David L. Larsen, The Evangelism Mandate: Recovering the Centrality of Gospel Preaching (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1992), 244 pp., paper.
Have Christian preachers gone soft on evangelism? That is the charge leveled by David L. Larsen in his provocative and insightful treatise, The Evangelism Mandate. The charge is more implicit than explicit, for Larsen directs most of his attention to a positive argument for a recovery of evangelistic fervor and effectiveness.
Larsen, professor and chairman of the department of practical theology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, laments the “diluted and denatured” evangelism found in many churches. Much of this, he states, can be traced to a loss of gospel priority: “If everything the church does is evangelism or an equivalent to evangelism, we have obviously lost evangelism in any significant sense.”
The author’s central argument is that “evangelism must be construed as the chief and uppermost priority in the church and in the lives of all Christians who compose the church. Evangelism is not simply one of many important things we are to do, but is in fact the first priority in all we do.”
The issue of conversion is thus essential. Larsen is thoroughly and unashamedly committed to a conversionist theology that is put forth with clarity and conviction. He critiques compromises which hinder conversion such as universalism, annihilationism, social activism, and psychologism. Given the gravity of these issues, Larsen would have served his readers well by extending his discussion beyond a few brief paragraphs.
The issues he cites are not problems limited to more liberal churches, where universalism and other issues are often presented in explicit form. It can be argued that more injurious compromises are now to be found among supposely evangelical churches where an implicit universalism and a marked decline in both evangelistic zeal and missionary commitment go hand in hand.
As Larsen acknowledges, conversion is a God-directed process by which the individual comes to a knowledge of his/her sin and turns to God for salvation. Larsen’s call is not for what J. I. Packer terms “high-speed evangelism” and sophisticated technique, but for a holistic and biblical understanding of conversion which addresses individuals with the honesty of the gospel.
Such is not always found in Christian pulpits these days. Larsen cites radio humorist Garrison Keillor: “I’ve heard a lot of sermons in the past ten years that make me want to get up and walk out. They’re secular, psychological, self-help sermons. Friendly, but of no use. They don’t make you straighten up. They didn’t give you anything hard…. At some point and in some way, a sermon has to direct people toward the death of Christ and the campaign God has waged over the centuries to get our attention.”
Larsen traces the history of evangelistic preaching through Scripture and church history. Jesus Himself, Larsen indicates, preached for decision, and the church has never been faithful when it shirked its evangelistic responsibility.
The very notion of preaching for conversion makes some preachers squirm, for the prevailing secular culture treats conversion to Christianity as a quaint aberration rather than an eternal reality. Larsen understands the challenges presented by contemporary notions of pluralism, the reality of secularism and cynicism, and the rise of privatism. This last issue may be the most fundamental culture shift of our century, as most Americans now claim their own personal autonomy in matters of morality, religion, and truth as a birthright.
A biblical approach, he warns, is not to be found in either a live liberalism or a dead orthodoxy. “We must be careful not to bury the gospel beneath mountains of empty religious profession and activity.”
The effective evangelistic sermon, he argues, must be biblical, doctrinal, Christological, apologetical, and passionate. The sermon must be thoroughly biblical, must present clearly the teachings of the passage, must center on Christ and His work, present the case against modern objections, and do so with energy, fervor, and passion.
“In the evangelistic sermon we need to effect a good launch and reach heavenly altitude. We need to move deliberately but positively. We need to end strongly. The sermon is not mere therapeutic talk. We are not hawking junk. We need the spare rigor of a Thucydides and then some volcanoes and a whirlpool.”
Larsen laments the “current overuse of inductive preaching” and traces the trend to a weakening understanding of biblical authority. But he also recognizes the importance of inductive elements in establishing “points of contemporary contact” with modern listeners.
The book also includes chapters on the evangelistic invitation and strategies for evangelism, as well as a survey of “the contemporary evangelistic scene” and a consideration of revival.
The volume is one part jeremiad and two parts positive exhortation. All parts will be appreciated by preachers looking for encouragement and assistance at the task of evangelistic preaching.
An added bonus is found in the appendix, where five classic sermons are included as examples of evangelistic preaching. These include messages by Charles H. Spurgeon, Martyn Lloyd-Jones, James S. Stewart, George W. Truett, and Billy Graham.
Paul Scott Wilson, A Concise History of Preaching (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1992), 192 pp., paper.
Histories of preaching have traditionally been weighty and imposing tomes (often multi-volume) which find their way onto the bookshelves of homiletics professors but seldom into the working collections of preaching ministers. This is unfortunate, for a loss of historical context hinders the preacher from understanding the grandeur and the foibles of preaching. Put plainly, an understanding of the preaching tradition is necessary if one is to evaluate and compare variant homiletical approaches and options.
Paul Scott Wilson offers a portable and accessible introduction to that tradition (or those traditions) in A Concise History of Preaching. The brief volume — described by its author as “something of an excursion tour” — offers short chapters on twenty preachers ranging (chronologically) from the Apostle Paul to Martin Luther King, Jr.
Each chapter includes a biographical section which places the preacher in a geographic, cultural, and historical context. Also included are a sermon sample and a section on “implications” derived from the preacher.
Included among subjects are both the famous and the obscure, and the author’s attempt to be inclusive is evident throughout. Featured preachers include Paul, Perpetua, Origen, Chrysostom, Romanos the Melodist, Cyprian, Augustine, Hildegard of Bingen, Thomas Aquinas, Martin Luther, John Calvin, John Donne, Alphonsus Liguori, Jonathan Edwards, John Wesley, Horace Bushnell, Catherine Mumford Booth, Harry Emerson Fosdick, James S. Stewart, and Martin Luther King, Jr.
The brevity of the chapters limits the consideration of each preacher and offers only a foretaste of serious investigation. The sermon samples are exceedingly short — too short in most cases to provide much substance. But the volume as a whole is useful and interesting. It is a primer of sorts — almost a catalog of famous (and not so famous) preachers through the centuries.
For most preachers, Wilson’s slim volume will be a helpful introduction which may serve as a catalyst for further reading and study. It fills a gap in the existing literature and will find its way onto many bookshelves.
Each reader will want to see other names in the table of contents. Particularly noticeable is the lack of consideration to the evangelical traditions represented by Charles Spurgeon, Martyn Lloyd-Jones, and Billy Graham. But readers will appreciate the chapters which do appear and, their appetites aroused, will look to other works for further investigation.
Book Notes
Charles B. Bugg, Preaching from the Inside Out (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1992), 144 pp., paper.
In this excellent book, Charles Bugg focuses on the place of the preacher in the preaching task. It is not a heavy academic treatise but a practical and conversational offering from one who is not only a teacher of preaching but an excellent preacher himself.
Bugg observes, “One of the things I want to call for is a new emphasis on the spiritual vitality of the preacher. Preaching is more than a craft or an art or a profession. It is more than the shaping of some words designed to dazzle the ears of hearers. Preaching grows out of the minister’s own experience with the living God. As preachers, we stand inside the faith. We are not objective. We bear witness to what has changed our lives.”
The book is filled with personal anecdotes and useful advice that will be helpful to preachers. Several brief discussion exercises are included at the end of each chapter, which may assist pastoral study groups that use this book as a text.
Bugg is Carl E. Bates Professor of Preaching at Southern Baptist Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. He has been pastor of several churches, most recently First Baptist Church of Augusta, Georgia. (JMD)
Donald G. Bloesch, A Theology of Word & Spirit (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1992), 336 pages, hardcover.
In this first of a seven-volume systematic theology (“Christian Foundations”), Donald Bloesch establishes a solidly evangelical approach to the issues of theological method and authority. His theological approach is rooted in the work of the Reformers yet comfortably deals with contemporary topics and trends.
In explaining his own approach, Bloesch points out, “I suggest a theology of Word and Spirit, signifying the unity of truth and power evident in both the Incarnation of God in Jesus Christ and the biblical rendition of this event. The word that proceeds from the mouth of God is filled with the power of the Spirit, bringing life and renewal to those dead in sin. By the action of the Spirit it is communicated to us through the gospel proclamation — found first of all in the Bible and then in the church commentary on the Scriptures.”
Bloesch is Professor of Systematic Theology at Dubuque Theological Seminary in Dubuque, Iowa. (JMD)
Preaching Through the Apocalypse: Sermons from Revelation, edited by Cornish R. Rogers and Joseph R. Jeter, Jr. (St. Louis: Chalice Press, 1992), 165 pp., paper, $15.99.
This collection of sermons based on texts from Revelation (plus two introductory essays by the editors) is written by and for mainline preachers, many of whom may have never preached from this last book of the Bible. Among the contributors are some excellent preachers, including William Willimon, Thomas Long, and James Forbes. As the editors point out, almost all of the sermons are by those in the academy rather than by pastors; most of the invited pastors declined to participate, apparently because few had ever preached on such texts.
Readers will enjoy observing the way these preachers approach their respective texts. One might have wished for the inclusion of a few evangelicals to add some theological and homiletical diversity (and to bring some pastors into the list of contributors).
Rogers is Professor of Pastoral Ministry at the School of Theology, Claremont, California. Jeter is Walker Associate Professor of Homiletics at Brite Divinity School, Texas Christian University, Fort Worth, Texas. (JMD)
Norman Shawchuck, Philip Kotler, Bruce Wrenn, & Gustave Rath, Marketing for Congregations (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1992), 403 pp., hardcover.
Like it or not, marketing has become one of the major topics among growing congregations. The reality is that every church practices marketing — some do it intentionally and with quality, while others do it haphazardly and poorly. If you’d like to be included among the former rather than the latter group, you’ll find Marketing for Congregations to be an excellent introduction to many of the key issues churches face in the 1990’s.
This book is filled with helpful, real-life examples of how marketing is done effectively within the congregational setting. Illustrations are drawn from both evangelical and mainline denominations. The volume is visually interesting as well, with a multitude of charts and graphs to assist the reader. It covers a broad range of topics; my wish would have been for more extensive treatment of marketing as it concerns the worship experience itself (a significant issue for those evaluating the Willow Creek and similar models). Perhaps inclusion of a pastor among the authors would have added some sensitivity to this issue.
Many fast-growing churches are using marketing tools with great skills while demonstrating that such an approach is not inconsistent with theological integrity. Marketing for Congregations will help you understand better what and how they are doing so — and perhaps suggest some ideas you’ll put into use in your own church.
Shawchuck is an author and organizational consultant. Kotler is Professor of International Marketing at Northwestern University. Rath is Professor of Industrial Engineering and Management Sciences at Northwestern University. Wrenn is Assistant Professor of Marketing at Indiana University. (JMD)
Word and Worship, edited by James D. Berkley (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1992), 499 pp., hardcover.
This is the first volume in the Leadership Handbooks of Practical Theology, a three-part series produced by Christianity Today. Future volumes will cover “Outreach and Care” and “Leadership and Administration.”
The first volume in the series covers a broad range of topics, including preaching, worship, music, the Lord’s Supper, baptism, weddings and funerals. Given such breadth of coverage, no topic is dealt with comprehensively, but each chapter provides a worthy introduction to the topic and suggests areas for further study. In addition to the major chapters, the book is sprinkled with brief essays on various topics.
Berkley, who serves as General Editor of the series, is Editor of Your Church magazine and Contributing Editor of Leadership journal. (JMD)
J. Alfred Smith, Sr., and J. Alfred Smith, Jr., Basic Bible Sermons on Christian Stewardship (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1992), 128 pp., paper.
Every pastor must eventually face the task of preaching a stewardship message; often that duty rolls around annually. Such pastors will find new ideas and insights in this brief volume written by a father-son pastoral team. The seventeen sermons in this book are well-written, and preachers will find many interesting illustrations.
The authors of this book serve as co-pastors of Allen Temple Baptist Church in Oakland, California. J. Alfred Smith, Sr., who serves as senior pastor of Allen Temple, is also a member of the Board of Contributing Editors of Preaching. (JMD)
Sunday Morning Live (Volume 1), edited by Steve Pederson (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing, 1992), 63 pp., paper.
By now the story of Willow Creek Community Church in suburban Chicago is well known. Using a contemporary worship model, the church now attracts more than 14,000 persons weekly to its four weekend “seeker services.” One of the most distinctive elements of those services is the effective use of drama to focus attention on the theme of that day’s message.
Sunday Morning Live is a collection of those delightful drama sketches used at Willow Creek. Churches are welcomed to use the sketches in their own churches, and a videotape of the sketches as actually performed at Willow Creek is available separately from Zondervan. Be alert to the fact that Willow Creek’s drama ministry includes some gifted actors; not every church may be able to produce them at an appropriate level of quality, and badly-produced drama may be worse than none at all!
Pederson is drama director at Willow Creek Community Church and a former college theater teacher. (JMD)

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