Review: Preach the Word, edited by Leland Ryken & Todd Wilson

Subtitle: Essays on Expository Preaching in Honor of R. Kent Hughes (2007)

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Kent Hughes is a name I have been aware of for many years, but honestly I have never heard him preach or read any of his books.  Still, this book of essays written in his honor caught my attention.  Collections of essays in honor of individuals of spiritual stature range in quality from excellent to extremely ordinary.  Sometimes their quality of production falls far short of the person’s life and ministry they are intended to honor.  Not so in this case.  This book is a quality production from Crossway and a decent collection of essays from an impressive list of contributors.  This book is worthy of our attention.

Divided into four parts, the book contains sixteen essays, culminating in a gracious and encouraging biographical essay on the life and influence of Kent Hughes.  By the end of this book, you will have greater motivation to pursue the exposition of God’s Word, and a greater passion to expand that ministry by influencing the next generation.  Not a bad legacy to honor Kent Hughes’ ministry.

The first part is concerned with Interpretive Principles and Practices.  The book begins with a call to expository preaching from David Jackman.  John MacArthur offers a sound although very basic introduction to inductive Bible study.  Paul House considers the preaching of Old Testament narratives with a focus on three sermons from Acts.  Wayne Grudem offers a helpful chapter on rightly interpreting the Bible.  The only chapter to surpass Grudem’s contribution in this section is the excellent offering on “The Bible as Literaure and Expository Preaching” by co-editor, Leland Ryken.

The second part focuses on Biblical and Historical Paradigms.  Bruce Winter helpfully considers Paul’s approach to warfare in reference to the thought processes of his listeners – how to preach to minds not fully renewed.  Duane Litfin’s chapter on Paul’s kerygma foolishness in 1Cor.1-4 is superb.  In my notes I remarked the book was worth the price for this chapter alone.  Wallace Benn moves the book into church history with a straightforward summary of Richard Baxter’s classic, The Reformed Pastor. J.I.Packer then adds another heavyweight and inspiring article (in power, not in density), a delight of a chapter on Charles Simeon.

The third part concerns Contemporary Challenges and Aims.  Here you find Phillip Jensen and D.A.Carson’s more engaging lecture on contemporary challenges in ministry.  Philip Ryken then offers a very good call for expository preaching that is evangelistic, doctrinal and practical.

The fourth and final part focuses on Training and Example.  Peter Jensen considers the seminary setting, where he rightly wishes that expository preaching were the primary goal of the entire faculty.  Jon Dennis offers a detailed list of eight principles for multiplying ministers from 2Tim.2:2 and its surrounding context.  David Helm brings in British church history again, in an engaging article that looks for a generation of preachers to be trained.

This is a solid book, well worth buying and reading.  The essays are all decent and worthy of their place, although it must be recognized that the offerings of Leland Ryken, Duane Litfin and J.I Packer (perhaps with David Helm’s historically birthed effort attached to Packer’s consideration of Simeon) – these stand out as especially worthy of note and worth the price of the book!

Application is Not About Benefits

In the understanding of expository preaching espoused on this site, application is central.  Expository preaching must involve the explanation of the meaning of the biblical text while emphasizing the relevance of that text to the contemporary listener.  This is born out of an understanding that the Bible is highly relevant to us all.  However, there is a danger of misunderstanding this emphasis on relevance and application.

The danger is that people may take away the thought that we are advocating a strong view of the benefits associated with applying the Bible to our lives.  In reality, we are saying much more than that.  Paul House, in his article in Preach the Word, gives Christopher Wright credit for identifying the opposite reality.  We do not apply the Bible to our lives, but rather, “through the power of the Holy Spirit we must learn and help others to learn to ‘apply our lives to the Bible.’  God and his Word – not our lives and minds – comprise the horizon of reality and authority.  We are required to conform to the Scriptures; they are not required to conform to us.”  (Preach the Word, p25)

Only in this way do we protect listeners from getting the impression that they can pick and choose those parts of the Bible that appear most valuable.  As Tozer said, “Nothing less than a whole Bible can produce a whole Christian.”  So application is not primarily about the benefits for our lived reality.  Application is about conforming our lives to reality.