Pheme Perkins. Resurrection: New Testament Witness and Contemporary Reflection. Garden City, NY: Doubleday and Co., 1984. $19.95 (hb).
Herman Hendrickx. The Resurrection Narratives: Studies in the Synoptic Gospels. London: Geoffrey Chapman, 1984. $9.95 (paper).
Grant R. Osborne. The Resurrection Narratives: A Redactional Study. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1984. $11.95 (paper).
Michael Green. The Empty Cross of Jesus. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1984. $6.95 (paper).
James Montgomery Boice. The Christ of the Empty Tomb. Chicago: Moody Press, 1985. $10.95 (hb).
Edmund Steimle. God the Stranger: Reflections About Resurrection. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1979. $3.95 (paper).
Hans Urs von Balthasar. Life Out of Death: Meditations on the Easter Mystery. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1985. $3.50 (paper).
The recurring challenge of preaching the great central themes of the Christian faith presents the preacher with a mandate to communicate these essential truths with vitality and relevance. The two great Christian celebrations, Christmas and Easter, present the preacher with special challenges. The eternal truths of incarnation and resurrection can become rote recitations of familiar passages and the tired repetition of the dusty sermonic presentations of the past. A fresh infusion of challenging reading may provide a remedy for anemic Easter preaching as the preacher reflects anew upon the meaning of the resurrection and its central place in the preaching of the church. In his Lyman Beecher Lectures, James S. Stewart reminded preachers of the centrality of the Easter faith: “It was the theme of every Easter sermon; it was the master motive of every act of Christian evangelism; and not one line of the New Testament was written … apart from the conviction that He of whom these things were being written had conquered death and was alive forever.” [A Faith to Proclaim, p. 104]
The fountainhead of genuine biblical preaching is solid exegetical investigation. Preachers this Easter will find rich exegetical insights in Resurrection: New Testament Witness and Contemporary Reflection by Pheme Perkins of Boston College. Perkins, a New Testament scholar of note, has produced in this volume a comprehensive examination of the New Testament resurrection narratives worthy of serious examination. In style and method it closely resembles Raymond Brown’s magisterial work on the infancy narratives, The Birth of the Messiah. In essence, the work combines both exegetical and theological investigation. Of the two, the exegetical content in this volume is most promising. With its comprehensive analysis of all the relevant New Testament passages on resurrection, Resurrection offers the preacher a wealth of insight into the form and function of the New Testament faith in the resurrection. The work is enriched by solid historical investigation and careful attention to Jewish and Hellenistic backgrounds.
Of similar interest is a brief work by Herman Hendrickx, Resurrection Narratives: Studies in the Synoptic Gospels. Far less comprehensive than Perkins’ work, this volume is a straightforward introduction to the narratives as found in their synoptic contexts. It should serve well as a refresher course in the New Testament materials. Preachers will be pleased to find in The Resurrection Narratives: A Redactional Study by Grant Osborne an interesting and helpful introduction to the same New Testament materials from a more conservative viewpoint. Osborne, who serves on the faculty of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, brings insights from a responsible application of redaction criticism to the biblical text. In any event, preachers should benefit from the renewed interest in the resurrection narratives demonstrated in the recent publication of these volumes.
Two notable preachers have themselves produced notable volumes on the Easter faith. Michael Green, rector of St. Aldate’s Church in Oxford, is a popular author and preacher on at least two continents. In The Empty Cross of Jesus. Green looks backward to the cross and resurrection event and forward to its meaning for our lives and times. “The cross,” suggests Green, “is too important a matter to be left to the theologians … If it is true that God almighty was in Christ redeeming the world on Calvary, then we need to understand what that cross can mean for ordinary individuals and communities.” The cross of which Green speaks is empty–that is, it is seen as the cross of the resurrected one.
Green’s interesting and thoughtful study appropriately links the cross with the resurrection by means of a serious engagement with the biblical texts and the theological issues. Nevertheless, the volume is the fruit of the theological investigation, not the bare bones of the investigation itself. “The resurrection of Jesus was never intended to be a matter for theological discussion. It has very practical implications, and they touch the most profound areas of human life and enquiry.”
James Montgomery Boice, likewise no stranger to most preachers, has collected a selection of his Easter reflections presented as sermons at Philadelphia’s historic Tenth Presbyterian Church. Known for his thoughtful preaching, Boice reveals his conviction that “true preaching will not let you fool around with Christianity.” Though this could be quickly interpreted as an indictment of creative preaching, Boice reveals himself to be a most creative and powerful preacher. The power of the resurrection, Boice demonstrates, brings life out of death. The empty tomb stands as the symbol of new life and possibilities.
In The Christ of the Empty Tomb, Boice brings new life to biblical passages by means of his keen insight and articulate presentation. One sermon, for example, takes its biblical basis in the resurrection faith which came to John as he peered into the tomb and saw the grave-clothes. Thus, “The Not-Quite-Empty-Tomb” is itself an insight into the emergence of the Easter faith among the disciples.
Two brief collections of Easter meditations are worthy of note. Edmund Steimle, Emeritus Professor of Homiletics at Union Theological Seminary, New York, presents in written form the notable sermons he preached in 1978 on NBC’s National Radio Pulpit series. God the Stranger contains thirteen sermons. The title, from the Lukan account of the Emmaus walk, reveals Steimle’s expressive style. Easter, Steimle suggests, is “a festival of mystery.” Steimle probes the mystery and points to several avenues of meaning for contemporary life.
The contributions of Hans Urs von Balthasar to contemporary theology are just now beginning to reach the attention of large numbers of American churchmen. Known for decades in Europe, von Balthasar is a master of both theological discourse and spiritual meditation. His earlier work, Elucidations, revealed von Balthasar as a scintillating thinker with profound insight into the Christian faith and human existence. Readers will not be disappointed with this newly translated volume, Life Out of Death: Meditations on the Easter Mystery. The author investigates the meaning of Easter in terms of “Life in Death,” and “Life Out of Death.” Finally, von Balthasar suggests that the faith of Easter means that we are “thoroughly united through death.”
“Ultimately Good Friday, with the Good Saturday of death in itself, and Easter, with its motion of ascension to the Father, are inextricably intertwined in the life of the church as in the individual believer.
Walter Brueggemann. David’s Truth: In Israel’s Imagination and Memory. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1985. $5.95 (paper).
David, suggests Brueggemann, is ‘the dominant engine for Israel’s imagination.’ In this volume Brueggemann demonstrates the function of the stories of David within the nation of Israel, and thereby within the shape of scripture. Brueggemann, an established figure in Old Testament interpretation, was, at the date of publication, Professor of Old Testament at Eden Theological Seminary in St. Louis. He has recently been appointed to a similar position at Columbia Theological Seminary in Atlanta. A prolific author, Brueggemann established his reputation with the publication of The Prophetic Imagination, The Creative Word and other significant writings.
David, suggests Brueggemann, is the dominant figure in Israel’s scripture. He fascinates, attracts, embarrasses, and bewilders the reader of the narratives. Brueggemann interprets the stories with the aid of contemporary sociological and literary-critical exegesis. Though many evangelicals would look for more attention to the historical dimensions of the David narratives, preachers of all persuasions will find Brueggemann’s suggestions insightful and rich in possibilities for preaching.
Brueggemann’s essential purpose is to demonstrate the manner in which the stories concerning David functioned within the life of Israel. First, Brueggemann demonstrates the function of the introduction of David as ‘the trustful truth of the tribe.’ This is the story of how this nobody became “the key figure in the life and memory of Israel.” Successively, the author considers the David narratives in terms of ‘the painful truth of the man,’ ‘the sure truth of the state,’ and ‘the hopeful truth of the assembly.’ Throughout these considerations Brueggemann maintains that the truth concerning David is polyvalent; that is, it defies a single comprehensive statement.
Brueggemann demonstrates the richness of the David stories through a process of taking scripture seriously for what it says. Preachers will find in this study a powerful engine for their own imaginations.
Book Notes
Sangster, W.E. The Craft of Sermon Construction and Illustration. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1984. $7.95 (paper).
W. E. Sangster ranks in almost any listing of the greatest preachers of the twentieth century. Known mostly through his fruitful ministry at Westminster Central Hall, London, Sangster came to the attention of Americans during World War II. This volume is really two books in one binding. The Craft of Sermon Illustration was originally published in 1950 with The Craft of Sermon Construction following the next year. Both works offer the contemporary preacher classic expositions of sermon types and styles with helpful suggestions for improvement.
Turnbull, Ralph G. At the Lord’s Table: 21 Communion Meditations. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1967 (reprint, 1985). $4.95 (paper).
Turnbull, author of several books and collections of sermons, offers help to the preacher seeking creative thoughts to bring to the communion experience. The Lord’s Supper is often the occasion for banal repetition of familiar words and phrases–hardly appropriate for the Table of the Lord. Turnbull offers 21 thoughtful communion meditations which should spark some creative approaches to communion among his readers.
Quillin, Roger T. Meeting Christ in Handel’s Messiah. Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1984. $4.50 (paper).
At several points during the church year thoughts naturally turn to portions of Handel’s magnificent oratorio, Messiah. Quillin, pastor of Northridge Presbyterian Church in Dallas, offers thoughtful insight into the theological and biblical meanings of familiar sections of the Messiah. The book grew out of a sermon series Quillin prepared for his own congregation. Any congregation familiar with this musical masterpiece would find this approach meaningful.
Jerry Hayner. Yes, God Can. Nashville: Broadman Press, 1985.
Yes, God Can is an interesting collection of sermons which demonstrate the meaning of God in everyday life. Rather than presenting a portrait of a deity far removed from our experience, Hayner demonstrates that God is at once both relevant and powerful. Starting from the common human experiences of anger, depression, insecurity, etc., the author reveals the power of God to answer human needs.
P.T. Forsyth. The Cruciality of the Cross. Wake Forest, NC: Chanticleer Publishing Co., 1983. $5.95 (paper).
Few individuals influenced the course of theology and preaching in the English speaking world as did Peter Taylor Forsyth. The reprint of this volume, first published in 1909, reveals the extent to which Forsyth anticipated the focus of contemporary theology upon the cross and its meaning. “We have to do in the New Testament with the person of Christ and with the cross of Christ. And in the last issue with the cross of Christ, because it is the one key to his person.” This conviction sums up Forsyth’s approach. We are in the publisher’s debt for this significant and inexpensive reprint.
Warren W. Wiersbe. Classic Sermons on Suffering. Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 1984, and Classic Sermons on Faith and Doubt. Kregel, 1985. (Paper).
Both of these volumes–part of the “Classic Sermons Series” Wiersbe edits–contain outstanding sermonic treatments of some often difficult themes. Many preachers who have struggled with sensitive ways to preach on these themes will find help from a number of gifted preachers of generations now past (the one contemporary exception is James Stewart, who is well represented with four sermons in the volume on suffering). We have much to learn from those who have walked before us; these volumes help us see just how much.

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