A Books At a Glance Review
By Ryan M. McGraw
Many books exist on preaching. Expectedly, most of them address preachers, aiming at the nuts and bolts of sermon preparation. Yet if preaching is the center point of worship, evangelism, and discipleship, as David Strain argues (91), then everyone should be interested in it. This book seeks to reach believers everywhere with the importance of solid preaching through Scripture based on what the Bible is, what expository preaching is, what should be the focal point of Christian ministry, and how to get the most out of sermons. Pastorally and theologically balanced, this book is an outstanding introduction and guide to a topic that most Christians may not be inclined to study, yet need to desperately
Several features stand out here as particularly timely. The first chapter outlines five attributes of Scripture as God’s word, which should lead Christians to hunger after hearing Scripture in the form that God gave it. Moreover, Strain gives readers eleven reasons why consecutive expository preaching is one of the best ways of bringing people face to face with God (46-48). Yet he is sensitive to the fact that true expository preaching is not a running Bible commentary (45). It bears in mind Christ as the great object of preaching, setting an overarching goal for every sermon to bring hearers to know and love him (49). This is neither simplistic, reductionistic, or repetitive, since preachers should preach the whole Christ from affectionate hearts, driving believers and non-believer alike to heavenly delight in God through him (77-78).
Expository preaching is also applicatory preaching, bringing Scripture to bear on people’s hearts and lives (116). As far as preachers go, he observes pointedly, “I don’t hesitate to say that boring preaching is sinful. Arid intellectualism is wicked. Any preacher who does not strive to rivet the minds and affections and imaginations and wills of his hearers with the gravity and wonder of the divine message is being disobedient to God’s call” (125). Strain also gives helpful counsel for hearing sermons well by appealing to the outline for doing so in Westminster Larger Catechism 156, which Catechism is a rich yet neglected treasure of theology and devotional practices. These are merely some of the outstanding features that should make this book appeal to a broad audience.
Additionally, Strain’s material is full of practical advice, such as avoiding coming to sermons to find something wrong with the preaching instead of being ready to receive God’s word (99, 103). The final chapter particularly fulfills this need by answering common questions about expository preaching, including why God chose to use preaching, why we place so much emphasis on it, how is the preaching of God’s word, God’s word to us, what preaching gives us beyond private Bible reading and small group studies and listening to sermons online, whether expository preaching is practical, if there is a place for topical sermons, why preaching is a monologue, the relation of preaching to sacraments, whether expository preaching is too intellectual, how it relates to evangelism, if preaching can reach children, what to do if a pastor does not practice expository preaching, and how to encourage pastors to persevere in their work. Simply listing the questions illustrates the practical value of this book. The author reflects clearly that he knows and understands the people to whom he preaches, which he counsels all pastors to do (81-83), and from which readers will profit.
I have heard many first impressions of Reformed churches over the years. One of the most common ones is something like, “I don’t know anything about ‘Reformed’ or ‘Presbyterian,’ but I hear the Bible here and I hear about Christ here.” This is Christianity at its most basic: Christians love the Bible and they love Jesus. Good expository preaching should give them both. If the Holy Spirit revives the church by reviving people’s hearts, then it will be along these lines. This book leads us both to prioritize sitting under expositional preaching, praying for the Spirit to bless it with his supernatural power. The more believers read books like this one, the stronger our churches will be as a result.
Ryan M. McGraw
Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary