John R. W. Stott, The Cross of Christ (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1986), 383 pp., $14.95, cloth.
H. D. McDonald, The Atonement of the Death of Christ (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1985), 371 pp., $19.95, cloth.
Christmas goes and soon comes Easter. Hard on the heels of the incarnation comes crucifixion and resurrection. The manger scene and sheets of Christmas music are hardly put away before the preparations for Easter must begin.
The Christian year places the two great festivals in close proximity, taxing the creativity and challenging the reflective preparation of the preacher. Nevertheless, no opportunity rivals the Easter season in terms of the expectancy of the gospel.
The greatest challenge for most preachers lies in discovering that teachable moment of opportunity among the congregation, most of whom have heard the cross and resurrection narratives and countless sermons from those texts. Most sitting in the pews think themselves to have plundered an adequate understanding of atonement and reconciliation from those texts. Others, blessedly, look with eagerness for a new depth of understanding.
Looking at the Easter season anew, the awesome challenge reveals itself as an opportunity to explore and expand toward deeper understandings of the cross and the empty tomb. “Superficial views of the work of Christ,” suggested Martin Lloyd-Jones, “produce superficial human lives.”
A new interest in the doctrine of the atonement is demonstrated in the publication of two major books, both of which should grace the shelves of the preacher’s library.
John R. W. Stott is now one of the most recognized preachers in the Christian world. A stalwart representative of British evangelicalism, Stott was for several decades rector of the great All Souls parish in central London.
His reputation has grown worldwide, however, as Stott has preached on practically every continent through his missionary efforts and his program of developing indigenous church leadership. In the U.S., Stott is perhaps best known for his Urbana messages which energized and challenged a generation of young North Americans.
Though recognized for his thoughtful and serious preaching, few have labeled Stott a theologian. Certainly in the academic sense he is not, but in this considerable volume Stott proves himself a capable and articulate theological mind. “The cross,” Stott insists, “is at the centre of the evangelical faith.” Stott is convincing in his presentation of the centrality of the cross and atonement for Christian faith.
In terms of theological method, Stott draws from what he terms “the triangle of Scripture, tradition, and the modern world,” echoing the bridge-building model of preaching he presented in Between Two Worlds.
In drawing from this triangle Stott seeks first to be faithful to the biblical text by means of careful exegesis and a clear recognition of biblical authority. The volume is replete with biblical citations — not mere proof texts — and draws deeply from the wells of biblical material.
The rich heritage of the history of the doctrine of atonement also fortifies the content of the book. Though not a historical survey, The Cross of Christ contains a number of historical reference points helpful in understanding the development of the major understandings of Christ’s work on the cross. Also considered is the work of more contemporary theologians such as Vincent Taylor and Leon Morris.
Stott is at his best, however, when considering the meaning of the cross and the work of Christ for today. After an introductory section on approaching the cross Stott moves to a section, “The Heart of the Cross,” in which he argues for a biblical understanding of ‘substitution’ and ‘satisfaction.’ The center of this volume deals with the “three great achievements” of the cross: saving sinners, revealing God, and conquering evil.
In a most creative section Stott deals with the corporate meaning of the cross in terms of “living under the cross.”
“The cross,” the author suggests, “transforms everything.” Through the cross we gain “a new worshipping relationship to God, a new and balanced understanding of ourselves, a new incentive to give ourselves to mission, a new love for our enemies, and a new courage to face the perplexities of suffering.”
Few contemporary parallels exist among evangelicals to match Stott’s effort. Preachers will find this volume a fruitful catalyst for thought and reflection, and an armory of material for biblical preaching on the cross.
The Atonement of the Death of Christ is a truly massive volume in terms of scope and coverage. H. D. McDonald, a leading evangelical theologian long associated with London Bible College, has produced a weighty but readable tome covering the doctrine of the atonement in historical perspective.
The three major sections of the book deal in turn with an exposition of the orthodox doctrine of the atonement as the faith of the church, a consideration of the atonement as revealed in scripture, and a survey of the development of atonement in the history of doctrine. Each section offers cogent insights and solid theological reflection. The last section may prove most helpful for many preachers as it serves as a careful guide through the options in doctrinal formulation — both past and present.
Rather than isolate two or three major understandings of the atonement — with theologians grouped beneath — McDonald suggests no less than seventeen nuanced models of the atonement, and includes two more chapters with variant models discussed. This creative technique transcends the simplistic objective/subjective dichotomy in favor of a more adequate understanding of each major development.
The Atonement of the Death of Christ is not for the casual reader, but neither is it directed primarily to an academic readership. It will prove a worthy and wealthy resource for the preaching minister. Throughout the volume McDonald’s own convictions are apparent.
“The atonement of the cross is in the end the place, the way, the sphere of our salvation; of the grace unspeakable and the fullness of glory. Its final mystery and sublimity lie deep in the nature of God. And for faith its ultimate secret is darkened by its own excess of light.”
Walter J. Burghardt, S.J., Preaching: the Art and the Craft (New York: Paulist Press, 1987), 250 pp., $11.95, paper.
Most works on contemporary preaching give scant attention to the renewed interest in preaching among Roman Catholics. Nevertheless, for some time a heightened commitment to the preaching task has been evident among some quarters of Catholic life.
David Buttrick, for example, taught at the St. Meinrad School of Theology, a Roman Catholic seminary, for several years before joining the faculty at Vanderbilt. Few Catholic homilists can match the contribution or reputation of Walter Burghardt, the Jesuit Theologian-In-Residence at Georgetown University.
In a “prelude” sure to catch the attention of the reader, Burghardt quotes approvingly Jerome Murphy-O’Connor’s assertion that “The factor that more than any other made the Reformation possible was the theological confusion that marked the preaching and teaching of the faith in the early sixteenth century.” Furthermore, “Today preaching is admittedly orthodox, but it is often vapid and lacking in vitality. It no longer seems to make converts or to lead to sanctity those who already have the faith.”
Burghardt does not claim nor seek to revolutionize preaching by means of this book, but rather to share out of his own rich pilgrimage and practice of preaching.
At once apparent to the reader is Burghardt’s skill as a wordsmith. He testifies: “Ever since I can remember, I have been seduced by syllables.” The seduction was apparently willful on Burghardt’s part, for he gives constant evidence of immersion in literature and a thirst for words. The model of preaching Burghardt suggests is based upon the transformation of words into flesh — a mode of preaching at once both incarnational and liturgical.
The Catholic readership the author addresses is always in focus. Protestants will find several passages of richly suggestive material, but continually apparent is the drastic distinction in the context of preaching in the Protestant and Catholic churches.
Burghardt reads Protestants with a grateful and receptive spirit, the same spirit with which his own work deserves to be read by Protestants. He suggests that his Catholic readers learn from Protestant masters and, while rejecting Protestantism’s rigid sola scriptura, “I find it a fine thing in retrospect that our Protestant brothers and sisters have kept thrusting the text in our faces and urging us to ‘take and read’.”
Burghardt has been a homiletical word-weaver for over half a century. His work will inform the discriminating reader willing to hear a bit about the art and craft of preaching from a Catholic colleague.
James W. Cox, editor, The Minister’s Manual (Doran’s), 1988 Edition (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1987), 374 pp., $14.95, cloth.
Jim and Doris Morentz, editors, Minister’s Annual: Preaching in 1988 (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1987), 448 pp., $9.95, printed binding.
Manuals for ministers have been around for over sixty years. In the hands of a skilled and dedicated preacher these volumes hold a treasure trove of sermon suggestions, illustrations, and helpful material for use during the Christian year. For others the volumes are a perceived means of bypassing personal study and thoughtful application.
These two volumes are among the best annual series available. The Doran’s series, first published in 1926, has been a long-established mainstay of the pastor’s study. Now published by Harper and Row, the annual editions are capably edited by James W. Cox, Professor of Preaching at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and a recognized authority on the craft of preaching.
The volume includes an amazing amount of material, ranging from a comprehensive church and civil calendar to suggestive sermon material. The three main divisions of the book include sections on general aids and resources, “Vital Messages from the Lectionary,” and resources for special preaching contexts ranging from funeral services to world missions.
Cox is a master editor, well familiar with the preaching tradition and quick to bring the most suggestive material to light. The minister will find this volume a most helpful companion throughout the church year.
The Minister’s Annual represents another approach. In only its second edition, the volume includes a full sermon for each Sunday of the year. The sermons are written by preachers of several denominations and represent differing models of sermon construction. Along with the sermons, a number of worship helps are provided, including a full order of worship and items such as the story behind one of the worship hymns chosen for that day.
Later sections include suggestive material for special seasons and preaching opportunities. Appended to the volume are chapters dealing with matters of calendar, liturgical colors, and helpful indices.
Both of these volumes have a place in the preacher’s preparation for the preaching task. The Cox volume offers an encyclopedic overview of the church year with particular attention to materials helpful to the preacher. It includes a multitude of sermon suggestions and outlines arranged by the lectionary and church year, but stops short of providing full sermons. The Morentz volume is less comprehensive and focuses on the full sermon texts provided for each Sunday of the year.
Both of these approaches offer a distinctive challenge to the preaching minister. The complete sermons in the Morentz volume should be read in the same manner as any other collection of sermon texts; that is, for the rich suggestions and the benefit of seeing another homiletical mind at work. The Minister’s Manual reveals to the reader a bit of the richness of the preaching tradition and serves to remind the preacher of the potent sermon material so readily available in literature and life.
H. Stephen Shoemaker, The Jekyll and Hyde Syndrome (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1987), 189 pp., $10.95, cloth.
John A. Sanford, The Strange Trial of Mr. Hyde: A New Look at the Nature of Human Evil (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1987), 182 pp., $14.95, cloth.
The Strange Tale of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde was written by Robert Louis Stevenson as he lay hemorrhaging from the ravages of tuberculosis. Over an amazingly short period of time Stevenson mustered the energy to complete this epic parable of human nature. Few educated persons in the English-speaking world fail to recognize the powerful story from the pen of one who had struggled so intensely with the character of human nature.
Few preachers have resisted the urge to incorporate the story into a sermon on temptation or the struggle with sin. Few, however, have done so with the skill and insight of H. Stephen Shoemaker in The Jekyll and Hyde Syndrome.
Shoemaker, pastor of the Crescent Hill Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky, shows evidence of considerable struggle with the Jekyll and Hyde story and the meaning of this modern parable for persons caught in the battle between good and evil. What he terms “The Jekyll and Hyde Syndrome” is “the malaise of all who live in the unresolved tension between good and evil.”
If ever the preacher underestimated the power of that suggestive parable, Shoemaker’s development of the syndrome will convince. It opens his series of powerful messages on the church’s traditional catalogue of the most deadly sins and the most lively virtues.
Shoemaker deals honestly with sin — and with the individual sins detailed in the sermons. Sin, in Shoemaker’s suggestive phrase, is “an obstacle to grace.”
Seven sermons follow, one each on pride, sloth, envy, anger, avarice, gluttony, and lust. Each is marked by evocative language and potent images.
The seven sermons on sins are matched by the sermons on the seven virtues: wisdom, courage, justice, temperance, faith, hope, and love. These sermons are no less powerful than those on sin — and are likely a greater challenge to the preacher.
Together, these sermon series develop a unified and balanced theme. The struggle really lies at the level indicated by Paul, who found himself doing what he knew not to do, and failing to do that which he aimed. Hauntingly familiar is the horrible realization which comes to Dr. Jekyll as he passes a dark mirror and sees in it the image of Mr. Hyde — “This too is myself.” The Jekyll and Hyde Syndrome is a worthy volume for the preacher’s reading.
Though Shoemaker writes as preaching theologian, John A. Sanford writes as a Jungian therapist and Episcopalian priest. In The Strange Trial of Mr. Hyde, Sanford explores the nature of human evil, taking as his point of departure an imagined trial of Mr. Hyde in which a contemporary defense attorney seeks to defend Mr. Hyde against the charges history has alleged against him.
Sanford identifies the Stevenson story as “archetypal,” which suggests that it “touches on universal and profound aspects of our psychology.” As a Jungian analyst Sanford demonstrates a background in psychology more than adequate to bring profound insights to fore. Sanford’s contrived trial is a masterful study and a dramatic means of excavating the inner meanings of the Jekyll and Hyde story. The remainder of the volume is Sanford’s extended commentary on the meaning of human evil as developed in Stevenson’s novella.
Sanford’s contribution will interest the preacher seeking insight into the psychological dimensions of human evil from a theologically-informed Jungian analyst. Shoemaker’s sermons will serve as powerful models of preaching which addresses the problem of sin in language and imagery appropriate to the contemporary situation.
Paul S. Minear, Death Set to Music: Masterworks by Bach, Brahms, Penderecki, Bernstein (Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1987), 173 pp., cloth.
This fascinating volume explores the meaning of death and life as set forth in four masterworks of classical music: the St. Matthews Passion by J. S. Bach, a German Requiem by Johannes Brahms, the Passion and Death of Our Lord Jesus Christ by Krzysztof Penderecki, and Mass: A Cry for Peace by Leonard Bernstein.
Paul Minear, emeritus Professor of Biblical Theology at Yale Divinity School, has produced an engaging essay on the meaning of death in the Gospel as discovered in these four choral classics. The insights are potent for preaching — especially during Holy Week and Easter — as in them is explored the many kinds of death found in the Bible.
Tom Houston, Were You There? Seeing Yourself in the Drama of the Cross (Ventura, California: Regal Books, 1987), 205 pp., $11.95, cloth.
The cross, Houston posits, is the central event in human history, “the place where each man must come to decide his eternal destiny.” As a preacher faced with the familiar texts of the crucifixion event, Houston found a fruitful avenue of approach in a consideration of the characters around the cross.
Through means of fifteen sermons on those characters — including messages on Judas, Pilate, the Soldiers, and twelve others — Houston brings the cross into personal focus. Speaking of the characters considered in the messages, he notes: “I feel I know them now and have to admit that as much of that knowledge comes from self-discovery as from the observations of others.”
James Montgomery Boice, The Parables of Jesus (Chicago: Moody Press, 1983), 227 pp., $6.95, paper.
Boice, pastor of the historic Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, has gained a much-deserved reputation for excellence in biblical preaching. These sermons on the parables will inform and inspire the reader — and serve as a source of both exegetical and homiletical insight. This book, recently reprinted, may serve to focus the attention of preachers on the tremendous power of the parables in preaching.
John R. W. Stott, The Cross of Christ (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1986), 383 pp., $14.95, cloth.