Kenton C. Anderson, Choosing to Preach.
Grand Rapids
: Zondervan, 2006. Hardcover, 287 pages.

Choosing to Preach is a call to preach biblical sermons and, at the same time, to recognize that there are many ways to carry out that mandate.

In the face of what he sees as an increasingly challenging environment for preaching, Kent Anderson encourages expository preaching – with a small “e” – rather than “Expository” preaching, which “not only implies faithfulness to the biblical text but also requires certain formal elements” such as “a linear series of points (often three) from a limited number of verses, regardless of the genre or form of the text itself.”

By contrast, “small e” expository preaching is simply preaching “which seeks to replicate the message, form, and impact of the biblical text exactly as they were originally intended.” Such sermons seek to help people hear from God by exposing them to the Word of God “as faithfully and powerfully as possible.”

Such exposition, says Anderson, can take many different forms, and it is that assertion to which he devotes the bulk of his volume as he demonstrates a variety of the ways in which exposition of God’s Word can take place.

Initially Anderson deals with the issue of how the preacher approaches the biblical text, suggesting two primary options: deduction “begins with the Bible and moves toward the listener” while induction “begins with the listener and moves toward the Bible.”

The deductive preacher is a “listener” who “sits alone in the study, spending long hours examining texts and listening closely. God is speaking and the preacher needs to hear him right. Eventually, the preacher discerns the message and stands nup boldly to sound the alarm.” Anderson believes that “The deductive preacher starts with the Bible, making interpretation the first order of business. Having heard from God, there is nothing left but to submit. The beauty of deductive study is in its submissive nature. Deduction is a posture as much as it is a method. It is a bowed head and bended knee.”

Equally valid, Anderson argues, is the inductive approach that starts with the perspective of the listener and appeals to the “doers” – those who may prefer “active experimentation over reflection and observation.” (The one who starts playing with the new camera rather than first studying the user manual.) He says that, “Listeners have a lot on their minds when they drag themselves to church. Rather than asking them to abandon the insistence of their issues and needs, the inductive preacher takes those concerns as the starting place of the sermon, leading the listeners to the point where submission is understood not only as the imperative response of a human being before God but also as the necessary key to solving the problems that they have.”

Moving from that foundational decision, Anderson says the preacher then faces the question: how will I communicate the message? He offers two alternatives – cognition and affection – and offers an extended discussion of the process involved with developing both types of sermons. The first approach involves focusing on the ideas (propositions) in the sermon (propositions), while the latter focuses on images.

“Cognitive preaching is committed to providing people with the principles of Scripture that will stand across time,” Anderson says. On the other hand, “affective preaching focuses on the images. The preacher touches the heart of the listener through the pictures and descriptions of the sermon, creating a desire for change that works at a different level than logic does.”

Anderson then offers a matrix of various homiletic structural alternatives, based on the contrasting polar points of thinking-feeling and watching-doing. “Where deduction meets cognition, we find the home of the declarative sermon, favored by classical biblical preachers who value traditional approaches to biblical exegesis.” As an example of this model Anderson suggests John MacArthur. The second model is the pragmatic sermon, which is at “the junction of cognition and induction.” The contemporary model offered here is Rick Warren.

A third approach is the narrative sermon, “crossing induction with affection” for those who “like nothing more than a good story to guide them into truth.” Eugene Lowry is the model for this point. The visionary sermon is the fourth model, which seeks to blend deduction and affection and is “motivated by a powerful vision of the future.” Anderson’s suggested example is Rob Bell.

The author also suggests a fifth model outside the matrix, the integrative sermon, for those “who refuse to be pinned down and would rather roam the globe” in an attempt “to speak meaningfully to all four approaches to preaching and learning, perhaps even in the same sermon.” Anderson places himself in this category.

Anderson offers a full chapter on each of these five homiletical models, including practical insights on an approach to effectively developing such a sermon. He also offers an extended discussion of the contemporary preachers who have been cited as exemplars of each model. (The CD-ROM that accompanies the book includes sample audio sermons from each of these except Rob Bell, whose sermon can be accessed online. The CD also includes a variety of additional resources, including a powerpoint show which can be used in teaching the content of Choosing to Preach in a classroom setting – a very nice feature for homiletics professors!) Anderson encapsulates the five approaches with clever tags:

Declarative sermon – Make an argument

Pragmatic sermon – Solve a mystery

Narrative sermon – Tell a story

Visionary sermon – Paint a picture

Integrative sermon – Sing a song

Choosing to Preach is a well-written book filled with practical insights and helpful resources. Anderson makes his case well that effective biblical preaching can take a variety of forms, and his role as tour guide through the various models will be most helpful to preachers seeking to understand today’s homiletical landscape.

If there is any point at which I disagree with Anderson, it would be on the issue which frames the title to his book: can one simply choose to preach or is a divine call imperative to assuming the task? If I understand Anderson correctly, he discounts the notion of a “call” to preach, arguing that the pulpit need not be “a kind of holy ground accessible only to those specially licensed for the task.”

Though he acknowledges that in his own life “before I ever chose to preach, I was chosen for it,” he seems to assert that the call to preach is a call that extends to all believers: “We may not all be professionals, paid to preach from pulpits, but if we are in Christ, we are called to preach in some capacity. In a small group, at a youth gathering, or even at the coffee shop, we can always find people who need us to love them. There will always be those to whom we’re called to preach.” It seem sto me that here Anderson merges preaching with evangelistic witness and Christian compassion, muddling the picture and neglecting the uniqueness of the divine call to preach.

Despite that point of disagreement, I found Choosing to Preach to be an enjoyable and useful resource that will find a welcome place on any preacher’s bookshelf.

(Anderson is dean of Northwest Baptist Seminary and associate professor of homiletics of the Associated Canadian Theological Schools (ACTS) of Trinity Western University in Langley, British Columbia, Canada. He is also a past president of the Evangelical Homiletics Society.)

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