Published in 2014, but with Kevin DeYoung and Matt Chandler calling it the best short book on preaching they’ve read, that seemed reason enough to give it a spin. Helm writes from a belief that ‘Biblical exposition does the heavy lifting of building a church’ and interweaves the book with quotes from the life of Charles Simeon.
The opening part of the book is not unlike Carson’s Exegetical Fallacies as Helm recounts times he and others have completely missed the point of Biblical texts in preaching. He then gives guidance on how to try and avoid similar mistakes, though most of the examples he gives could also be avoided by reading a decent commentary.
There are some great lines, such as his comment (via Mike Bullmore) that young preachers tend to make the mistake of seeing the sermon as a storage contained for housing everything they learnt about the text that week.
He also strikes a good balance between preaching to change people on the one hand and avoiding moralism on the other: ‘If we don’t consider the gospel context of the Bible as a whole, even well-exegeted imperatives turn into moralism. And this fosters a legalistic culture in our churches’. And yet having a Christ-centred approach isn’t as simple as asking ‘Where is Jesus in my text?’. Rather, he proposes two more nuanced questions: ‘How does the gospel affect my understanding of the text?’ and ‘How does the text anticipate or reflect upon the gospel’? Spurgeon’s quote about every village and hamlet in England leading to London never gets old.
Some of the examples he gives of his own attempts to do this are interesting – for example, he describes the meal Saul & his sons have with the witch of En-dor as a reverse passover which contrasts with the Last Supper, or, more straightforwardly, shows that today we face the same choice as Doeg and Abiathar: will we follow God’s anointed, even though he appears weak?
Helm’s approach stresses prayer, finding the melodic line, preaching the text’s theme and the author’s aim, and doing so in the context of the whole Bible, and with clarity. On this last one, he recalls a comment by Dick Lucas after preaching for nearly 50 years to businesspeople in London’s financial district: ‘we can never be too simple’. A helpful appendix at the end means you can follow his method without having to go back and re-read the whole thing – a fitting end to a practical book.
There are so many good books on preaching out there that this isn’t a must-read. Mark Dever sums it up well: ‘If I were teaching a preaching class and could assign the students only one book, this might be the one’. It covers all the bases and while it won’t be an end-point for all teaching about preaching, it provides a great starting point.
Thanks to Crossway for a complimentary copy of this book through their Beyond the Page review programme.