Religious and church-related publishers release literally hundreds of new titles each year intended for professional ministers. This feast of information can quickly become an imposing threat to the preacher, already hard pressed to set aside just a few hours per week for reading and study.
The following survey of recent releases is designed to assist the preaching minister in the task of planning a reading strategy for the coming year. Such a strategy will allow the preacher to plan reading from the fields of homiletics, biblical studies, church history, theology, and other disciplines. The preacher who sets a strategy for reading across these fields will be more fully fitted for the preaching task.
The renaissance of interest in homiletics is, in itself, an indication of renewed interest in the church. The believing community of faith calls forth the preached word and the preacher. Dozens of serious and worthy volumes on preaching have emerged in recent years, marking a significant shift from the pessimism of the 1960s and 1970s.
This renewal has been occasioned, at least in part, by the realization that those churches which did not give serious atention to preaching were generally in decline, while those who held preaching in high esteem — and demanded faithful and effective preaching — strengthened their ministry. Though other factors undoubtedly played a part in this dynamic, the role of effective preaching was noted by the pulpit and the pew.
Significant books in the field of preaching and homiletics included Thomas Long’s The Witness of Preaching (Westminster/John Knox Press), our 1991 Preaching Book of the Year. Long, who teaches at Princeton Theological Seminary, also co-edited Preaching In and Out of Season (Westminster/John Knox Press), a collection of essays concerned with preaching through the year’s secular observances.
Other new books on preaching included David L. Larsen’s The Anatomy of Preaching: Identifying the Jesus in Preaching Today (Baker Book House). Larsen, who teaches at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, demonstrates an evangelical engagement with several issues in contemporary homiletics. Richard Allen Bodey, Larsen’s colleague at TEDS, has edited a clever collection of autobiographical essays by leading preachers, each dealing with his method of sermon preparation and including a representative sermon. Inside the Sermon (Baker Book House) provides glimpses into the minds of gifted and dedicated preachers.
James Cox edited Best Sermons 3 (Harper and Row) which includes a selection of worthy sermons from preachers famous and unknown. Sermons on Suicide (Westminster/John Knox Press), edited by James T. Clemmons, is a courageous volume which fills a void in contemporary homiletical literature. A different, but clearly relevant issue is addressed by Jerrien Gunnink in Preaching for Recovery in a Strife-Torn Church (Zondervan).
Recent months were also marked by the publication of two series of the famous Lyman Beecher Lectures delivered at Yale Divinity School. Walter Brueggemann’s Finally Comes the Poet: Daring Speech for Proclamation (Augsburg/Fortress) and James Forbes’ The Holy Spirit and Preaching (Abingdon) belong on every preacher’s bookshelf.
Change and Conflict in American Religion
The mega-shifts observed in American society were signs of critical shifts among the churches. For the most part, Americans had been divided into the three major groups which held the center of American religion and society: Protestants, Catholics, and Jews. None of these is now a unified and cohesive force.
The impact of modernity has produced powerful waves of change and conflict in American religion. Though conflict had always been present between those three major groups, conflict and traumatic change now characterize relations within American religious groups. The breakdown of denominationalism, increasing conflict between liberals and conservatives within denominations, and the continued decline of mainline churches mark the new reality in American religion.
This situation is well-described by Princeton University’s Robert Wuthnow in The Struggle for America’s Soul: Evangelicals, Liberals, and Secularism (Eerdmans). Wuthnow argues convincingly that “The mosaic of denominational pluralism that analysts described a generation ago no longer provides a useful image of the main contours of our faith.” These contours are now shaped by the three main forces competing for attention and influence: evangelicals, religious liberals, and secularists.
The rise and decline of mainline Protestantism, now thoroughly chronicled in contemporary analysis, is placed in historical perspective by William R. Hutchinson of Harvard University in Between the Times: The Travail of the Protestant Establishment in America: 1900-1960 (Cambridge University Press). Hutchinson edited several seminal essays by leading scholars and offers a unique and compelling sense of the shift he describes as “from Protestant to pluralist America.”
A more general background is offered by Richard E. Wentz, professor of religious studies at Arizona State University, in Religion in the New World (Fortress). Wentz covers the waterfront of American religion, from native American religion to the growing influence of “Arabesque” traditions through Islam.
First-hand observation by a scholar with a keen eye comes from Randall Balmer in Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory: A Journey Into the Evangelical Subcultures in America (Oxford University Press). Balmer travelled throughout the country, and offers his observations of evangelical life through several independent chapters.
A fascinating glimpse into one of the most fractious denominational battles of recent decades is offered by John H. Tietjen in Memoirs in Exile: Confessional Hope and Institutional Conflict (Fortress), his autobiographical recollection of the battle in the Missouri Synod Lutheran Church. His report is certain to extend the debate in Lutheran circles.
The on-going conflict within the Southern Baptist Convention is the subject of two major books released in 1990. Nancy T. Ammerman’s Baptist Battles (Rutgers University Press) brings a wealth of sociological research and analysis to bear on the SBC conflict. An historian’s view is offered by Bill J. Leonard, professor of church history at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, in God’s Last and Only Hope: The Fragmentation of the Southern Baptist Convention (Eerdmans).
The current situation within the Presbyterian Church, USA is considered in The Presbyterian Predicament: Six Perspectives (Westminster/John Knox Press). Six perceptive analysts “strive to analyze the Presbyterian predicament and to offer solutions.”
Preachers will find a thought-provoking analysis in U.S. Lifestyles and Mainline Churches (Westminster/John Knox Press) by Tex Semple, professor of church and society, Saint Paul School of Theology in Kansas City. Semple discusses the differing worldviews and expectations of groups he describes as the “cultural left,” “cultural right,” and “cultural middle.” Churches evangelical, mainline, and Catholic will find the book perceptive and disconcerting.
Biblical Studies
The field of biblical studies has experienced its own resurgence of interest and several significant titles were released in 1989/1990. A significant reference work, The Mercer Dictionary of the Bible (Mercer University Press), edited by Watson Mills, brings together contributions from the National Association of Baptist Professors of Religion.
A promising series, “Foundations of Contemporary Interpretation” (Zondervan), includes three significant works thus far: Literary Approaches to Biblical Interpretation, by Tremper Longman III; Has the Church Misread the Bible?, by Moises Silva; and Science and Hermeneutics, by Vern Poythress. All three authors teach at Westminister Theological Seminary in Philadelphia.
Thorough exegetical work is evident in two new releases from the series “The Form of the Old Testament Literature” (Eerdmans). Ronald M. Hals, who teaches at Trinity Lutheran Seminary in Ohio, produced Ezekiel and Simon J. DeVries of the Methodist Theological School in Kansas City authored 1 and 2 Chronicles. The series will have a projected 24 volumes when complete.
A relevant and solid contribution, Ancient Israelite Literature in its Cultural Context (Zondervan), came from the pen of John H. Walton of Moody Bible Institute. “The basic premise of the book,” Walton states, “is that Israel, while being the recipient of divine revelation that gave her a unique theological distinctiveness, reflected in many ways the culture of the ancient Near East.” The work promises to assist preachers to understand the cultural context of the Old Testament without robbing Scripture of its unique and authoritative nature.
Leon Morris, who has established a world-wide reputation for Johannine research, has produced another volume, Jesus is the Christ: Studies in the Theology of John (Eerdmans). Morris demonstrates that John’s motive was both theological and evangelistic.
A fertile study in literary hermeneutics is Conflict in Mark: Jesus, Authorities, Disciples by Jack Dean Kingsbury, who teaches at Union Theological Seminary in Virginia. Kingsbury suggests that “Mark’s story of Jesus is one of swift action and high drama.”
The so-called “hard sayings” of the Bible, found in the Old Testament, the Gospels, and other biblical literature, are considered in Hard Sayings of Paul (InterVarsity Press) by Manfred T. Brauch of Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary. A major study in Pauline theology has emerged from the respected pen of E. Earle Ellis, research professor of theology at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Pauline Theology: Ministry and Society (Eerdmans) considers Paul’s theology in eschatological perspective, moving from the “sphere of Adam” to “community in Christ.” Ellis is the founder of the Institute for Biblical Research, one of the most promising associations of evangelical biblical scholars.
R. Kent Hughes, senior pastor of College Church in Wheaton, Illinois, has produced Ephesians: The Mystery of the Body of Christ (Crossway), the fourth in his credible series of biblical expositions. As J. I. Packer suggests, the best biblical exegesis often comes from the preaching minister.
Two major advances in exegetical studies will be greeted with enthusiasm by all serious expositors. The Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament (Eerdmans), edited by Horst Balz and Gerhard Schneider, is now in process of translation. The first volume of the three-volume set has just been released. The work is a complete dictionary of New Testament Greek with abundant exegetical data.
John Joseph Owens, one of the nation’s most respected Hebrew scholars, has released Volume One of his massive Analytical Key to the Old Testament (Baker Book House). Covering Genesis through Joshua, the volume treats every word in the Hebrew text, providing its grammatical identification, translation, and location in the Brown, Driver, and Briggs Hebrew lexicon. The volume is what every generation of Hebrew students has anticipated, an exhaustive consideration of each word in the Hebrew text.
Church History
Preachers are often tempted to neglect reading in the field of church history, and may see historical concerns as removed from the pressing demands of the pulpit. Nevertheless, faithful preaching requires a continuing engagement with the living tradition of the church, and a knowledge of the historical issues which have shaped the life and work of the people of God.
The Oxford Illustrated History of Christianity (Oxford University Press), edited by John McManners, is both a coffee table artifact and a major reference work. Essays cover the church from antiquity to the modern period. The essays range in quality, but the volume deserves a place in the preacher’s library. Rich with color plates and beautifully designed, it is a feast for the eyes as well.
Preachers of all denominational traditions will find encouragement in the release of three major works on Martin Luther. Heiko Oberman, whose reputation is well established on both sides of the Atlantic, produced Luther: Man Between God and the Devil (Yale University Press). The volume is a seminal contribution to Luther studies. The massive work of Martin Brecht is now available in two English volumes, Martin Luther: His Road to Reformation, 1483-1521 and Martin Luther: Shaping and Defining the Reformation 1521-1532 (Augsburg/Fortress). Together, the volumes consist of over 1000 pages of solid research.
Preachers will likewise appreciate recent work in Reformed scholarship. Timothy F. George, dean of the Beeson Divinity School of Samford University, edited John Calvin and the Church: A Prism of Reform (Westminster/John Knox Press). The contributors are on the cutting edge of Calvin scholarship. Of similar quality is Probing the Reformed Tradition, edited by Elsie Anne McKee and Brian C. Armstrong (Westminster/John Knox Press). The essays move from Calvin to Reformed developments in the Old and New Worlds.
Colin Brown, a leading evangelical theologian and philosopher, released Christianity and Western Thought: A History of Philosophers, Ideas, and Movements, Volume 1 (InterVarsity Press). Brown, who teaches at Fuller Theological Seminary, traces developments from the ancient period to the Enlightenment.
InterVarsity Press, which has now established itself as a major producer of quality reference works, has set a new standard with the release of the Dictionary of Christianity in America, edited by Daniel G. Reid, Robert D. Linder, Bruce L. Shelley, Harry S. Stout. Its 2400 articles by more than 400 scholars constitute a remarkable if not indispensible resource.
We live and work in an increasingly atheological age. That is, what sociologists term “social space” has been increasingly shorn of theological considerations. Nevertheless, the pulpit abdicates something central and essential to its character and calling if it allows this trend to shape its own message and responsibility.
Clark H. Pinnock, a leading evangelical theologian, has correctly identified this atheological trend within the church as “a crisis of identity.” Some persons, he avers, “are no longer able to distinguish what is Christian truth from what is not.” His Tracking the Maze: Finding Our Way Through Modern Theology From An Evangelical Perspective (Harper and Row) is a probing analysis of the current theological malaise.
Another helpful voice is that of Thomas C. Oden, whose After Modernity: Agenda for Theology (Zondervan), is both personal testimony and programmatic treatise. Oden’s pilgrimage from “movement theologian” to evangelical orthodoxy is instructive and supremely interesting.
Veteran evangelical statesman-theologian Carl F. H. Henry released two volumes in recent months. Toward a Recovery of Christian Belief (Crossway) includes his 1989 Rutherford Lectures presented at the University of Edinburgh. Henry is persuasive and clear in his approach. Carl Henry at His Best (Multnomah) is a creative compilation of excerpts from Henry’s massive backlist of writings.
A major systematic effort has come to fruition with the publication of the first volume of James Leo Garrett’s Systematic Theology: Biblical, Historical, Evangelical (Eerdmans). Garrett, professor of theology at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, has produced a significant and substantial work which will appeal to evangelicals of all denominations.
J. Rodman Williams has produced the first volume of his systematic theology, Renewal Theology (Zondervan), written from “within the charismatic renewal movement.” Renewal Theology is the first clearly dogmatic effort in systematic expression to emerge from the charismatic movement. The first volume covers God, the world, and redemption.
Gordon R. Lewis and Bruce A. Demarest continue the work they established through Integrative Theology (Zondervan) with the publication of the second volume, which considers humanity, sin, and atonement. The authors seek to integrate insights from biblical, systematic, and historical theology.
John Newport, whose career has spanned several institutions and shaped generations of students, produced a major work in the philosophy of religion, Life’s Ultimate Questions (Word). Newport combines an evangelical worldview and an honest engagement with vexing philosophical issues. Preachers will find Life’s Ultimate Questions a resource for their own critical engagement with those issues.
Timothy F. George and David S. Dockery edited Baptist Theologians (Broadman Press), a massive 600-page collection of essays on 33 major theologians in the Baptist tradition.
The fertile mind of Stanley Hauerwas is connected with two significant releases. Why Narrative? A Reader in Narrative Theology (Eerdmans), edited by Hauerwas and L. Gregory Jones, will be a standard reference work, as it brings together classic articles and essays which shaped the development of narrative thought. Preachers can no longer ignore the insights of narrative thought, though many now question the wholesale rejection of other forms of preaching and exegesis found in some narrative circles. Why Narrative? is a definitive and worthy volume.
Hauerwas joined with Duke University colleague (and Preaching contributing editor) William H. Willimon in Resident Aliens: Life in the Christian Colony (Abingdon). Hauerwas and Willimon reject outright many of the most comfortable assumptions of the contemporary church, which they see as allied more with Constantine than with Christ. The book is disturbing, challenging, and seminal. Preachers from all traditions — mainline, evangelical, and Catholic — will be forced to challenge some of their own most basic understandings of the church and its role in the world.
And so it goes. By the time you have read this article another wave of books will be newly available, with many titles worthy of attention. Most preachers (and almost all busy leaders) find time their most precious commodity. The poor stewardship of time will insure that reading, and the cultivation of the mind and spirit, will be neglected.
Yet preachers know that the quality of their preaching is directly linked (though, thankfully, not wholly dependent) on the discipline of this cultivation, study, and research. Read on … and brave preaching!
Top Ten Books Every Preacher Should Read in 1991
1. The Witness of Preaching, Thomas G. Long (Westminster/John Knox)
2. Finally Comes the Poet, Walter Brueggemann (Fortress)
3. The Dictionary of Christianity in America (Inter-Varsity)
4. The Struggle for America’s Soul, Robert Wuthnow (Eerdmans)
5. Tracking the Maze, Clark Pinnock (Harper & Row)
6. After Modernity, Thomas Oden (Zondervan)
7. The Oxford Illustrated History of Christianity, John McManners (Oxford)
8. The People’s Religion: American Faith in the 90’s, Gallup & Castelli (Macmillan)
9. Why Narrative?, Hauerwas & Jones (Eerdmans)
10. Resident Aliens: Life in the Christian Colony, Willimon & Hauerwas (Abingdon)

Share This On: