Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Book Review - "Choosing to Preach" by Kenton Anderson

In preparation for a doctoral course I'm taking in July, I recently read Kenton Anderson's book Choosing to Preach: A Comprehensive Approach to Sermon Options and Structures (Grand Rapids: Zondervan). The book is organized into two parts, the first of which deals with four options preachers must contemplate and the second of which discusses five potential sermon structures. 

With regard to Part 1, the four options are these: (1) Are you going to preach? If yes, (2) Are you going to preach the Bible? If yes, (3) How will you discern your message from the Bible [deductively or inductively]? (4) How will you communicate your message [cognitively or affectively]? He devotes a chapter to each of these options. 

As for whether one will preach, Anderson admits that some will answer “no” but asserts that others will answer “yes” because they've been chosen by God to preach. For those who answer “yes,” Anderson goes on in chapter two to discuss what they will preach and concludes that since preaching is about helping people hear from God, we who preach must preach the Bible. He argues for expository preaching with a small “e” meaning that biblical preaching must be faithful to the text, intent, and form of the Bible without being tethered to particular modes of presentation. 

With this as a foundation, Anderson moves on to discuss how preachers will choose to discern their message from the Bible, namely, will they start with the text itself (deductive) or with the listeners (inductive)? With regard to deductive preaching, Anderson describes is as a highly intellectualized approach wherein the preacher is like a scientist whose job it is to discover and explain complicated ideas and theories. There is, of course, some basis for his caricature but it is a caricature nonetheless. As he defines it, I am a deductive preacher but I do not envision myself as a scientist but rather as a son of God who’s laboring to understand exactly what our Father is saying so that I can say what he has said with accuracy and passion. So while I appreciate some of the things Anderson says about deductive preaching, other things should be taken with a grain of salt. With regard to inductive preaching, Anderson describes it accurately and fails to mask his clear bias. He presentation comes off a bit like, “This is a no-brainer—if you love people, you’ll preach this way.” This is not true, but he does make some good points along the way and I was helped by what he had to say. 

The final chapter of Part 1 presses into the issue of whether one will preach to the head or the heart. While Anderson recognizes the need for preaching to the head, his bias is toward the heart. I can understand his point of view but I must admit that I found myself pushing back, almost audibly, "But Kent, good heart-preaching is built on solid ideas." Or perhaps better put, biblical ideas form the foundation of life-transforming appeals to the heart. 

Having laid out these options, Anderson moves on in Part 2 to address sermon structures and envisions five choices emerging from various combinations of deduction and induction, cognition and affection. Specifically, where deduction and cognition meet we have the declarative sermon. Where deduction and affection meet we have the visionary sermon. Where induction and cognition meet we have the pragmatic sermon. And where induction and affection meet we have the narrative sermon. Where all four elements meet and share equal proportions in the sermon we have the integrative sermon. As he did in Part 1, he devotes a chapter to each of the five styles and lifts up an exemplar of that style. 

The declarative sermon is what one typically envisions under the banner of expository preaching, that is, a straight-forward, propositional presentation of the truth of a given biblical text. Anderson suggests that the best metaphor for declarative preachers is a lawyer, but again this style of preaching is where I live (as well as most of the preachers I know) and I envision myself as a son rather than a lawyer. The process, the hard work, of discerning the precise meaning of God's speech is mainly a relational and then an intellectual exercise. But that aside, Anderson has many good things to say in this chapter and he lifts up John MacArthur as an exemplar of this style of preaching. 

The pragmatic sermon is the dominant style in the seeker-church. Anderson suggests that the best metaphor for pragmatic preachers is a detective. While I understand his thinking in suggesting this metaphor, I used to preach in this style and still know many pastors who do and I think the better metaphor is that of a therapist or doctor who is seeking to diagnose, treat, and heal his patients. Be that as it may, Anderson does a good job of summarizing this style and then lifts up Rick Warren as an exemplar thereof. Good choice. 

The narrative sermon, championed by Eugene Lowry and others, seeks to draw listeners in by presenting the biblical text in story form, even when that text is didactic. Anderson suggests that the best metaphor for narrative preachers is, of course, a novelist, playwright or movie director. He offers helpful insight and practical wisdom for developing sermons in this style, and while I tend to think that not all biblical texts should be preached as stories, I get the thrust of this chapter and appreciate it. It is, in fact, one of my favorite chapters and think it will benefit me as I preach through 1-2 Samuel this fall and spring. 

The visionary sermon seeks to communicate the "big idea" of a biblical text in artistic rather than didactic terms. Not surprisingly, Anderson suggests that the best metaphor for this kind of preacher is an artist, and hopefully a good one! While he is not nearly cautious enough with regard to preachers and former preachers like Rob Bell, Doug Padgitt, and Brian MacLaren, his insights into this form of preaching are nonetheless helpful and can benefit any preacher who's able to separate the wheat from the weeds. Unfortunately, Anderson lifts up Rob Bell as the exemplar for this style of preaching but we should grant him grace for this since the book was written in 2006 before Bell left the ministry and the Christian faith. 

Finally, the integrative sermon seeks to combine all of the elements: deduction, induction, cognition, and affection. The best metaphor, then, for this kind of preacher is a musician, and better yet, a jazz musician. While Anderson admits that all sermons tend to integrate all of these things in some measure, he argues that the integrative sermon does so in a more deliberate and robust fashion. Since this is his style of preaching, he lifts himself up as the exemplar of it and does so in a humble manner. Much of his thought is compelling, especially in our increasingly multicultural world, and I look forward to putting some of his suggestions into practice. 

The book concludes with a plea for preachers to give thought to both theology and method so that we can preach the Bible in a way that honors God and blesses people. Agreed. 

Finally, I should mention that Choosing to Preach is peppered with thought-provoking discussion questions, practical exercises, insights, and resource suggestions. It comes with a CD-ROM that includes power point summaries of each chapter and the book as a whole, four sample sermons from the preachers featured in Part 2, and a link to Anderson’s preaching website, www.preaching.org.

I recommend the book for seasoned preachers and other leaders who are able to discern between what is helpful and what is potentially misleading, and perhaps even dangerous. I do not recommend this book for young preachers and leaders, but would rather guide them to the works of Haddon Robinson, Don Sunukjian, and Tim Keller whose book on preaching was released just this month. 

Oh, and I also recommend that those of you who do not preach pray for your preachers - preaching is a difficult task and a heavy burden, especially when you have to preach to the same people week after week, year after year. Please pray, for surely God will hear and answer. Surely God will reveal himself to his people through his Word. 

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