June 19, 2013

Review: Preaching the New Testament (@ivpacademic)

Two of my top interests are combined in the title of this book. So, I'm very glad to have the opportunity to draw attention to it here, and many thanks to the team at IVP Academic for providing a review copy. With Preaching the New Testament, Ian Paul and David Wenham have pulled together a strong team of scholars all with varying degrees of experience in preaching to create a fine handbook that will guide preachers into the many challenges of relating the ancient text of the New Testament to present-day congregations. Each contributor clearly believes that preaching matters and writes with the goal of allowing his expertise to illumine sound and interesting approaches to the homiletic arts.

Books on preaching abound; so let me begin by saying why this one is important. If, with Paul (the apostle, not the co-editor, though I'm sure he would concur!), we make it our aim to preach Christ crucified (1 Cor 1:23), then before we begin working through the tasks of crafting an introduction, working out our points, finding creative illustrations, and composing a compelling conclusion, we must first deal with the text. That task begins by sorting out what the New Testament authors had to say about the importance and implications of Christ's life, death, and resurrection for their first century churches. The many excellent books written on preaching are often intended to serve as guides to composing and delivering a sermon and articulating a theology of preaching. This book, however, is by biblical scholars for preachers and comes a step before the others. Its contribution is an invitation to the reader to explore the context of the New Testament while keeping in constant view the question of how that context can be effectively communicated through contemporary preaching. Thus, the aim of this book to bridge the gap between the first-century text of the New Testament and the 21st century church-goer is the glue that holds the various essays together, and the contributors undertake to accomplish that aim from a variety of angles.

The chapters take up a number of topics related to the many types of texts that appear in the New Testament. The first five chapters focus on the gospels with an initial chapter by D.A. Carson on "Preaching the Gospels", which is followed by essays devoted to various topics in gospels studies like the infancy narratives (R.T. France), parables (K. Snodgrass), miracles (Stephen I. Wright), and the Sermon on the Mount (D. Wenham). In chapter 6, Cristoph Stenschke addresses "The challenges and opportunities for preaching from the Acts of the Apostles", which is followed by essays on preaching Paul's letters (J.K. Hardin and J. Matson), the Pastorals (I.H. Marshall), Hebrews (C.A. Anderson) and the General Epistles (M.J. Kamell). Ian Paul rounds off the chapters devoted to preaching specific books with a look at "Preaching from the Book of Revelation" (chapter 11). The following five chapters consider how preaching can be informed by various disciplines in New Testament studies including archaeology (P. Oakes), ethics (J. Nolland), eschatology (S. Travis), theological hermeneutics for preaching (W. Olhausen) and the "New Homiletic" (H. Stadelmann). The final chapter brings the book full-circle with a discussion of "Preaching the gospel from the Gospels" (P. Weston). As you can imagine, these many angles will inspire readers with many fresh strategies for preaching the New Testament.

Without taking space to look at each essay in detail, I'll mention a few contributions that I found particularly helpful. I very much enjoyed the chapter by Peter Oakes on how archaeology might inform our preaching. Oakes suggests that the first century is (often unconsciously) much like a "fairy-tale world" to many modern people and argues that archaeology can help preachers dispel such notions by accurately portraying the world of the New Testament as a real place inhabited by real people. Archaeology helps undo our fantastical imaginings about the biblical contexts and replaces them with a deeper and more informed understanding of how the message of the New Testament confronted the concrete values and ideals of the Roman Empire. I also appreciated Ian Paul's essay on preaching from Revelation, which aptly develops and sets forth several strategies for helping preachers lead their congregations into what is arguably the most difficult book in the canon. I'll add that John Nolland's chapter on preaching the dual eschatological realities of hope and judgment was extremely helpful. These two themes run throughout the New Testament, and Nolland works through some of the barriers that make it difficult to preach them in order that we might ably lead our congregations in reflecting on the way these two important matters impact our belief and practice.

Preachers need to know that this is not a book of scholarship. It is a book that aims to bring the findings of scholars to bear on the ministry of preaching, and it is a book that every preacher should keep close at hand. Pick it up and read through the relevant chapters before setting out to preach on the gospels or on Paul. Use it as you are thinking through fresh strategies for a sermon series on New Testament eschatology. Allow yourself to be stretched by the practical experience and expertise of the contributors. Preaching is not preaching unless it is biblical preaching, and Preaching the New Testament will only help your preaching to become more thoroughly biblical.
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Note: This book was received from the publisher in exchange for a review. The reviewer is under no obligation to provide a positive review.

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