Expositional Preaching (review)

Expositional Preaching
David Helm
Crossway, 2014

expositional preaching

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.

Married for God (review)

Married for God: Making your marriage the best it can be
Christopher Ash
Crossway, 2016

married for God

It seems that there is no end of writing books on marriage, and so it’s probably a good thing that rather than add yet another, Crossway have taken a book which was published in the UK in 2007 (by IVP) and made it available to an American audience. Carl Trueman says that this is the book that he uses for premarital counselling, and it’s easy to see why. It says what needs to be said in 160 pages, and does so in a realistic yet hopeful way.

The book is particularly strong in asking ‘What is the purpose of marriage?’ – with 4 of the 8 chapters entitled ‘Married for a Purpose’, ‘What is the Point of Having Children?’, ‘What is the point of sex and intimacy?’ and ‘What is the point of the marriage institution?’. It would be easy for a book on marriage to focus on the nuts and bolts, but without a clear idea of what the purpose of marriage is, practical help like that is of limited use.

This book is for those considering marriage, those engaged, and those who already married, as it helps couples refocus on what their marriage is meant to be about. But it’s also for those who may never marry – there is very helpful chapter which deals with the question ‘Is it better to stay single’?

Not unlike New York, New York and Jay Jay Okocha, this book is so good they published it twice.

Thanks to Crossway for a complimentary copy of this book through their Beyond the Page review programme.

A Biblical-Theological Introduction to the New Testament (review)

A Biblical-Theological Introduction to the New Testament: The Gospel Promised
Michael J. Kruger (ed.)
Crossway, 2016

a biblical theological introduction to the nt

Released alongside a Biblical-Theological Introduction to the Old Testament, this book seeks to do for the New what its companion volume did for the Old. Like the former book, this one has multiple contributers, meaning that some chapters and stronger than others. Any New Testament Introduction will have to work harder than an Old Testament one to stand out in a crowded field. Being a ‘Biblical-Theological’ introduction should give this a unique angle, and the Old Testament volume managed to do this, for example by placing each book firmly in its canonical context. However this volume reads more like any standard NT Introduction, with all the usual background issues of authorship, date etc covered.

There is a lot of good to be cleaned between the two covers, for example a helpful distinction is made between the gospel and the implications of the gospel, with N. T. Wright cited as one scholar who gets it wrong (Benjamin Gladd on Mark). The book contains three chapters by Guy Waters, who is always worth reading. While not his main point, one comment made me really think about the priority of preaching. He notes that during three years in Ephesus, Paul devoted hours of public instruction to the church, leaving them ‘one of the best taught bodies that Paul had served’. I’m sure today people would try and tell Paul that there are more useful things he could be doing! However there were also statements I wasn’t so sure about – should we really speak of Jesus ‘fleeing’? (Gladd).

Overall the book enters a crowded market and doesn’t do enough to make it stand out. There is still much of benefit here, and I will add it to the list of things to read before starting into a book of the Bible, but there’s probably not enough that couldn’t be gleaned from the introduction to a commentary or a standard NT Introduction.

Thanks to Crossway for a complimentary copy of this book through their Beyond the Page review programme.

A Biblical-Theological Introduction to the Old Testament (review)

A Biblical-Theological Introduction to the Old Testament: The Gospel Promised
Miles V. Van Pelt (ed.)
Crossway, 2016

biblical theologial introduction to OT

This is the first of two large (and expensive!) tomes from Crossway, covering both the Old and New Testaments and written by past and present Reformed Theological Seminary (RTS) professors. Ligon Duncan writes in the preface ‘in many seminaries…there exists an unhealthy relationship between biblical theology and systematic theology, but at RTS we value both and want our students to understand their necessary and complementary value’. There is a wealth of reflection on the Scriptures between these pages, with the introduction by Van Pelt worth (nearly!) the price of the book alone. The argument for arranging the chapters by the division of the Hebrew Bible shows that even the way the Bible is organised is there to teach us something, which we often miss. In fact, the introduction left me wanting to immediately read Chronicles, a book written at the end of the Old Testament, which contrasts with Samuel & Kings deliberately to point readers forward to the coming Messiah. That is one of the strengths of the book – it leaves you amazed at things in the Bible you’ve perhaps never seen before. It also sparks thoughts as to how we should use various Biblical books. For example, if Ezra and Nehemiah are there to show that Israel’s return from exile fell short, are we missing at least some of the point if the only gospel connection we make from them is how we can spiritually rebuild churches? The book is thoroughly Christ-centred, taking issue with those like Howard Marshall who represents ‘a large portion of evangelicalism’ when he says that Jesus is not the principal subject of the Old Testament.
A few typos survive (eg 1995 for 1955 on p. 526) which is disappointing for a volume that clearly aims at permanence. The book does however earn marks for not transliterating Hebrew!
Much theological training these days does well at drumming into our heads the need to understand Biblical passages in the context of the book – this volume shows the value of understanding the books themselves in context of the whole Old Testament.

Thanks to Crossway for a complimentary copy of this book through their Beyond the Page review programme.