Stott, John R. W. Between Two Worlds: The Art of Preaching in the Twentieth Century (Grand Rapids: Eerdmanns, 1982), 351 pp., $13.95.
“Preaching is indispensable to Christianity.” With this commanding sentence John R. W. Stott commences one of the very few comprehensive surveys of preaching undertaken in the past several years. Stott, the leading preacher of the evangelical wing of the Anglican communion, needs no introduction to most American evangelicals. His pulpit ministry at All Souls Church, London and service as Chaplain to the Queen of England, has been extended through Stott’s frequent lecture tours and publications.
Stott’s purpose in this volume is abundantly clear from the onset. Though available in this country for two years, it was first published in England under the title / Believe in Preaching. The reader is quickly convinced that this is true. Stott is a masterful and convincing exponent of a vigorous pulpit ministry.
His first chapter, “The Glory of Preaching: A Historical Sketch,” is one of the finest essays to be found on the importance of preaching and its secure place in the church. The preacher speaks because God has spoken. “We must speak what he has spoken.” The contemporary preacher stands in a long and distinguished line of those called to communicate the gospel.
The contemporary decline in preaching prompted Stott’s effort manifested in this volume. He is familiar with the objections raised against preaching, yet responds with a call for more confident and biblical proclamation. “The contemporary situation makes preaching more difficult; it does not make it any less necessary.”
The author identifies three major objections raised against preaching: the anti-authority mood prevalent in Western society, the cybernetics/media revolution, and the Church’s loss of confidence in the gospel. In response to the first Stott calls for a dialogical preaching. By this, Stott refers to a ‘silent dialogue’ between the preacher and the congregation which insures that the sermon is relevant.
Stott has less to say about the second challenge. He suggests that the preacher acknowledge the media-conditioned character of the congregation: “Whatever is dull, drab, dowdy, slow or monotonous cannot compete in the television age.”
In a sense, the entire volume can be seen as a response to the third challenge, the church’s loss of confidence in the Gospel. Stott is an able and confident exponent of the Christian Gospel as the substance of all Christian preaching. The preaching ministry, as envisaged by Stott, rests upon five foundational convictions. These center on God, scripture, the church, the pastorate, and preaching. “The essential secret,” suggests Stott, “is not mastering certain techniques but being mastered by certain convictions.”
Stott has more to say about the character of biblical preaching than about the mechanics of sermon construction. One chapter out of eight is concerned with the preparation of sermons. Nevertheless, throughout the volume Stott makes clear his preference for expository preaching. By this he refers to preaching which exposes the meaning of scripture for life, not necessarily a verse-by-verse oral exegesis. It is this kind of preaching, says Stott, which demands the most of the preacher, yet also gives the confidence for preaching sought by so many.
Stott defines the task of contemporary preaching as ‘bridge-building.” Contemporary preaching must build a bridge of understanding between the biblical world and our own; thus the title of the American edition of the book. The ‘bridge-building’ described by Stott is the age-old challenge of bringing timeless truths to relevance in the modern world. Much of the current decline in preaching is due either to biblical preachers who are irrelevant or to relevant preachers who neglect the Bible. Preachers, suggests Stott, often make one of these two mistakes. The answer proposed by the author is the preaching of ‘Christ our contemporary.’ “To encounter Christ is to touch reality and experience transcendence.” A bridge built upon any lesser conviction is doomed to fail.
The final two chapters are exhortations concerning the proper character of the preaching agent. The preacher is encouraged to display and inculcate sincerity, earnestness, courage, and humility. By sincerity, Stott suggests that the preacher should mean what he says and practice what he preaches. Earnestness, says Stott, is one step further. It is the deep feeling of personal conviction. “Earnestness is the quality of Christians who care.”
The dialectic of courage and humility presents the preacher with a continuing challenge. The message of the Gospel both comforts and disturbs. Unless this is kept in balance the message fails the test of wholeness. By the same token, a courageous message brought by an arrogant or presumptuous preacher falls on deaf ears. Stott exhorts the preacher to submit to the Word of God, the Glory of Christ, and the Power of the Holy Spirit. In substance, the message must be God’s and not our own.
The volume has the texture of oral presentation; parts of the contents were delivered as lectures to preachers. Stott speaks as one preacher to another, an endeavor he describes as “rash and foolhardy.” The preacher who reads this volume will appreciate Stott’s willingness to undertake this task. Preachers need to hear other preachers discuss preaching. Just as the preacher stands in a long history and heritage of preaching, in the same manner one stands today in a community of preachers. The community is richer for Stott’s presentation.
Claypool, John. Glad Reunion: Meeting Ourselves in the Lives of Bible Men and Women (Waco: Word Books, 1985), 160 pp., $8.95.
Ogilvie, Lloyd John. Lord of the Impossible (Nashville: Abingdon, 1984), 222 pp, $9.95.
The colorful characters of the Bible have provided texts and narratives which have captivated the imagination of preachers through the centuries. From Chrysostom to Clovis Chappell great preachers have found the personalities of the Bible to be fertile ground for fruitful preaching. Heroes and heroines, culprits and rogues, all find their place in the plenitude of scriptural personalities. Two recently published volumes demonstrate the potential these characters offer for meaningful preaching and the powerful images they evoke.
John Claypool, who gained national prominence through the publication of his Lyman Beecher Lectures on Preaching, is present co-pastor at the Second Baptist Church in Lubbock, Texas. Glad Reunion is the product of years of preaching from the narratives of the Bible and a continuing focus upon the men and women of scripture.
Claypool, a leading exponent of confessional preaching, leads the reader to discover a rich heritage in the likes of Abraham, Ruth, Solomon, and others. This collection of sermons resembles, as Claypool suggests, a family reunion of sorts. Claypool is excruciatingly biblical. The characters appear as scripture presents them, with egos and vices as well as virtues intact.
The sermons collected in this volume challenge the reader to learn the lessons of Jacob and David, to muster the courage of Amos and Jeremiah, and to model the integrity of Ruth and Isaiah. Seventeen persons of the Bible take on new life with great relevance for the twentieth century. David, the subject of an earlier book by Claypool, demonstrates the value of finally “getting ourselves off our hands.” Each of the characters considered bears a powerful message.
Lloyd John Ogilvie, senior pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Hollywood, California, is firmly established as one of the best-selling authors in religious books. Lord of the Impossible continues Ogilvie’s ministry of the word, printed and preached.
More than personality profiles, the chapters are dramatic portrayals of the power of God revealed in the personalities of scripture. Ogilvie presents the characters honestly and boldly. The majority of the characters chosen by Ogilvie are heroic. All demonstrate the power of God to bring about the impossible in the lives of those who are open to his transforming power. Even Saul, with his “spiritual neurosis” demonstrates our power to say “No” to God’s maximum. “Saul really didn’t accept himself as king. Eventually, the Lord agreed with him!”
Ogilvie demonstrates a genuine concern for the meaning of the lives of biblical characters for contemporary men and women. His attitude is fresh and invigorating. His excitement is infectious. The reader is led to see God as the Lord of our impossibilities.
Glad Reunion and Lord of the Impossible will both prove helpful to the preacher. Both books originated as sermons, and the vitality of the preaching encounter has insured the relevance of the message. These two volumes demonstrate the continuing centrality of biblical preaching and the power of biblical personalities.
Claypool and Ogilvie often discern different meanings from the same character. The richness of the biblical narratives cannot be exhausted in any individual sermon. Claypool is more reflective while Ogilvie is motivational. Both enrich the reader and serve as fertile seeds for thought.

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