Keith Willhite, Preaching with Relevance Without Dumbing Down. Grand apids: Kregel Publications, 2001. Paper, 141 pages, $10.99. ISBN 0-8254-4114-5
While most evangelical preachers will give at least a “tip of the hat” to the importance of expository preaching, the reality is that many are not convinced it can be done in their own congregations without a dramatic loss of interest from those sitting in the pews. And for a handful of pastors committed to “seeker sensitive” worship experiences, a mention of expository preaching can easily evoke a smile and a nod like that you would give to your grandfather.
That’s the challenge Keith Willhite takes on in his new book Preaching with Relevance Without Dumbing Down. Willhite, who teaches preaching and is chairman and professor of Pastoral Ministries at Dallas Theological Seminary, believes that preachers can present solid biblical content in a way that will effectively communicate relevance in the lives of our listeners.
In an analogy that should not be read before lunch, Willhite compares sermons to pizza: deep dish, or thin and crispy. He observes: “Either the content is so deep that we cannot possibly discern what we’re really eating or the toppings are so sparse that, an hour later, we wonder why we bothered ordering. Deep-dish sermons are quite filling, even stuffy, with lots of chewing required. In contrast, thin and crispy sermons go down effortlessly, but they leave us craving more substance. Deep-dish sermons are full of stuff (after all, content rules!), while thin and crispy sermons appear very appetizing, though they offer little satisfaction.”
Can sermons be appetizing and satisfying at the same time, he asks? As you will expect, his answer is yes. “Relevant biblical preaching not only tastes great, but it also satisfies the nutritional longings of the soul. Like a good recipe, however, relevant biblical preaching must mix the right ingredients in the correct proportions and sequence.”
In the remainder of this volume, Willhite offers a cookbook for preachers who want sermons that are more filling and still taste great. The book assumes the preacher has done the study involved in understanding what the text means; what you will find here are ten strategies for taking those biblical insights and fashioning them into a sermon that will communicate the relevance of the text’s meaning to those who listen. He sets out his objective: “This book is not about preaching for itching ears. It’s about preaching substantive biblical truth in a way that people can discern its relevance for their lives as they seek to walk with God.”
The bulk of the book lays out the ten strategies (each in its own chapter), such as “Look from the Pew’s Perspective,” “Get into a Good Argument,” “Bundle a Packaged Deal,” “Adjust the Questions” and so on. Each chapter is filled with solid, practical content that demonstrates the author’s own experience in the pastorate and his years of working with preachers in enhancing their own skills. It is well written and packed with ideas that will make it a worthy investment of any pastor’s time.
In Preaching With Relevance, Keith Willhite demonstrates that preaching can be biblically sound, rrooted firmly in Scripture, and at the same time strikingly relevant to the lives of people.
As Haddon Robinson observes in the foreword, “If you’re just starting out in your calling, there are more appropriate texts to help you with preaching. But if you’ve been preaching awhile, then Preaching With Relevance might be the book for you to read this year.”
George Barna, Boiling Point. Ventura, CA: Regal Books, 2001. Hardcover, 327 pages. ISBN 0-8307-2650-0
Few writers have been as helpful to the church in understanding the cultural attitudes and trends which characterize our society as has George Barna. In his new book, this professional researcher and cultural analyst uses facts and figures to illustrate the changing nature of religious, cultural and lifestyle attitudes and beliefs at the beginning of the 21st century.
If Keith Willhite (see review above) helps us develop a cookbook for contemporary sermons, Barna helps us better understand the diners and their expectations. He deals with changing demographics, generational issues, America’s evolving values, and changes in the way we live and believe.
This book will make you shake your head in disbelief, and perhaps utter a despairing word or two. But it is an important collection of information aboiut the society in which we live — one that every pastor needs to understand if we are to speak truth in a way that will be understood.
Best Sermons Ever edited by Christopher Howse. London: Continuum International Publishing, 2001. Hardcover, 256 pages, $29.95. ISBN 0-8264-5685-5.
While the title of this volume may be a bit much — some of the sermons aren’t even the best work of those represented, much less the best sermons in the history of the church — it is nevertheless an interesting collection for those who are students of preaching.
Edited by the Comment Editor of London’s Daily Telegraph (who writes a weekly religion column), the collection leans heavily toward English preachers, including some you’ve probably never heard of before. Two Americans made the cut of “best sermons”: Jonathan Edwards and Martin Luther King, Jr., plus an excerpt from a sermon by Billy Graham, which apparently makes it an “almost best” sermon.
One of the most interesting features of the book is the collection of prayers that follow many of the sermons.

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About The Author

Michael Duduit is the founding publisher and editor of Preaching magazine. He is also the founding Dean of the new College of Christian Studies and Professor of Christian Ministry at Anderson University in Anderson, South Carolina. Michael is author and editor of several books, including the Handbook of Contemporary Preaching (Broadman & Holman Press), Joy in Ministry (Baker Books), Preaching With Power (Baker) and Communicate With Power (Baker). From 1996 until 2000 he served as editor of the Abingdon Preaching Annual series. His email newsletter, PreachingNow, is read each week by more than 40,000 pastors and church leaders in the U.S. and around the world. He is founder and director of the National Conference on Preaching and the International Congress on Preaching, which has been held in 1997 at Westminster Chapel in London, 2002 at the University of Edinburgh, Scotland, and 2007at Cambridge. He has been a pastor and associate pastor, has served a number of churches as interim pastor, and speaks regularly for churches, colleges and conferences.

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