Of the publishing, marketing, and purchasing of books there is no end.
In spite of the assaults of electronic media and other competitors, the printed word still reigns as king of the information age. Americans buy ever increasing numbers of books for personal enjoyment and enrichment. Preachers, who live and die by words, purchase hundreds of thousands of books each year.
Publishers discovered long ago the voracious reading appetites of preaching ministers. Ever in search of a word fitly spoken, preachers constitute one of the largest professional book markets. To fill that need, and the reading needs of the greater Christian community, religious publishing houses and the religion departments of major trade publishers release literally thousands of new titles each year.
The vast influx of thousands of new volumes each year caused Christianity Today to ask in 1984: “Too Many Books and Too Few Classics?” Preaching seeks to inform the preaching minister of the most significant volumes for the life and work of the preaching minister through “The Preacher’s Bookshelf,” a feature found in each issue.
This special book issue of Preaching affords the opportunity for reflection upon the best of the recent works on preaching, along with other significant volumes for the minister. Some of the books mentioned below have appeared in “The Preacher’s Bookshelf” as featured selections. Others are books on related issues of interest to the preacher.
Preaching recently surveyed our Board of Contributing Editors for their evaluations of the most significant recent publications for the preacher minister. Their responses were interesting — and often surprising.
Though recommendations often varied, one fact held constant: all are energetic readers with discerning judgment! The following is a survey of recent books suggested for your reading by Contributing Editors and the Editorial Staff of Preaching.
The release of the stellar works by Craddock, Cox, and Killinger would distinguish any year (see sidebar, page six). Nevertheless, these were not at all alone in the new book sections of theological bookstores.
Deane A. Kemper of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary provides valuable guidance for students of preaching both young and old in Effective Preaching: A Manual for Students and Pastors (Westminster, 1985). In this creative volume Kemper builds upon his definition of preaching as “the proclamation by the spoken word of the Incarnate Word as revealed in the written word in such a manner as to initiate Christian commitment, accentuate Christian experience, create Christian attitudes, and motivate Christian action.”
Though he motivates the preacher to ever better preaching, Kemper wryly observes that “the most satisfying activities in life are those we can never completely master.”
Several works reviewed in previous issues of Preaching complement the preacher’s library, offering sound insights and creative encouragement — qualities welcomed by any preaching minister.
These include: Chevis F. Horne, Preaching the Great Themes of the Bible: Stimulating Resources for Doctrinal Preaching (Broadman Press, 1986), reviewed in the November-December 1986 issue; Ronald E. Sleeth, God’s Word and Our Words: Basic Homiletics (John Knox Press, 1986), and F. Dean Leuking, Preaching: The Art of Connecting God and People (Word Books, 1985), both reviewed in the September-October issue; and and Edward F. Marquart, Quest for Better Preaching: Resources for Renewal in the Pulpit (Augsburg, 1985), reviewed in the May-June 1986 issue.
Biblical Studies/Exegesis
The movement back to biblical preaching and a serious consideration of the scriptural text has encouraged the publication of several exegetical works helpful to the preacher.
Growing out of the Biblical Theology movement of the sixties, the work of Brevard S. Childs is highly significant for the preacher. His New Testament as Canon (Fortress, 1985) is the logical product of his pioneering work in the canonical shape of scripture, a dimension with rich possibilities for preaching.
Beyond survey works, a literal explosion of biblical commentaries has occurred, represented by series such as The Word Biblical Commentary, a comprehensive exegetical series of volumes covering the entire canon and The Communicator’s Commentary, (Old Testament). This interesting series, also by Word, is edited by Contributing Editor Lloyd John Ogilvie.
Expository in tone, each volume is written by a skilled preacher and biblical expositor. Commenting on this series, John Huffman noted: “Fresh, practical illustrations back up insightful exegesis in a way that enhances sermon preparation and gives greater insight into contemporary homiletic opportunities.
Also promising are the volumes of the Interpretation series by John Knox Press. This series is described as “a Bible commentary for teaching and preaching.” Writers for this series include some of the most creative biblical scholars in the nation, who bridge the gap between academic exegesis and biblical preaching.
Significant monographs on biblical exegesis include Robert Alter’s The Art of Biblical Poetry (Basic Books, 1985). Alter, Professor of Hebrew at the University of California at Berkeley, has a knack for explaining the technical aspects of biblical interpretation in a manner accessible to the reading public. Haddon Robinson describes the book as “an excellent analysis of the interpretation of poetry in the Old Testament.”
Also significant are two volumes dealing with specific sections of scripture. Irony in the Fourth Gospel by Paul D. Duke (John Knox Press, 1985) considers the ingenious use of irony in the Gospel of John. Irony, suggests Duke, “is not only as mysterious as love, but almost as ancient and universal as well.” An understanding of irony will reap rich exegetical insights which will readily translate into expository treatments.
Also promising is the publication of In Spirit and In Truth: Insights from Biblical Prayers by Ronald E. Clements of the University of London (John Knox Press, 1985). Biblical prayers, suggests Clements, offer a way to see the relation between the scriptural narrative and modern life.
In addition, two established commentary series for preachers, Proclamation Commentaries: Witnesses for Preaching (Fortress Press) and Knox Preaching Guides (John Knox Press) continue to publish helpful, compact volumes explicity for the preaching task.
Christian Life/Devotional
Years ago Elton Trueblood warned Christians in the midst of social change to give attention to the three dimensions of the Christian life: the inner life of devotion, the rational life of the intellect, and the outer life of service. A lack of serious attention to any one of these three areas, Trueblood warned, would result in a tragic loss of wholeness.
Several volumes emerged in recent months to challenge the Christian community to the development of the inner life. Most often mentioned by Contributing Editors was Ordering Your Private World by Gordon MacDonald (Thomas Nelson, 1985). Formerly pastor of Grace Chapel in Lexington, Massachusetts, the largest congregation in New England, MacDonald is now President of Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship.
MacDonald’s insights into the private worlds of Christians hit frighteningly close to home for most preachers. The book’s thesis is that the indwelling Christ has the power to transform the everyday living of life. “To bring order to one’s personal life is to invite his control over every segment of one’s life.”
Speaking to fellow preachers, John Huffman suggests: “Let your private world rub up against that of MacDonald without letting his intimidate you — and you will come out all the deeper in Christ for this discipline — and your pastoring and preaching will be enriched!”
Other devotional volumes recommended by Preaching Editors included Walter C. Kaiser’s Quest for Renewal (Moody, 1986) and Tim Stafford’s Knowing the Face of God (Zondervan, 1986).
Kaiser focuses on significant revivals in the Old Testament as guides for personal renewal. Professor of Old Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Kaiser “speaks to the heart as well as the mind,” testifies faculty colleague and Contributing Editor Robert Coleman.
Stafford, says Haddon Robinson, “combines good theology with clear writing to wrestle with a vital subject that often gets clouded with cliches.” At root, Stafford seeks in Knowing the Face of God to determine what is “personal” about a relationship with God.
Also mentioned were two volumes from writers known for devotional impact, Thomas Merton and Henri Nouwen. Merton, probably the most famous Trappist monk of modern times, delivered a message which long ago crossed the boundary between Protestant and Roman Catholic devotion.
The popularity of his writings is evidenced by the publication of new works almost twenty years after his death. The Hidden Ground of Love (Farrar, Strauss, & Giroux, 1986), edited by William H. Shannon, includes meaningful letters from the Merton correspondence.
Nouwen, also long popular as a devotional writer, offers revealing insights into the life of the spirit in Out of Solitude (Ave Maria Press, 1985). John Huffman described this small book as “a brief, to the point challenge to spend time alone with God.” A worthy challenge for any Christian, Nouwen’s message is clear and powerful in its brevity.
Christian Theology
Theology is often relegated to the seminary classroom and the academic sector — with tragic results for the church. Every preacher functions as a theologian within the life of the congregation. The question for the preacher is not “Will I be a theologian?”, but “Will I be careful and responsible as I communicate theology through word and example?”
Several volumes with great potential for theological investigation appeared in recent months.
Several volumes appeared in connection with the centennial of the births of Karl Barth and Paul Tillich. The Thought of Paul Tillich, edited by James Luther Adams, Wilhelm Pauck, and Roger Shinn (Harper and Row, 1985) is the most comprehensive volume yet available on the thought of the existentialist philosopher/theologian. Tillich’s influence is currently in decline — a fact not regretted by most evangelicals — as that of Karl Barth enjoys a new prominence.
How Karl Barth Changed My Mind, edited by Donald McKim, is a clever collection of articles by mainline and evangelical theologians on the influence of Barth upon their individual theological pilgrimages. Eerdmans Publishing Company has brought three brief Barth works into English translation, all in the centennial year.
A Karl Barth Reader, edited by Rolf Erler and Reiner Marquard, includes several short pieces covering the range of Barth’s theological programme. Many of these pieces appear for the first time in English.
With rich possibilities for preaching, Barth’s commentary on John Chapter One has been released as Witness to the Word, translated by Geoffrey Bromiley of Fuller Theological Seminary. Lastly, Eerdmans has released the writings of Barth on his musical hero Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart with a foreword by John Updike.
Of interest to many preachers will be the collection of articles in Reflections on Francis Schaeffer, edited by Ronald W. Ruegsegger. Most of the contributors studied with Schaeffer at L’Abri in Switzerland. The articles honor Schaeffer for his positive contributions and are critical where he is seen as deficient.
Two major books came from the pen of Bernard Ramm during this period. Offense to Reason: The Theology of Sin (Harper and Row, 1985) offers historical and systematic treatment of this oft-neglected doctrine. In discussing sin, Ramm delves deeply into basic issues and has produced a volume capturing the essence of evangelical theology.
Likewise, his An Evangelical Christology (Thomas Nelson, 1985) is a work which could be classified as both historical and systematic theology. Both volumes are marked by Ramm’s clear prose and compelling argument.
The issue of scripture and biblical authority prompted the emergence of several volumes. The Scripture Principle by Clark Pinnock (Harper and Row, 1985) is a stalwart call to a high view of biblical authority in the context of society’s rejection of the house of authority. It is a direct challenge to those who reject the scripture principle of Christian theology.
D. A. Carson and John Woodbridge edited a significant collection of essays in Hermeneutics, Authority, and Canon (Grand Rapids: Academy Books/Zondervan, 1986). The contributors raise the level of the debate over biblical authority to a higher plane in this firm but irenic compilation. Those who will disagree with the stance of the writers will admire the tone and scholarship evident throughout.
Donald McKim of the University of Dubuque Theological Seminary wrote or edited two noteworthy volumes. What Christians Believe About the Bible (Thomas Nelson, 1985) is a survey of basic approaches to scripture. Unlike more superficial writers, McKim reaches the level of theological method and deals with the doctrine of scripture inherent within systems ranging from Fundamentalist Theology to Feminist Theology.
His A Guide to Contemporary Hermeneutics: Major Trends in Biblical Interpretation Eerdmans, 1986) includes articles worthy of review by the busy pastor concerned with the responsible interpretation of scripture.
Lastly, The Use of the Bible in Theology: Evangelical Options, edited by Robert K. Johnston represents a positive collection of essays by leading evangelical theologians on the actual function of scripture in theology.
Rounding out recent works in theology is a reference tool for the serious reader, Richard A. Mueller’s Dictionary of Latin and Greek Theological Terms (Baker Book House, 1985). The preacher who has previously treated these classical terms as hieroglyphics will welcome this helpful volume.
Church History
The heritage of the church provides a rich and fertile ground for Christian preaching. Those unfamiliar with the richness of the Christian heritage may find a good introduction in Church History in Plain Language (Word, 1985) by Bruce Shelley. Unencumbered with academic jargon, Shelley’s Church History primer will whet the appetite of the reader for more comprehensive surveys and specialized studies.
Contributing Editors found biographies especially helpful. The past year has witnessed the publication of several biographies worthy of note. The July-August 1986 issue of Preaching included major reviews of Robert Moats Miller’s majesterial biography Harry Emerson Fosdick: Preacher, Pastor, Prophet (Oxford University Press, 1985) and David E. Harrell’s definitive biography, Oral Roberts: An American Life (Indiana University Press, 1985).
The past year also saw the release of Reinhold Niebuhr: A Biography by Richard Fox (Pantheon, 1985). Fox, Professor of History and Humanities at Reed College, has produced a worthy biography to fill the void in Niebuhr studies.
Though other biographies of Niebuhr are likely to follow, Fox’s impressive study will stand the test of time. Niebuhr was a participant in almost every major theological issue of the mid-twentieth century — a fact that makes for interesting and insightful reading.
Two biographies of Southern churchmen are worthy of note. Richard Furman by James A. Rogers (Mercer University Press, 1985) and John W. Carlton’s biography of Theodore F. Adams, The World in His Heart (Broadman Press, 1985), were recommended by Contributing Editor Alton McEachern as particularly helpful.
Few books in the scope of historical inquiry can match the potential of two rather specialized volumes of recent vintage. Jesus Through the Centuries: His Place in the History of Culture is Jaroslav Pelikan’s latest contribution to the field.
Sterling Professor of History at Yale University, Pelikan is a leading light in church history and the history of doctrine. “Regardless of what anyone may think of him, Jesus of Nazareth has been the dominant figure in the history of Western culture for almost twenty centuries.”
From the earliest understanding of Jesus as Rabbi through successive centuries to “The Man Who Belongs to the World,” Pelikan traces the history of Jesus’s place in culture. Full of interesting detail and anecdotes, the volume challenges our age to a more biblical image of the Author and Finisher of our Faith.
Those who remain unconvinced of the importance of history should read Thinking in Time: The Uses of History for Decision Makers by Richard E. Neustadt and Ernest R. May (The Free Press, 1986). Professors of Harvard University, Neustadt and May team-teach a course for high-level public officials and executives, showing them how to make use of history in decision making and leadership. Any reader will benefit from reading this challenging volume — whether governmental leaders or preachers.
Only time will separate the soon-to-be-forgotten books from the classics. This brief survey has but scratched the surface of the great sea of books relevant to the preaching minister. The sifting process of time is far too slow for much relevance in planning the minister’s reading.
The preacher is sure to read several books of limited value for each enduring classic — yet the books of passing significance are valuable as well. From his prison cell Paul wrote to Timothy imploring him to come to Rome and asking that he bring “the books, and above all the parchments.” A reader to the last — only a preacher would understand.

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