Mark Dever and Greg Gilbert
B&H Publishing, 2012, paper, 212 pp., $14.99
A number of outstanding books on expository preaching have been published in recent years. What makes Preach unique is that it was written by a well-known pastor in combination with one of his former students who is now a pastor, as well. Both authors make it clear they are committed to the centrality of biblical preaching in the church.
The book is divided into three major sections. The first, “Theology,” deals with the biblical and theological foundations of preaching. The second, “Practice,” offers a survey of the work of the preacher in dealing with the tasks of study, sermon development and sermon delivery. The final section includes two sermon manuscripts, one from each author. A particularly interesting element of the sermon section is that the authors periodically break into the sermon to carry on a dialogue about the message—discussing its development and content much as they would over a cup of coffee.
The volume opens with a discussion of Scripture and its importance as an expression of God’s words. “From the first pages of the Bible,” they observe, “words are enormously important to the God who made the universe. In fact, one of the most interesting themes of the Bible, as you read through it, is the argument it makes over and over again that it is precisely God’s words—His power to speak, to command, to be heard and understood—that sets Him apart from the false gods His people are always tempted to worship. The God of the Bible is utterly unique, utterly singular, and utterly worthy of our worship; and one of the most important evidences for that is the fact that God speaks.”
We know God primarily through His words, they assert; and at the core of our relationship with Him is “that we hear His Word and respond to it.” It is because of our need to hear this speaking God that He calls us to preach. The very act of preaching—”one person speaking while others listen—is both an accurate and a powerful symbol of our spiritual state and God’s grace. For one person to speak God’s Word while others listen is a depiction of God’s gracious self-disclosure and of our salvation being a gift.”
The Word that we proclaim in preaching is a powerful one, Dever and Gilbert note. In the second chapter, they evaluate the power that God’s Word contains in contrast to our human words. The vitality of God’s Word makes preaching that Word a vital necessity. They say that “if preaching really is the proclamation of God’s life-giving, ex nihilo creating Word, then the stakes are raised considerably, and it’s no longer a matter of preference whether we do it or not. It’s literally a matter of life and death.”
Further, the power of the Word means our preaching must be rooted in that Word; thus, they insist on the centrality of expositional preaching. Indeed, “anything that is not rooted in and tethered tightly to God’s Word is not preaching at all. It’s just a speech.” They raise common objections to expository preaching and reject them point by point, insisting finally that expositional preaching is “preaching in which the main point of the biblical text being considered becomes the main point of the sermon being preached.”
Dever and Gilbert make it clear that sermons are not intended to be Bible lectures, but are to aim at life change. This makes them a counter-cultural activity, challenging presuppositions, convicting of sin and calling people to Christ. Among the desired changes, for which preaching aims, are evangelistic increase and growing maturity in Christian discipleship.
The center section of the book dealing with “Practice,” offering an overview of the process of preparing for and presenting the sermon. Both authors primarily preach in series through biblical books, and they discuss their own different approaches to that process. There is a brief discussion of the value of developing a preaching calendar well in advance, though the book offers no substantial practical guidance in that important task.
In the chapter on sermon preparation, the authors discuss steps in interpreting a biblical text (read it; diagram it; use original languages; use commentaries eventually). They cite the need for an outline, suggesting the development of an exegetical outline leading to a preaching outline. The chapter closes with an encouragement to write the sermon down as a way to work through the best way of expressing the message effectively. In another chapter they touch on elements of the sermon such as Introductions, Exegesis, Illustrations, Application and Conclusions. An additional chapter offers some ideas relating to sermon delivery.
The brief treatment of each of these topics reflects a lack of detailed counsel in the mechanics of sermon development. The authors do not intend to explain in detail how to develop a sermon, but to emphasize the importance of these steps and offer illustrations from their own ministries. Thus, this is not a stand-alone text for developing preachers.
The book does offer many helpful insights about preaching, drawing on the experiences of Dever, who serves as senior pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D.C., and as president of 9Marks; and Gilbert, senior pastor of Third Avenue Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky. The two sermon transcripts demonstrate that both authors are capable and effective biblical expositors, and the sermons provide helpful models.
Preach is a well-written volume that makes a powerful case for preaching that is rooted in and proclaims the truth of God’s Word.