Published on April 1, 2015 by Todd Scacewater

Baker, 2014 | 208 pages

Reviewed by Eric J. Tully

I have heard D. A. Carson say that a budding preacher who listens to fifty sermons by one person will become a bad clone; listening to fifty sermons by two people will produce confusion. Rather, it would be best to listen to fifty sermons by fifty people in order to gain an understanding of what works, and what does not work, in the pulpit.


Paying careful attention to multiple models is valuable in learning how to preach, especially when they are dealing with difficult biblical material. Haddon Robinson and Patricia Batten have edited Models for Biblical Preaching: Expository Sermons from the Old Testament to provide eleven such examples, and to interact with them, in the hopes of motivating young preachers to proclaim God’s word from the Old Testament.

The book is very streamlined in its contents. Following “A Word to the Reader” (2 pages), we find eleven sermons. Each sermon is accompanied by a short commentary by the editors and a brief interview. There is no introduction, conclusion, bibliography, or indices. The title of the book states exactly what it contains.

In “A Brief Word to the Reader,” the editors state that they want to provoke interest in preaching from the Old Testament, not merely illustrating from it or, even worse, ignoring it altogether. Each of the preachers in the book “believes that Christians who don’t regularly read or study the First Testament are losing part of our spiritual heritage” (vii). Each preacher wrestled not only with the message of the text, but also with how to communicate that message to varied audiences today (vii-viii). All of the preachers in the book were students of Haddon Robinson at either Denver Seminary or Gordon-Conwell Seminary. The editors state that printed sermons are like “cadavers”— they fall far short of being living sermons with breath and fire and spirit, but it is still profitable to study them to see what the preacher intended to do and how he or she accomplishes that goal (viii).

The sermons treat a variety of genres in the Old Testament: narrative, wisdom and poetry, prophetic. They also treat pericopes of various lengths from one verse, to one chapter, to an entire short book. The sermons were given in a wide variety of denominational and social contexts. The sermons are as follows:

  • Bryan Wilkerson – Genesis 22:1-19
  • Eric Dokken – Exodus 20:7
  • Steve Matthewson – Judges 3:12-30
  • Patricia Batten – Psalms 73
  • Sid Buzzell – Proverbs 22:1
  • Scott Wenig – Ecclesiastes 3:9-15
  • Ramona Spilman – Isaiah 43:1-3a
  • Kent Edwards – Jeremiah 1
  • Torrey Robinson – Daniel 4
  • Matthew Kim – Jonah 1-4
  • Chris Dolson – Topical (“Can God be Both Just and Loving?”)

Following each sermon, the editors provide a short half-page commentary highlighting particular strengths. They draw the reader’s attention to what worked well and perhaps why the preacher made a particular move. For example, in the commentary on Bryan Wilkerson’s sermon on Genesis 22, the editors note that the story is highly emotional as it deals with a father being told to sacrifice his son. They note that Wilkerson focuses the emotion properly and harnesses it in order to serve the point of the sermon which is about God and faith (13).

The editors then interview each preacher. While the same types of questions are asked of each contributor, the editors are free to ask about certain aspects of the sermon or to ask follow up questions. They ask the preachers things about their preparation (How do you prepare? How long do you prepare for each sermon? How do you use original languages?). Most of the preachers respond that they spend 15-20 hours preparing for each sermon. The editors ask about how the preachers collect and store illustrations. Most of the preachers respond that they have attempted to collect illustrations in the past, but often find fresh illustrations that they need. There are questions, especially directed at pastors of large churches, about how their sermon preparation relates to other staff at the church, including audiovisual or creative teams. Sometimes, the editors will ask a specific question about the sermon such as, “Why did you begin with that illustration?” or “Why did you choose that particular approach?”  When asked about the use of notes or a manuscript, many of the preachers report that they do take the time to write out a full manuscript, but most do not use notes at all when actually delivering their sermon.


Robinson and Batten have accomplished their goal of presenting eleven models for preaching the Old Testament. Those looking for examples of good homiletics will find it here. The variety of texts, genres, audiences, and approaches will spark ideas in a pastor looking for some guidance in preaching the Old Testament. There is a helpful emphasis among all the preachers for making the text relevant and getting the truth of Scripture into the lives of busy, contemporary people. The preachers use vivid illustrations and creative methods.

However, the subtitle of the book also suggests that these are “expository” sermons. Here the book is more uneven because some sermons are more clearly rooted in the biblical text than others. The editors do not define “expository” and it seems that the individual preachers may have different ideas about what that means. On the one hand, in Steve Mathewson’s message on Judges 3 he explains the biblical text and it is easy to see how his conclusions arise from it. Other sermons refer to the biblical passage but consist mostly of illustrations and application. Readers should keep in mind that for the most part these are homiletical models, not exegetical models.

Seasoned preachers may not find the book to be very helpful, although it could certainly serve as devotional material on eleven passages in the Old Testament. Young preachers will find good issues to consider for their future ministries and a very important emphasis on knowing one’s audience and making the text come alive. And we should all be grateful for the encouragement to go back to the Old Testament, to take it seriously, and to preach it faithfully.

Eric J. Tully is Assistant Professor of Old Testament and Semitic Languages at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and Book Review Editor for Old Testament here at Books At a Glance.

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Models For Biblical Preaching: Expository Sermons From The Old Testament

Baker, 2014 | 208 pages

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