Nichols, Director of the Doctor of Ministry degree at Princeton Theological Seminary, in The Restoring Word: Preaching as Pastoral Communication (Harper and Row, 1987), brings an approach which unites the preaching task with the preacher’s responsibility for pastoral counseling.
Preaching, in Nichols’ vision, can be a healing and restoring event within the life of the congregation and the preacher. The preacher is both priest and prophet, though many preachers find the priestly role difficult to wear in the pulpit. Nichols offers insightful perspectives on uniting these two pastoral tasks.
Preaching in the Spirit (Zondervan Publishing House, 1986) by Dennis F. Kinlaw, and Preaching Through a Storm (Zondervan, 1987) by H. Beecher Hicks, Jr., represent two creative and sensitive approaches to preaching in particular contexts.
Hicks brings the wisdom of one who has preached “through the fire” in one of America’s largest black churches. His insights will enrich those preachers in the midst of conflict — and challenge others who suffer under the illusion that they are not. Kinlaw brings the richness of the Wesleyan tradition to the preaching role and offers keen insights on preaching as something “that human energy alone cannot produce.”
Three ongoing series bring together energetic and thoughtful minds focused on specific issues of the sermon. Zondervan Publishing House’s “Ministry Resources Library” has released a trio of titles through its series, “The Craft of Preaching.” Introducing the Sermon: The Art of Compelling Beginnings by Michael J. Hostetler (1986), John W. Drakeford’s Humor in Preaching (1986), and Creativity in Preaching by J. Grant Howard (1987), bring useful approaches to oft-neglected dimensions of preaching.
“Fortress Resources for Preaching,” a most worthy series by Fortress Press, was joined by John Blackwell’s The Passion as Story: The Plot of Mark. Blackwell, a preaching minister himself, addresses the whole of the Christian faith as seen through the passion narrative in Mark.
Just off the press and” available for this article are the first three volumes of a new series by Westminster Press. Each volume, written by established and respected authors, brings a unique preaching context to careful consideration.
William H. Willimon, a Contributing Editor to Preaching, writes Preaching About Conflict in the Local Church. Elizabeth Achtemeier’s Preaching About Family Relationships and Preaching About Life in a Threatening World by Ronald Sider and Michael A. King complete the three volumes currently available in the series. Each promises a profitable reading of these serious themes.
Harold Freeman’s Variety in Biblical Preaching (Word Books, 1987) offers several approaches to preaching biblical messages. In nominating this volume, Contributing Editor Haddon Robinson noted: “Preaching that suffers from the dullness of the ordinary can be transformed. Variety is not only the spice of life, it helps the flavor of sermons as well!” A New Hearing: Living Options in Homiletic Method by Richard L. Eslinger also takes a survey approach, but delves into the depths of major homiletical methods currently in development. Both will enrich the reader.
Twenty years ago William Toohey and William Thompson surveyed the contemporary literature on preaching and noted: “Almost everyone has an opinion about preaching.”1 Two decades later the opinions proliferate — and enrich the discerning preacher.
A virtual renaissance of serious and careful biblical studies has emerged in recent years, bringing new insights on scriptures and offering new power for preaching. Preachers browsing the local trade bookstore will likely never see these important volumes and may remain blessedly content with commentaries and biblical studies left from seminary courses.
The bookshelves of many preachers contain little in the way of contemporary biblical studies. This impoverishes biblical preaching. Though the Word remains ever the same, there are continually emerging ways of hearing the Word anew and afresh.
Several new works stand out in their relevance to the preaching task. Leon Morris, an evangelical scholar of international reputation, brought forth his long awaited New Testament Theology in late 1986 (Zondervan Publishing House). Of great benefit to preachers, Morris’ work reflects his aim “to find out what the New Testament authors meant, and this not as an academic exercise, but as the necessary prelude to our understanding of what their writings mean for us today.”
Another important work, The Synoptic Problem: An Introduction by Robert H. Stein (Baker Book House, 1987), represents a serious evangelical engagement with the issues raised by the synoptic gospels. Preachers will find their preaching on texts from the synoptics enriched and sharpened by their serious attention to this volume.
An encouraging sign in recent years has been the release of important biblical commentaries. Though commentaries constitute the heart of many personal libraries, it has become increasingly difficult to choose from the embarrassment of riches found in the new commentaries.
Among the best are volumes from the new Word Biblical Commentary. A massive project, the work is directed by general editors David A. Hubbard and Glenn W. Barker, with Old Testament editor John D. W. Watts and New Testament editor Ralph P. Martin.
Representatives of these important commentaries are John by George R. Beasley-Murray and the two volumes on Isaiah by John D. W. Watts (Word Books, 1986-1987). Both make use of the best critical studies and the finest biblical scholarship while holding firm to evangelical convictions and the history of interpretation. With volumes averaging over 400 pages, this is serious and rewarding reading.
Another stellar commentary to emerge in recent months is The First Epistle to the Corinthians by Gordon D. Fee in “The New International Commentary on the New Testament,” (Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1987).
Fee, among the finest evangelical scholars in North America, writes with clear insight and keen understanding. Contributing Editor Stuart Briscoe notes: “Fee has given us the most detailed, scholarly, sane, and readable evangelical commentary on First Corinthians in the English language. One may not always agree with him on all controversial subjects, yet one must not ignore him.” This commentary may well serve as a model for other evangelical scholars to follow.
Frederick Dale Bruner’s The Christbook: A Historical/Theological Commentary, Matthew 1-12 (Word Books, 1987), is a most promising volume. Through careful biblical exegesis and theological interpretation, Bruner is able to demonstrate the purpose of the Gospel of Matthew as a doctrinal manual of the early church. Bringing the finest in both biblical and theological studies together, The Christbook is the first volume of a two-volume theological commentary on the gospel.
Other promising commentary series continue to grow: The Interpretation commentary on Job by J. Gerald Jantzen (John Knox Press, 1986) represents one of the newer volumes in this profitable series. Brought into being by the people behind the journal Interpretation, this series is directed precisely toward those who preach and teach the text. Jantzen’s volume addresses the critical message of Job and offers catalytic suggestions for powerful preaching.
One of the most massive projects by any publisher, Hermeneia, represents an effort to bring the latest European critical tools to English readership. Published by Fortress Press, the series is represented well by the latest release, Acts of the Apostles by Hans Conzelmann (1987). The volume will be an asset to the serious preacher’s library. It is not for the faint-hearted.
Two interesting and stimulating volumes investigating the new literary and narrative approaches to biblical interpretation are worthy of note. The Narrative Covenant: Transformations of Genre in the Growth of Biblical Literature by David Damrosch (Harper and Row, 1987) is a unique study bringing together literary analysis, historical criticism, and the insights of comparative Near Eastern study. Rich insights into the meaning of several Old Testament narratives, including Moses and David, are gained through a consideration of this volume.
Another creative approach is that of Susan Niditch of Amherst College, who, in Underdogs and Tricksters: A Prelude to Biblical Folklore (Harper and Row, 1987) offers an unusual vision into the inner meanings of biblical folklore. Central to the folk characters of the Bible are the underdogs and the tricksters, both of whom are well represented within the biblical narratives.
Recent months have seen the unusual phenomenon of the release of several systematic theologies or part volumes. The decline of systematic theology in recent years has been checked by the serious theological efforts represented by these volumes.
The “Queen of the Sciences” and the handmaiden of the church has a great deal more vitality than some gainsayers allowed. The publication of numerous part volumes speaks loudly of prospects for the future.
Gordon R. Lew and Bruce A. Demarest of Denver Seminary collaborated to produce Integrative Theology, Volume I, “Knowing Ultimate Reality: The Living God” (Zondervan Publishing House, 1987). The work is truly integrative, bringing together historical theology, biblical theology and systematic theology, and focusing on the practical implications and apologetic dimensions of the theological material.
The product of careful interaction and an unusual collaboration, this promises to be an influential approach among evangelicals. Stuart Briscoe greeted the volume with enthusiasm, suggesting “If the other volumes keep up this excellent standard they should become the standard work for evangelicals, sharing this honor with Erickson’s Christian Theology.”
Millard Erickson’s three-volume Christian Theology represents the most massive exposition of evangelical theology in the modern period. It is now available in an unabridged one-volume edition (Baker Book House, 1987), making it even more accessible to the reader. Already in its third printing, Christian Theology has gained a place of deserved prominence among evangelicals and the greater theological community.
Two creative approaches are worthy of the preacher’s notice. James William McClendon Jr. of the Church Divinity School of the Pacific and the Graduate Theological Union, has completed the first volume of his systematic theology, Systematic Theology: Ethics (Abingdon Press, 1986).
McClendon seeks to demonstrate the priority of ethics as the starting point for a systematic theology, rather than the conclusion. “Theology,” says McClendon, “means struggle.” This careful volume represents his own effort to struggle with the shape of systematic theology.
Taking another angle, Thomas N. Finger of Northern Baptist Theological Seminary in Chicago has penned Christian Theology: An Eschatological Approach, Volume I (Thomas Nelson, 1986). Believing that it was the eschatological hope which propelled and sustained the early believing community, Finger seeks to identify and explore an eschatological perspective for a systematic theology. Both volumes will prod the preacher to consider new meaning in the major doctrines of the faith.
Three other systematic theologies represent worthy reading. Two of the largest Lutheran publishing houses have released significant theological titles. Augsburg Publishing House has released Responsible Faith: Christian Theology in the Light of 20th-century Questions by Hans Schwartz, Professor of Theology at the University of Regensburg in West Germany. This volume represents a serious engagement with both the theological issues and the modern world, from one who has been a professor of theology in both America and Germany. A sense of timeliness pervades the volume.
Fortress Press brought to publication the two-volume Christian Dogmatics, edited by Robert W. Jenson and Carl E. Braaten. A team effort, the volumes were written by the editors, along with Gerhard Forde, Philip J. Hefner, Hans Schwartz, and Paul R. Spondheim.
Christian Dogmatics is representative of the Lutheran perspective, but will be of interest to preachers of any denominational tradition. The effort grew out of the authors’ shared conviction that previous dogmatic efforts represented a Continental perspective, and that an American effort was needed.
One of the most promising theological efforts on the current scene is Thomas C. Oden’s The Living God, “Systematic Theology, Volume One” (Harper and Row, 1986). Oden, professor of theology at Drew University, has followed a unique theological pilgrimage, in part shared in his earlier volume Agenda for Theology (Harper and Row, 1979). In that earlier volume Oden indicated his search for Christian roots had led him to a new appreciation for the Fathers of the Church.
The Living God represents one of the most profitable theological ventures of the current period, richly informed by the Patristic material and the history of theological reflection, together with Oden’s pastoral perspective. Any reader will be enriched by Oden’s effort.
Two works on atonement round out our survey of theology. English theologian H. D. McDonald’s The Atonement of the Death of Christ: In Faith, Revelation, and History (Baker Book House, 1987) represents the first major historical survey of the atonement in many years. Richly informed by biblical exegesis and careful historical study, the book is a must for tracing the history of the church’s understanding of this central tenet of the Christian faith.
In the same vein, The Cross of Christ by John R. W. Stott represents a “must read” for the preaching minister. Stott, one of the best-known preachers of modern days, served with distinction at All Souls Church, Langham Place in London for many years. The Cross of Christ is the fruit of Stott’s long-standing focus on the cross, from pulpit and pen.
Contributing Editor Briscoe comments: “This masterful treatment of the major themes surrounding the cross of Christ will no doubt be a standard work. Stott explores the depths of theological significance and practical application of the touchstone of Christian faith.”
The historical perspective enriches all of life, giving a sense of context and tradition. Preachers find attention to the history of the church both interesting and profitable. The heritage of the church represents one of the most fertile sources of enriched preaching.
Lovers of the Puritans will find solace in Leland Ryken’s Worldly Saints: The Puritans as They Really Were, published by Zondervan’s Academie Books in 1987. As J. I. Packer notes in his foreword: “The sport of slinging mud has had a wide following. Pillorying the Puritans, in particular, has long been a popular pastime on both sides of the Atlantic. ‘Puritan’ as a name was, in fact, mud from the start.” Readers will find Ryken’s treatment of the Puritan’s robust discipleship enriching and surprising.
The pen of Martin E. Marty is seldom still, and this past year was among his most prolific. Standing out is the first volume of his survey of modern American church history, Modern American Religion, Volume I, “The Irony of It All” (University of Chicago Press, 1986). The volume chronicles the period 1893-1919 and is marked by Marty’s attention to the interface between the church and modernity.
Two books give particular attention to the history and prospects of American evangelicalism. Less Than Conquerors: How Evangelicals Entered the Twentieth Century (Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1987) details the emergence of American evangelicals from the safe nineteenth century to the threatening twentieth. Author Douglas W. Frank of Trinity College, Deerfield, Illinois, calls contemporary evangelicalism to an authentic gospel not threatened by cultural shirts and perceived threats.
James Davison Hunter’s Evangelicalism: The Coming Generation represents the most perceptive study of young evangelicals in the history of the movement. Contributing Editor Haddon Robinson found particular benefit in the volume’s effort “to compare the past to the present and anticipate the future.”
One other church history release demands note. Michael Marshall’s The Restless Heart: The Life and Influence of St. Augustine (Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1987) is one of the most satisfying treatments of a major character in the history of the church and “the Father of Western Theology.”
Marshall actually travelled to the major sites of Augustine’s life and chronicled the life of the great Bishop of Hippo. Though the book is beautifully illustrated and would grace any table, the text invites the reader to a new appreciation of a giant in the history of the church.
More accessible to most readers through local bookstores, several important titles nevertheless stand out. Mark Noll, an established chronicler of the American religious scene, has produced (with Roger Lundin) a fascinating study, Voices From the Heart: Four Centuries of American Piety (Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1987).
Noll and Lundin have edited a volume of primary sources, with a brief introduction prefaced to each. Selections range from John Winthrop’s “Sermon and Speech” and Jonathan Edward’s “Personal Narrative” to Woodrow Wilson’s “An Address on the Bible” and Virginia Stem Owens’ “A Hand in the Wound.” The power of the collection is unmistakable.
Two significant evangelical works in Christian Ethics represent a new attention to that most critical area of concern. John Jefferson Davis of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary represents a renewed postmillennial approach with critical insights into contemporary issues in Evangelical Ethics: Issues Facing the Church Today (Presbyterian and Reformed, 1986). The book is a significant study in ethics from a solidly evangelical perspective.
Few contemporary theologians have enjoyed the popularity of Donald Bloesch of the University of Dubuque Theological Seminary. Freedom for Obedience: Evangelical Ethics for Contemporary Times (Harper and Row, 1987) explores the dialectic between moral dualisms — heaven and hell, love and justice, gospel and law, etc. The ruling norm of Holy Scripture brings Bloesch to an ethic of command — and a call to the freedom of obedience.
Also worthy of note is Tim Stafford’s Knowing the Face of God (Zondervan, 1987). Haddon Robinson notes: “Not everyone who talks about God knows Him — or even wants to make His acquaintance. Stafford wrestles with the hard question: ‘What does it mean to know God personally?’ It is marked by good theology, personal reflection, and clear writing.”
Many readers will want to know of the publication of Piety and Politics: Evangelicals and Fundamentalists Confront the World, edited by Richard John Neuhaus and Michael Cromartie (Ethics and Public Policy Center, 1987, distributed by University Press of America). The volume is a fascinating collection of essays on the new engagement of evangelicals and fundamentalists with the political process. Essay authors range from Jerry Falwell to Carl F. H. Henry and Education Secretary William Bennett.
Piety and Politics is the best volume yet on this significant movement in American religion and culture. Contributing Editor Gabriel Fackre notes that the volume serves well as “an introduction to the issues and partisans along the boundary of American religion and politics.”
The preacher must be both “of the Book” and always in the company of good books. “Books,” says John Killinger, are the magic carpet of the mind: in the twinkling of an eye they whisk us away to the most marvelous thoughts and experiences, then deposit us again where we were sitting, reading to turn to the next task of the day.”2 Read on.
1. Recent Homiletical Thought: A Bibliography, 1935-1965 (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1967).
2. Fundamentals of Preaching (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1985), pp. 197-108.
Ten New Books Every Preacher Should Read
1. David Buttrick, Homiletic: Moves and Structures. Fortress Books, 1987.
2. Harold Freeman, Varieties in Biblical Preaching. Word Books, 1987.
3. Richard L. Eslinger, A New Hearing: Live Options in Homiletic Method. Abingdon Press, 1987.
4. Ian Pitt-Watson, A Primer for Preachers. Baker Book House, 1986.
5. H. Beecher Hicks, Jr., Preaching Through a Storm. Zondervan Publishing House, 1987.
6. Clyde E. Fant, Preaching for Today. Revised Edition. Harper and Row, 1987.
7. William Muehl, Why Preach? Why Listen? Fortress Press, 1987.
8. Thomas C. Oden, The Living God, “Systematic Theology, Volume I.” Harper and Row, 1987.
9. Donald G. Bloesch, Freedom for Obedience: Evangelical Ethics for Contemporary Times. Harper and Row, 1987.
10. Allan Bloom, The Closing of the American Mind. Simon and Schuster, 1987.
Always watchful of the fate of the printed word, Benjamin Franklin surveyed the trends of the late eighteenth century and warned in 1786 that Americans were abandoning books for newspapers.