Books, said James Russell Lowell, “are the bees which carry the quickening pollen from one to another mind.” If this be so, then the past year has seen an entire swarm of books released for purposes of cross-pollination.
Indeed, the publishing industry continues to release multiple thousands of new titles each year. If Americans are reading what they are purchasing, this society has become the most literate culture in the history of the human race. On the other hand, the wheat and the chaff are sadly mixed together in the avalanche of released volumes.
The very existence of books has been called into question by those high-tech prophets of the electronic age. Ever since the rise of television, pundits and futurists have suggested that the age of the book would give way to the cathode-ray tube or to some other means of electronic transmission.
Preachers have long noted the connection between the sermon and the written word. Indeed, we can hardly imagine a divorce between books and preachers. Our books become to us not only tools of the trade, but companions in the preparation of sermons and messages. We should take careful note then of the new volume by Sven Birkerts, The Gutenberg Elegies: The Fate of Reading in an Electronic Age (Faber and Faber). Birkerts, an established American author whose essays and reviews have appeared in some of America’s most prestigious periodicals, has come to conclude that the decline of print culture has produced lamentable results in the current age.
Literature has been exchanged for technical manuals, and an increasing number of Americans have completely exchanged electronic culture for printed literature. As Birkerts notes: “I am not going to argue against the power and usefulness of electronic technologies. Nor am I going to suggest that we try to turn back or dismantle what we have wrought in the interests of an intensified relation to meaning. But I would urge that we not fall all over ourselves in our haste to filter all of our experience through circuitries. We are in some danger of believing that the speed and wizardry of our gadgets have freed us from the sometimes arduous work of turning pages in silence.”
It is the process of turning pages in silence which is among the central disciplines of any preacher’s life and ministry. Birkerts presents a threatening vision of what he calls “the wholesale wiring of America,” which would replace meaning communicated on the written page with the nanosecond transmission of electronic circuitry.
On the other hand, there are also those who celebrate the electronic age as a new era of information accessibility. Chief among these boosters of the electronic revolution is Nicholas Negroponte. Professor of Media Technology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Negroponte is also the founder of the MIT media lab, which has become one of the most famous technological think tanks in America.
If Birkerts has produced an elegy lamenting the loss of what Gutenberg wrought, Negroponte hails the arrival of the fully digital age. His volume, Being Digital (Alfred A. Knopf), is marked by unapologetic boosterism.
Negroponte suggests that the shift from modernity to postmodernity, or from the cathode-ray tube to the microchip, is marked by the shift from atoms to bits. As he explains, meaning and messages were previously transmitted on some form of material, thus atoms. In the future — indeed, in the present — Negroponte argues that information will be transmitted in the form of electronic bits. As he states, “The change from atoms to bits is irrevocable and unstoppable.” A revolution has been unleashed, and preachers should be interested in this mega-shift in meaning and communication.
“Computing is not about computers any more,” says Negroponte. “It is about living.”
This may all seem to be a rather esoteric discussion. Nevertheless, anyone whose ministry is centered on the word must take with full seriousness the warnings which have come and recognize the nature of the shift which is taking place around us.
The decline of the printed page has been predicted for most of the last half-century, but we see a virtual explosion of printed material. Clearly, the age of the book is not over. Less clear, however, is whether these books are being read. Preachers will find the books by Birkerts and Negroponte a great introduction to the contemporary debate.
Preaching/Homiletics
Over the last decade, we can trace a decline in the great comprehensive homiletical treatises and the rise of the special interest homiletical contribution. The great and massive textbooks of homiletics which are familiar to virtually any seminarian have not been supplanted by these new, more focused volumes. But a review of the current literature indicates that these more specialized contributions are addressing a very real need among preachers.
Few genuinely valuable reference works on preaching have emerged recent years. An exception to this trend is Concise Encyclopedia of Preaching (Westminster/John Knox Pres), edited by William H. Willimon and Richard Lischer. Willimon and Lischer, both well known in homiletical circles, have been working on this project for a number of years. Their recently-released volume, Preaching’s 1995 “Book of the Year,” is a worthy volume for the preacher’s bookshelf. The volume offers a well-rounded selection of articles, and is particularly strong in the history of preaching. Students of preaching among mainline Protestants will find the volume especially helpful. Among more contemporary preachers discussed in the volume, fewer evangelicals are to be found. Nevertheless, the volume is an important contribution to the discipline of homiletics and it is virtually without parallel in the contemporary literature.
Calvin Miller, a contributing editor of Preaching, now serves as Professor of Communications and Homiletics at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Texas. Miller is an artist with both words and images and his communication skills are evident in Market Place Preaching (Baker Book House).
Calvin Miller understands the challenge of contemporary communication. By virtue of his experience as a popular author, he has learned the texture and tenor of the contemporary mind, both secular and Christian.
Miller’s purpose in Market Place Preaching is to direct the preacher’s attention to the context of preaching and the contours of the modern mind. Thus, he gives careful attention to such issues as humor, narrative, and illustration. He provides practical insight into the preacher’s challenge.
Preachers, like other creatures, develop new skills and interests over the course of experience. The development of an imagination is a particular challenge for the current generation, which has been spoon fed images by television.
In a very helpful volume, Developing a Christian Imagination (Victor Books), Warren W. Wiersbe, former pastor of the Moody Memorial Church, both explains and illustrates the development of imagination in communication. Wiersbe, who is known to several generations of evangelicals as a faithful and fascinating communicator, has collected an assortment of imaginative sermons which illustrate the power of imaginative preaching.
Other recent volumes on preaching include Paul Scott Wilson’s The Practice of Preaching (Abingdon Press), an academically inclined textbook of homiletics. The volume also reveals Wilson’s conception of sermonic development, which he organizes around the idea of a “hermeneutical square.” Readers of Preaching will also be interested in Sharing Heaven’s Music (Abingdon), the recent collection of essays on preaching issued in honor of James Earl Massey, a Preaching contributing editor. The volume is diverse and interesting.
The grace and candor of personal testimony mark Stuart Briscoe’s Fresh Air in the Pulpit: Challenges and Encouragement from a Seasoned Preacher (Baker). The volume reveals Briscoe’s heart as well as his experience. Preachers will find this volume both interesting and encouraging. The well-known Scottish theologian, Thomas F. Torrance, has released a brief volume, Preaching Christ Today: The Gospel in Scientific Thinking (Eerdmans). The volume is addressed to the issue of preaching, but it is also a challenging review of the modern mind and the challenge of the modern scientific world view.
Wayne McDill, Professor of Preaching at Southeastern Baptist Seminary has released The Twelve Essential Skills for Great Preaching (Broadman & Holman). McDill focuses on what he identifies as a “skills development approach” which he sees as critical to improvement and progress in the preaching task. McDill clearly affirms a necessity of a divine call to the ministry, but he also insists that a call to ministry comes with the gifts which are inherent in that calling. Yet the development of skills is still an important responsibility on the part of the preacher. As McDill suggests, a lack of skill cannot be blamed on a lack of gifts. The skills McDill helpfully identifies include such issues as sermon planning, preparation, and presentation. This is a helpful volume which will assist preachers with very practical suggestions.
Craig A. Loscalzo, author of Preaching Sermons That Connect (InterVarsity Press), has released a new volume, Evangelistic Preaching That Connects (InterVarsity). Loscalzo suggests that preachers “should seriously consider the role evangelistic preaching has in their ministry.” The pace of change requires that our evangelistic methods and strategies be updated, argues Loscalzo. Nevertheless, “this doesn’t mean that we compromise the gospel for the sake of not offending someone.”
A different approach with a similar title is offered by authors Mark Galli and Craig Brian Larson in Preaching That Connects (Zondervan). Galli and Larson are both journalists who serve as contributing editors to Leadership journal. The authors suggest that the disciplines and skills of journalism are extremely beneficial to the preacher, for the preached word may be heard most effectively when it is formed in style and structure by the prevalent forms of journalism. As the authors confess, “We’ve discovered that the more we’ve learned about writing, the better we’ve preached. Since journalism concerns itself with the art of communicating, our improved preaching makes sense.” The book is interesting and creative in its approach to the contemporary preaching task.
A major text on expository preaching is offered by Harold T. Bryson in Expository Preaching: The Art of Preaching Through a Book of the Bible (Broadman & Holman). Bryson, who now teaches at Mississippi College, was formerly consultant in preaching for the Baptist Sunday School Board. The exposition of Scripture is the highest calling of the preacher for, as Bryson states: “Being convinced of the uniqueness of Scripture is absolutely essential to the preacher. The main word the preacher has to speak is God’s Word. If God had not spoken, the preacher would have nothing to say. But God has spoken and His Word needs to be shared. With the Bible in hand, the preacher has the confidence that God has prepared that Word to share with others.”
Biblical Studies
In most publishing years, the field of biblical studies experiences the release of literally hundreds of volumes. This year is no exception, though 1995 did not see the release of as many major new commentaries as was the case in recent years. Several series did continue releases, including the New American Commentary, published by Broadman & Holman. New releases in this series include 1, 2 Chronicles by J. A. Thompson, well-known for his work in biblical archeology; 1, 2 Kings by Paul R. House of Taylor University; and 1, 2 Thessalonians by D. Michael Martin, Associate Professor of New Testament at Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary in San Francisco. All three are worthy additions to The New American Commentary series. The commentaries offer insightful, outstanding scholarship with an unquestioned commitment to the total truthfulness of the Bible. The series is particularly designed to be useful the “reading pastor.”
Several books on the doctrine of Scripture and the discipline of hermeneutics were released. Among the best of these is Christian Scripture: An Evangelical Perspective on Inspiration, Authority and Interpretation (Broadman & Holman) by David S. Dockery, Dean of the School of Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Dockery is clearly established as a major scholar in the field of biblical studies, and Christian Scripture is but the latest offering which has come from his productive heart and mind. Dockery helpfully sets the issue: “Contemporary evangelicals must choose to articulate a view of the Bible for the contemporary community that is faithful to and in continuity with the consensus of historic positions in the church that have characteristically confessed that the Bible is the written Word of God. Building upon that foundation block, we can relate to one another in love and humility, bringing about true fellowship and community and resulting not only in orthodoxy but orthopraxy before a watching world, because not only is there a crisis of biblical authority, but a crisis of biblical piety in the church as well.”
Among the most seminal scholars in Germany is Gerhardt Maier, whose Biblical Hermeneutics (Crossway Books) reflects an entire lifetime of evangelical scholarship. Maier demonstrates a hermeneutical discipline and method that is both evangelical and accessible. Preachers will find the volume particularly helpful.
An interesting contribution is the recent volume The Right Doctrine from the Wrong Texts (Baker), edited by G. K. Beale. The volume brings together a diversity of essays by scholars ranging from Roger Nicole to Morna D. Hooker. The essays reveal the issues of debate in current New Testament studies related to the use of the Old Testament in the New Testament canon. Preachers regularly find themselves confronted with the issues discussed within this volume.
A related release is The Shadow of Christ in the Law of Moses (Presbyterian and Reformed), by Vern S. Poythress. Poythress, who serves as Professor of New Testament Interpretation at Westminster Theological Seminary, demonstrates that the person and work of Christ are prefigured in the Old Testament, in particular in the first five books of the Old Testament canon. Robert H. Stein, who teaches at Bethel Theological Seminary, has continued his contribution to biblical hermeneutics with his helpful volume, Playing by the Rules: A Basic Guide to Interpreting the Bible (Baker). Stein argues that the different forms of biblical literature should be understood within the canonical context as accomplishing God’s purpose.
A massive and helpful reference volume, The Exhaustive Concordance to the Greek New Testament (Zondervan), has been put forth by John R. Kohlenberger III, Edward W. Goodrick, and James A. Swanson. The volume is indeed exhaustive and indexes every Greek word found in the New Testament. The work is based upon the fourth edition of the United Bible Society edition of the Greek New Testament.
Preachers will also welcome the issue of revised editions in the series, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Eerdmans). The series is being reissued with revised volumes which will eventually complete the entire series. Preachers have long found the NICNT to be among the most helpful commentary series and they will gladly welcome these revised and extended volumes.
Theology, Ethics, History
The demise of the comprehensive systematic theology volume has been widely predicted over the last two decades. Nevertheless, recent years have seen the release of no less than five major systematic projects among American evangelical theologians. Among the very finest of these is Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Zondervan) by Wayne Grudem, Professor of Biblical and Systematic Theology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. Grudem’s work is a tour de force of evangelical theological exposition. It is faithful to the truth, clear in its style, and engaging in approach. It reflects Grudem’s own evangelical conviction, but also engages current theological debates ranging from creation to eschatology. It must be counted among the very finest systematic works of theology volumes released in the last decade.
An interesting prolegomenon to an evangelical theology is offered by Richard Lints of Gordon-Conwell Seminary in The Fabric of Theology (Eerdmans). Lints carefully takes into account the doctrinal content of evangelical faith, and the cultural shape of modern evangelicalism.
Evangelicals seeking a clear understanding of contemporary issues and apologetics will look to Christian Apologetics in the Postmodern World, edited by Timothy R. Phillips and Dennis L. Okholm (InterVarsity). The volume reveals not only a diversity of postmodern approaches, but a diversity of basic conceptions of apologetics. The essays in the volume are a debate within themselves. Preachers will find the material of interest even as they recognize these contemporary issues as presented by a postmodern culture.
The contemporary cultural fascination with angels prompts the focus by Dwayne A. Garrett in Angels and the New Spirituality (Broadman & Holman). Garrett, an Old Testament scholar who teaches in Canada, separates biblical truth from popular superstition and offers a balanced and biblical approach to understanding the reality of angels and their ministry. At the same time, the volume is a helpful corrective to new age nonsense.
Alister McGrath, whose fertile pen has brought so many interesting volumes to light in recent years, has produced an essay of unusual force in Evangelicalism and the Future of Christianity (InterVarsity). McGrath argues that we have come to the dawn of a new Christian era in which evangelicalism will become the dominant force and shape of conviction. Readers may wonder at times if McGrath has not painted an overly optimistic scenario of the evangelical future, but his essay is consistently interesting and legitimately hopeful.
In the realm of philosophy, issues of theism and naturalism are common fare for debate. One of the most helpful volumes released this year is Reason in the Balance: The Case Against Naturalism in Science, Law and Education (InterVarsity) by Philip E. Johnson. Johnson, whose devastating critique of contemporary Darwinism is still among the most-discussed books in Christian circles, here confronts the entire structure of naturalism as it has influenced and shaped contemporary science, jurisprudence, and academia. The book is a must read for thoughtful preachers. Among the most interesting phenomena of recent years has been the increasing number of academic philosophers who have confessed theism. Thomas V. Morris of the University of Notre Dame has edited an interesting volume entitled God and the Philosophers: The Reconciliation of Faith and Reason (Oxford University Press). Philosophers such as George I. Mavrodes and Eleonore Stump are joined by nineteen others in discussing their own pilgrimage.
Among the most neglected doctrines of the last half-century has been the doctrine of the church. A very healthy contribution to answer that void is offered by Edwin P. Clowney in The Church (InterVarsity). Clowney, who will be known to many readers as the former president of Westminster Theological Seminary, has offered a most helpful and faithful volume in the series “Contours of Christian Theology” offered by InterVarsity Press.
Peter Toon, a well-know Anglican theologian has offered a trenchant survey of contemporary theology in The End of Liberal Theology: Contemporary Challenges to Evangelical Orthodoxy (Crossway Books). The book reveals Toon to be a very capable scholar and a keen analyst of contemporary theological trends.
Preachers looking for guidance in the midst of contemporary bioethical debates will warmly receive Bioethics and the Future of Medicine: A Christian Appraisal (Eerdmans). The volume is edited by John F. Kilner, Nigel M. de S. Cameron, and David L. Schiedermayer. The essays contained in this volume are extremely helpful and as contemporary as our current newspaper headlines.
Two helpful biographies of historical figures will also interest preachers. Among the very finest biographies issued in recent years is titled William Tyndale: A Biography (Yale University Press) by David Daniell. Released five hundred years after Tyndale’s birth, the volume is a brilliant review and analysis of Tyndale’s life and contribution. An interesting portrait of a far more recent figure is offered by Christopher Catherwood in Martyn Lloyd-Jones: A Family Portrait (Baker). Lloyd-Jones was one of the giants of the twentieth century pulpit, and he receives a very sensitive treatment in this volume, written by his grandson.
Ministry Studies
Saddleback Valley Community Church in Orange County, California has been one of the most fascinating churches in America for the last decade. It has attracted well-deserved attention as it has grown from a new church to an attendance of over 10,000 each week. The congregation has become known as the fastest growing Baptist church in American history.
The Purpose Driven Church by Saddleback’s pastor, Rick Warren (Zondervan) offers a fascinating glimpse into the vision and philosophy of ministry at Saddleback.
Thom S. Rainer, Dean of the Billy Graham School of Missions, Evangelism, and Church Growth at Southern Baptist Seminary has produced an interesting volume, Giant Awakenings (Broadman & Holman). Rainer argues that though the megachurches have become primary models for church growth, virtually every church can grow in its own context in a way that is both faithful and effective. Another approach to empowering church members in ministry is offered by Gary L. McIntosh in The Exodus Principle (Broadman & Holman). Rainer’s book will be particularly interesting to many preachers because it is addressed to the traditional church and not merely to the latest version of the contemporary congregation.
H. B. London, Jr. and Neil B. Wiseman address themselves to fellow pastors in The Heart of a Great Pastor: How to Grow Strong and Thrive wherever God Has Planted You (Regal Books). London and Wiseman are concerned with widespread disillusionment and the phenomenon of burn-out which has affected so many ministers. The volume offers spiritual encouragement and practical candor.
Three recent works on evangelism will also interest preachers. J. Mack Stiles of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship argues that personal testimony is uniquely effective as a means of sharing the gospel in Speaking of Jesus (InterVarsity Press). A very provocative volume bearing a provocative title is How Will They Hear If We Don’t Listen? (Broadman & Holman), by Ronald W. Johnson, Evangelism Director of the Georgia Baptist Convention. Johnson describes and demonstrates a helpful and essential process of listening to contemporary persons as a means of earning the right to address them with the truth and doing so most effectively. A historical approach which will both educate and inspire pastors in the task of evangelism is offered by John Mark Terry in Evangelism: A Concise History Broadman). The volume considers movements in evangelism from the early church to the youth revivals and contemporary evangelistic methods.
Preachers will always be frustrated that more books are made available than the preacher can possibly read. One of the critical disciplines of ministry is reading and one of the critical disciplines of reading is discrimination. The faithful and effective preacher will seek those books that are most faithful and helpful, even though they may not be the most popular or newsworthy. At the same time, preachers should be aware of current trends and debates.
Former French president, Francois Mitterand, once explained that he did not live in Elysee Palace, but instead remained in his home on the Rue de Bievre because “A man loses contact with reality if he is not surrounded by his books.” I can identify with President Mitterand, as can almost every preacher. Furthermore, his statement is sufficient reason to head into the local bookstore to look for some of these recent offerings. After all, we would not want to lose touch with reality … would we?

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