Simply Preaching: a book review

When the opportunity to review a new preaching book by Alec Motyer presented itself, I jumped at the chance.  A competent biblical scholar, Motyer has written several commentaries that I have on my shelf (both in paper format and electronic). Notably, his commentaries on Isaiah is essential to anyone who wishes to gain a greater grasp on Isaiah’s prophecy. He is  the general editor of the Old Testament for the Bible Speaks Today commentary series (published by IVP) and has contributed several volumes to the series. He is also former principal of  Trinity College, Bristol.

In Preaching? Simple Teaching on Simply Preaching, Motyer details his approach to expository preaching. He shares wisdom from years of practice with plenty of examples of how to take a text and turn it into a sermon. This is not a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to preaching. Motyer writes, “For preaching is a very personal and individual exercise. We can learn from each other, but must not copy each other. It won’t work! Like criminals we must each discover our own modus operandi – find out what is our own brand of murder – and, hopefully, get away with it!” (Kindle Locations 306-308).  Without heavy-handedly describing ‘the’ plan for preaching, Motyer shares his advice and insight on how to do it well. As a scholar, pastor, expositor, and preacher with decades of faithful service, he has a lot to say.

Motyer’s method is simple (as his subtitle suggests). He tells us to find a text: examine it, analyze it, orient ourselves to it, and harvest from it.  The wisdom of his approach is that it forces the preacher to sit under a text rather than use a passage to illustrate their own agenda (or what they think the church ‘needs to hear’). Literary structure, inclusio, word studies and repetitions reveal meaning in the text. Often attention to the broad contours of the passage reveals an apt word for our context. This is what Motyer suggests: study and understand the text, prayerfully submit yourself to the text and pay attention to what God is saying there. When you have done that, you can craft a sermon (harvesting). And yes, he does offer advice on presentation and delivery: what to do and not do, and what to do but not too much. He does have some good words to say about how to draw out applications from a passage.

These are all important points and I agree a wholeheartedly with most of what Motyer commends. I have minor disagreements with him in places because as Motyer observes, preaching is a highly personal endeavor.  But I have still failed to mention what I think are the most significant insights that Motyer imparts.   I appreciated Motyer’s passion for the importance of preaching. Unfolding God’s Word and declaring it to the church gathered is sacred work. Beginning in his early chapters, but throughout this volume, Motyer describes this joyful and serious task and the demands it makes of the would-be-preacher. To preach and preach well is to give attention to the Word and to the church. While Motyer devotes much of this book describing attention to the Word (where we hear the voice of God), to preach well is also to fulfill our pastoral vocation: to pray for the congregation, and be involved in their lives. As Motyer observes, “Our position as ministers in a church gives us the right to preach, but it does not give us the right to be heard”(Kindle Locations 1503-1504).  A pastor who is actively caring for the flock and prayerfully attending to their spiritual formation will preach with power.

I warmly commend this book to preachers, especially young preachers with little experience. Motyer illustrates his approach by giving several examples of how to exegete a passage and turn it into a sermon.  By opening up his process to new preachers, Motyer gives them a gift. Those who follow his method will be brought into an encounter with the Spirit in the text. May all who declare God’s Word do so with such loving attention! I give this book 5 stars.

Thank you to Christian Focus Publications for providing me a copy of this book in exchange for my review.

Having Something Worth Saying, and Saying It Well: a book review

I like comedian and motivational speaker Ken Davis. I have several video tapes of him delivering inspirational messages and he never fails to make you laugh and think. There are a couple of his messages which I can still remember near verbatim years later.  One of the things that impresses me about him is his ability to use humor in a way that re-enforces his overall message. I know from experience that humor sometimes can undermine your message and make it difficult for people to take you seriously, but Davis is a master of moving you from laughter to tears while proclaiming truth and moving you to a response.

In the Secrets of Dynamic Communication,  Davis reveals the secrets of dynamic communication (not just another clever title).  This is a book about public speaking written for anyone with something worth saying. The most important component of  an effective speech is focus. Davis argues that pinpointing the purpose of your talk, will give you greater clarity and make you easier to listen to.  He advocates what he calls the SCORRE process.

When I first saw the acronym SCORRE, I figured that Davis is primarily a speaker and so not a great speller. But each letter represents one aspect of his system for preparing a talk, described in part one of this book the letters are:

  • S–Establishing the Subject
  • C– Choosing a Central Theme
  • O– Focusing on the Objective
  • R– Developing a solid Rationale (i.e. outline, organization).
  • R– Gathering Resources (i.e. illustrations, quotes, etc). 
  • E– Evaluate, Evaluate, Evaluate

Davis describes  ‘presenting’ in part two. He talks about involving the audience, using effective and non-distracting body language and controlling the speaking environment (i.e. lighting, sound, minimizing distractions, etc).

Part three imparts wisdom about thriving as a speaker. After a chapter on time management, Davis has a chapter on the use of humor in speeches.  He makes a distinction between high-risk humor (jokes that could bomb) and low-risk humor (funny stories which illustrate the point).  As I said above, Davis is masterful at using humor to illustrate his points, and his advice to other speakers is to not use humor that detracts from your overall message, or does not fit the context you are speaking in. His closing chapter describes the blend of logos, ethos, and pathos for dynamic communication. These are terms that come straight from Aristotle, but also describe (in the language of Christian spirituality) how our message and our lives should speak to head, heart and hands. I couldn’t agree more.

As I read through this book, I was able to assess where some of my own sermons have been most successful (and why a few bombed!).  I think I already implement aspects of the SCORRE process whenever I prepare a sermon or talk. What I haven’t really done is develop an objective statement the Davis way: wedding a proposition to an interrogative response.   His way of articulating an objective is very particular (i.e. he instructs us to always use keywords, stating that keywords are always plural nouns).  I am not sure that I will ever write an objective statement like the one he calls for, but his purpose is sound.  We’ve all watched speakers flounder and run down rabbit tails and wondered what they were trying to say. Having an objective disciplines a speaker to stay on task which helps everyone in the room!

If you engage in any sort of public speaking (which you will), this will be a helpful book. Davis is a seasoned speaker and has got a lot of wisdom to share.  Experienced speakers may regard some of this as basic, but it is worthwhile to review the basics and to evaluate your own process. I give this book five stars!

Thank you to Thomas Nelson and Booksneeze for providing me a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Review of the Pastorum Series: Part One

Pastorum Series Collection (7 vols.) by Elliot Ritzema, Jeffrey E. Miller Logos Bible Software 2012

It is my privilege to  review the new Pastorum Series Collection from Logos Bible Software. Logos Bible Software makes the most comprehensive Bible software on the market and they’re always thinking of new resources to add to their library and creative ways they can help lay people, pastors and students get the most out of the Bible.  Here are resources for pastors that will save time and add depth to your preaching and your worship service.

The Pastorum Series help pastors (and other worship planners) as they prepare sermons and plan Sunday worship.  This collection promises to jump-start sermon preparation time and give some creative suggestions for delivery and application. The seven books in this collection include:

  • 400 Prayers for Preachers, with Slides
  • 300 Quotations for Preachers, with Slides
  • Study, Apply, Share: Mark
  • Study, Apply, Share: Luke
  • Study, Apply, Share: Philippians
  • Study, Apply, Share: Hebrews
  • Study, Apply, Share: James

Elliot Ritzema edits two books, one gathering quotations, the other prayers from the Christian tradition . Jeffrey Miller compiles sermon guides which help you delve deeply into the passage and focus delivery. I will look at Miller’s resources  in my next post. Here I want to take a close look at what Ritzema’s quotation and prayer collections add to worship planning.  Both of his resources denote that they are for ‘preachers’ but worship leaders and anyone who has significant input into worship planning can also benefit from these resources.  I know Elliot personally (you can find a link to his blog on the right) which makes me a little biased, but I have tried to assess these resources based on their usefulness for church life.

Can I Quote You On That?

Proverbs 25:11 says that, “a word aptly spoken is like an apple of gold in a setting of silver.” In 300 Quotations for Preachers (with Slides) Ritzema  has collected a number of apt words from across  the Christian tradition.  There are theological voices as diverse as Augustine and James Arminius, patristic and occasional pagans, medieval theologians like Anselm and Bernard of Clairvaux and Puritans like Thomas Watson, Richard Baxter and John Owen. And more!  Each of the quotations is paired with a relevant scripture passages and suggested preaching themes.  Additionally, there are also slides  included which could be copied and saved (or just cut and pasted) straight into your presentation software and used on Sunday morning (you can also send it right to your PowerPoint).

Here is a screenshot of  this resource  in Logos with the accompanying slide:

300 Quotations
Kempis Slide

Unlike print quotation collections, Ritzema does  not repeat quotations under every relevant theme (these resources are fully searchable, so that would be redundant).  I am still using Logos 4 and  could search this resource using the Logos search tool, and the ‘cited by’ tool  pulled up particular scripture passages. However, in Logos 5 this  resources (and the prayer collection below) is further integrated into the Logos ecosystem. In the Sermon Starter Guide, you can find  resources and quotations that relate to  preaching theme and scripture passages (one more reason why I should just go ahead and update).

. . .The Words to Pray

Readers of this blog will know that I love prayer collections and occasionally share prayers here. especially as they relate to the liturgical calendar. The saints of old have a lot  of wisdom to impart and their words draw us into deeper communion with God. Like 300 Quotations, 400 Prayers For Preachers (with Slides)  is remarkable for the breadth of material that Ritzema draws on.  There are prayers from the Bible, from Patristic sources, from medieval saints and orthodox liturgies, from Protestant Reformers and Nineteenth Century Evangelicals. No matter what your theological tradition is, you will find prayers which deeply resonate with you and your church.

While  Ritzema culls together diverse voices, these prayers were selected  specifically for use in worship.   Each of  the prayers are 100-150 words long (or shorter) and are paired with pertinent scriptures and preaching themes. There are prayers that call us  to worship, prayers which focus on theological themes, prayers that address particular events in the life of the church (i.e. Baptism, prayers before communion, prayers for consecration of buildings or leaders, etc.). The prayers come with an accompanying slide which reproduces a significant phrase from the prayer.

Because seeing is believing here is a screenshot of a prayer from Richard Baxter, and the accompanying slide:

400 Prayers Baxter

Baxter slide

My Thoughts:

I liked both of these resources especially for the breadth and depth I found here. Often Christian quote books have quotes of dubious origin which are basically just a Christian overlay of motivational posters.  In choosing to draw on the deep well of the Christian history, Ritzema has collected wise words and beautiful prayers which will enrich your church life. Pastors and other leaders who plan Sunday worship will find these a rich resource, particularly if they already are using Logos as they prepare for Sundays.

My small wish is that these quotes and prayers were also tagged according to the liturgical calendar as well.  As these resources are made to augment the liturgy (whatever your church normally does in a worship service is the liturgy), it seems like the logical next step. Of course with scripture passages included, you can relate these prayers to the Lectionary so liturgical churches can still make ready use of these resources as well.

My next post will look deeper at Jeffrey Miller’s resources and make some comments on the collection as a whole.

(Notice of material connection: I received this resource from Logos in exchange for my honest review).