Review: Preacher, Can You Hear Us Listening? By Roger Van Harn

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I was surprised by this book.  I am not sure what I was expecting, but I was both blessed and challenged by it.  The focus of the book is on listening, both to God and to people, by the preacher and the congregation.  Perhaps the strongest lasting impression left is the notion of the preacher being a ‘pioneer listener’ – he who is one of the people, yet listens first to God’s word for the people.  The preacher listens to, with and for the people.

The book is structured using twelve questions.  The first sets up the opportunity to present a biblical theology of hearing/listening in the New Testament.  Then he moves through issues of the noise of a fallen world, the importance of the biblical text and gospel story, as well as contemporary culture to a final call for preachers to be listening to their people.

Chapters 2, 3, 5 and 6 are particularly strong as Van Harn addresses issues relating to Biblical interpretation and presentation.  Unfortunately chapter 4 breaks the sequence.  As he tries to show the importance of presenting the gospel behind every text he inadvertently does a good job of debunking the rather simplistic idea of the chapter.  His imagery of a smudged window is not comfortable to this reader.  Having criticized this chapter, I should reemphasize how effective those before and after were in their purposes.

As well as affirming the need to hear the story behind, and around, the text, it would have been nice to read a chapter affirming the need to hear the story in the text.

Van Harn effectively presents the need for listeners to see the connections between text and sermon, as well as sermon and life.  His presentation of the need for a helpful angle and proper distance is excellent.  He highlights the importance of the sermon in helping the community of believers interpret their culture, knowing when to say yes, no, or maybe to those things going on around them.

His presentation of the church as that which is one, holy, catholic and apostolic is interesting, but he is strangely quick to dismiss the distinction between the visible and invisible church.  The closing chapters perhaps lost the strength of the first half of the book, but still are worthy of your time.  Van Harn’s closing suggestion for hearing the congregation is simple and seemingly quite effective.

This is clearly a book written by a man who has given much thought to the generally neglected subject of listening.  I think we could all benefit from reading it, and hearing what he has to say.

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