Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Preaching: Communicating faith in an age of scepticism (Timothy Keller)


I've waited for Tim Keller's book Preaching for a long time. I loved listening to his lectures on preaching with the late Edmund Clowney in 2008. I've found his online sermons from Redeemer church in New York to be very helpful. Keller's style draws on the influence of Dick Lucas at St. Helen's Bishopsgate. Lucas has influenced UCCF so it feels like something I've encounted on many occasions. Not least from another of Lucas' disciples, UCCF Director, Richard Cunningham.

As could be expected from a book on peaching Keller's focus is on Bible-centred ministry. The expectation of preaching, other teaching and conversation centred on the Bible - with the book focussed on the first two areas.

In my work on campus we had to assume a mixed room, different worldviews and at different stages of faith. Many 18 year olds who are happy to call themselves "Christian" haven't figured much of that for themselves, and many who wouldn't take the label are prepared to explore different eyes on the world. No reason to assume differently with a gathering of the church... besides even a long-time believer still has unbelief and definitely still needs to hear the gospel of Christ.

Keller speaks to his New York context but the beauty of his book is that he invites us to consider our own context and then to preach Christ there to all people, helping us not just to imitate his application but rather to ask the questions he asks, pursuing the relevant answers in our own context. He illustrates from his own, and ours may differ, but the importance of listening to where people are stands. The same Christ, the same gospel, from the same Bible, applied to different people...

Preaching is a large hardback in a relatively large print, which makes it feel accessible rather than technical, and that's no bad thing. It's just over 200 pages plus a practical appendix, a small paperback. To read the book and then re-listen to a Keller sermon is a useful approach, and then to ask how do have the same sort of goals, but in my voice to the people I'll be speaking to.

In talking about back stage / front-of-house communication, Keller has it nailed - warmly, winsomely, persuasively and engaging speaking of Christ to people.

Keller argues for Christocentric approach, as he shows in his own preaching, that our goal is not "live like this" but rather, you can't but Jesus has. "The change in the room will be palpable as the sermon moves from being about them to being about Jesus." (p179)

Reading Preaching as I prepared a sermon a couple of months ago led me to rework a couple of sections of my script... or rather to finish writing them where I might otherwise have stopped short of the mark. The difference was significant and I'm thankful for the intervention.

Preaching sits alongside a number of very helpful books on the subject, along with James Stewart, John Piper, David Jackman, Charles Spurgeon, John Stott, Andy Stanley, Martyn Lloyd-Jones and others - not to mention the many preachers whose preaching and counsel have helped and continue to help me. This is too important not to keep learning.

Preaching: Communicating faith in an age of scepticism has sharpened me, refreshed me and equipped me to think more clearly, to communicate better. It's also helped me to understand Christian faith and to know Jesus better.

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